The Quick 10: 10 Facts About the Concorde

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Wikipedia says March 27, 1970, was first-ever flight of the Concorde. Not the program on HBO, I mean, but the actual jet. I think Wikipedia is wrong (I know, I know, who would have thought?!) "“ British Airways says the first flight occurred on March 2, 1969. Either way, we're in the anniversary month of the first flight, so I thought it would be a good topic for a Q10 (don't worry"¦ the superfluous body parts sequel is still coming).

red arrows1. That little "e" on "Concorde" was a pretty big deal at one point in time. "Concorde" is the French spelling, but U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan got in an argument with Charles de Gaulle and officially had the "e" yanked to spite him. In 1967, Tony Benn, the British Minister for Technology, had it changed back to the original spelling. He said the superfluous letter stood for "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente Cordiale, a 1904 series of agreements between England and France. However, the "E stands for England" theory further ruffled some feathers, because Scotland soon pointed out that Concorde's nose cone was made in Scotland. Benn replied, "It was also "˜E' for Ecosse (French for "Scotland") "“ and I might have added "˜e' for extravagance and "˜e' for escalation as well!"

2. The record time for Paris-to-NY was (and still is) two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. On average, the Concorde traveled one mile every two and three quarter seconds. It was so fast that on westbound flights, it was possible to arrive at a local time that was earlier than when you left your original destination. And of course Concorde's publicists didn't miss that opportunity: British Airways used the slogan "Arrive before you leave."

3. At low speeds, it was highly inefficient. It could burn two tons of fuel just taxiing to the runway. However, it was designed to be operated at Mach 2 "“ and when it was, it was the most fuel-efficient jet engine ever built.

4. Concorde could stretch anywhere from 6-10 inches during flight because the heating of the airframe was so intense.

5. You know where you are based on what it's called. OK, you probably know where you are anyway, but go with me here. In the U.S., it's the Concorde. In the U.K., it's simply Concorde. And in France, it's le Concorde (go figure).

6. It was quite noticeable when the Concorde passed through the sound barrier: first of all, the pilot would announce it. But also, there was a surge in acceleration and the air compression was such that the windows would actually get warm to the touch.

accident7. The Concorde had just one major crash, but it was the beginning of the downfall for the supersonic jet. Air France Flight 4590 was headed from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to JFK in New York on July 25, 2000, when a piece of debris on the runway punctured a tire. The tire burst, and a big chunk of it flew up and hit a wing, which ruptured the fuel tank under the landing gear. This led to a fire, which ultimately ended up in the pilots losing control of the plane and crashing into a nearby hotel. There were no survivors, and four people on the ground died as well. Even though this was Concorde's only disaster, it led to flights being grounded for a while so improvements to safety could be made "“ including tires that wouldn't burst and Kevlar-lined fuel tanks. The improvements were tested and the first post-crash passenger flight was made on September 11, 2001. Yep. Obviously, after that, the airline industry suffered. Between that and the public's uncertainty after the 2000 Concorde crash, the customer base was no longer there. Air France and British Airways both announced on April 10, 2003, that they would be ending all Concorde flights and retiring the planes.

8. The last flight from New York to Heathrow in London, was basically an exclusive party. Attendees included Joan Collins, Models Jodie Kidd and Christie Brinkley, British Airways chairman Lord Marshall, the aforementioned Tony Benn, broadcaster Sir David Frost and stock exchange chairman Chris Gibson-Smith. When it left JFK, it flew through water cannons spraying jets of red, white and blue water. When it arrived at Heathrow, it was greeted by 1,000 spectators seated in a grandstand built just for the occasion. The Queen even consented to have Windsor Castle lit up when the last flight flew over it "“ usually, Windsor Castle is only illuminated for visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

9. Pieces and parts of the Concorde have been auctioned off in both France and England "“ everything from the Machmeter to salt and pepper shakers and blankets with the Concorde logo.

conchords10. The band Flight of the Conchords really does take their name from the Concorde. Bret McKenzie has said that he had a dream about flying guitars that looked kind of like Concordes and when he talked to bandmate Jemaine Clement about it, the name "Flight of the Conchords" just happened. Of course, he could be kidding"¦ it sounds suspiciously like Paul McCartney's flaming pie dream that named the Beatles, and they've got the same spelling pun in their name, so"¦

Did any of you ever fly on a Concorde before they were retired? We'd love to hear about it in the comments! And if not (I suspect that's the category most of us fall in), how about this: if you could fly anywhere in three hours, where would you go? Think of the possibilities"¦

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March 26, 2009 - 11:04am
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