Supersonic flight: will it ever rise out of the ashes of Concorde?
by Ern2906 ·
Flying at twice the speed of sound was the preserve of the rich. If supersonic flight roars back to the skies, could it be more affordable?
You could tell without looking up that Concorde was on its final approach to Heathrow: its Rolls Royce Olympus turbojets made the same roar on landing as others did taking off. It was a treat just to watch it in flight, and many of us assumed one day that supersonic flight would be the norm, not a novelty.
Concordes crash just outside Paris on 25 July, 2000 was actually just the symbolic end for the worlds only supersonic airliner. It may have been ahead of its time, but paradoxically it was already out of date and out of touch. Weighed down with political and economic baggage, Concorde was grounded in 2003, which seemed to signify the end of commercial supersonic travel (SST).
Maybe Concorde had made us complacent. Just as the Apollo generation assumed wed have moon bases by now, having SST since the 1960s meant we thought everything could only get sleeker and quicker. Instead, we got bigger and cheaper. Instead of ramjets, we got Ryanair.
With a cruising altitude of 19,812 metres (65,000 feet) nearly twice the height of other airliners and a speed of 1345.6mph (more than twice the speed of sound) Concorde flew 100 souls higher and faster than modern fighter jets, making the journey from London to New York in just three and a half hours. That this herculean Anglo-French collaboration between the French state-owned aerospace manufacturer Aerospatiale and its British counterpart BACB got airborne amid such stern competition from the US and Russia in a cold-war-driven age of one-upmanship is a marvel.
The short lived Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 launched in December 1968, stealing Concordes thunder by just two months. It was so similar the Anglo-French team suspected espionage. But the sleek exterior concealed a flight deck stuffed with archaic levers and instrumentation. Clearly an exercise in propaganda, the Tu-144 had no practical use: the communist USSR did not tolerate Concordes jetset customer base and it had nowhere to fly to. So it became a supersonic workhorse, ferrying mail across the USSR. A fatal crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show ended Russias supersonic passenger effort.