Concorde was a world-widely recognized icon capable of crossing the Atlantic at over twice the speed of sound and reaching an altitude of 18288m. The airplane was built jointly by aircraft manufacturers in Great Britain and France and made a huge technological leap forward in civil aviation. It inaugurated the world’s first scheduled supersonic passenger services on January 21, 1976, and remains one of the most iconic and famous planes. We collected the most interesting things about Concorde, and the most critical moments of this unique aircraft history. 

The first major cooperative venture of European countries

The Concorde was designed and built by the cooperative efforts of British and French engineers in the 1960s. Britain and France signed a treaty to share costs and risks in producing an aircraft on November 29, 1962. 

Components for Concorde were manufactured in the UK and France. The French firm Aérospatiale was responsible for the airframe. The jet’s four engines were developed by British Rolls-Royce and French SNECMA (Société Nationale d’Étude et de Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation) companies. 

The engine, based on the Bristol-Siddeley Olympus, was the world's first two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine. It was designed and built-in Patchway and tested from Filton Airfield, fitted to the underside of a Vulcan bomber.

The plane was assembled in Filton and Toulouse. The construction costs were extremely high. Despite that, the Concorde helped to ensure that Europe would remain at the technical forefront of aerospace development.

The iconic look

The famous nose of the machine could move in four different directions. The fully up position was used during the flight to maintain the high speed. It had the visor heat shield to protect the main cockpit windshield. 

The second position with a visor down that retracts and slides into the nose cone was used only when the pilots decided after the landing that the windshield needed cleaning. The third position when the machine’s nose moves five degrees down including the visor was for taxiing takeoff and initial climb. The fourth position with nose going 12.5 down degree was used to clear the view for the pilots during the landing. 

The landing gear of the Concorde was taller compared to other aircraft. It was due to the specific position of the plane during landing and its purpose was to prevent the engines tail from scraping the runway upon touchdown. Concorde was one of the first airplanes to have brake fans to dissipate the generated heat within the wheel rim. 

Concorde beat Royal Air Force in Supersonic Race

The rumor has it that once a Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado, with the Concorde consent, practiced an intercept of the commercial aircraft. The fighter jets were chasing it out over the Atlantic, eventually giving up. However, once the Concorde purposefully slowed down. It gave the pilots of the fighter jet an opportunity to snap the photo of the flying supersonic. It might be the only photo that captured the plane flying supersonic. The plane flew at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft., from where passengers could see the curvature of the Earth. In the same altitude bracket flew the USAF SR-71 Blackbird. During the Cold War, pilots of the Concorde were asking air traffic control to move the SR-71 out of its way so it could proceed to New York’s JFK.

Overheating and noisy 

The Concorde could not fly at its highest speed over land, due to a specific supersonic boom the aircraft made when reaching its 2 March speed. As a result, the commercial flights of the jet were limited to trans-Atlantic operations. Due to complaints about noise caused by the jet, supersonic flight was canceled on several routes, including flights from London to Singapore via Bahrain. 

In addition, because of the heat of the airframe, the jet could stretch from 15 to 25 centimeters during flight. By the end of the trip the machine’s surface, including windows, was warm to the touch.

The Russian twin of the Concorde ended in flames

In the heat of the Cold War, the militaries of both camps were competing not only in the space race. The civil aviation companies in turn raced supersonic flight.

Tupolev Tu-144 was built in the Tupolev Design Bureau in the 60s in the Soviet Union. It was the largest and heaviest transport aircraft that reached Mach 2. The plane's design was very similar to the British-French Concorde. That created a basis for the conspiracy theories, involving industrial espionage.

Tu-144's first flight took place on May 26, 1970. The glory of the supersonic jet was quite short. The plane was unreliable and had questionable passenger experience onboard, which sealed the fate of the Tu-144 in 1978: just three years after it entered passenger service in 1975. It continued to carry cargo until 1983.

Concorde or Concord? 

The airplane, created by French and British manufacturers, was called Concorde, which means "harmony" or an ”agreement” in both languages. Ironically, the spelling of the name became the subject of disagreement between the two sides.

The name “Concorde” was viewed as the French spelling. After an argument with the president of France Charles De Gaulle, the UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan took away the “e”. The Cabinet approved the project in principle and declared that the plane should be called the "Concord" (English spelling – without the "e"). Over the next few years, a controversy raged over the spelling.

The concern on the British side was that if the French spelling (Concorde) was adopted, the common assumption would be that the plane was French in origin. The argument continued until Tony Benn, the Minister of Technology, resolved it in favor of the “Concorde” spelling in 1967. Benn explained that “e” was important because it stood for “Entente Cordiale” and “excellence”.

Why did Concorde fail? 

Despite its miraculous construction and iconic look, the Concorde program ceased in 2003. Several events lead to its finale, including the crash of Air France 4590 Concorde flight on July 25, 2000, that killed 113 people. Technical malfunctions including outdated avionic systems had contributed to the program’s downfall. 

Several years later, in 2003, British Airways and Air France announced simultaneously ceasing flights due to commercial reasons. There were some attempts to save the program. Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin (VAH) airlines, was going to buy Concorde from British Airways. Branson argued that according to the Anglo-French treaty signed in 1962, the airplane manufacturer Airbus had an obligation to maintain the fleet. However, he did not get the government support for his bid. Airbus said it would not support Concorde beyond the October retirement date set by British Airways.