A Majestic Bird Returns
ED BY MYRON STOKES
my first flight on Concorde, it was March 1984 and I had the priviledge
of participating in the plane's inaugural run from Tampa to London. I
remember the thousands of people who came out for the takeoff and the
thrill evident on their faces. Even at 500 ft and 300 mph I could see
them as we went into a near vertical climb and kicked in the reheaters.
the flight, as we reached a cruising altitude of 60,000 feet at Mach 2.02
(1,370 mph) I became embroiled in an argument - ahem - discussion with
fellow journalists, including an editor for Aviation Week and Space
Technology, as to whether Hypersonics would ever fly.
at the dichotomy - maybe the insanity - of the debate because we were
having this imbroglio on the edge of space, with "black sky"
phenomenon - the result of a thinning atmosphere minimizing solar radiance
reflectivity - in evidence and at twice the speed of sound!
"Gentlemen, I chimed in, I think I'll apply a newspaper analogy here,
you know, where the editor writes the beginning and end of the story and
tells you to fill in the middle?
I say that somewhere between Concorde, SR-71 and the Space
Shuttle exists a hypersonic. As for propulsion in its rarefied atmosphere
operational altitude of 100,000 ft plus, the Mach 5 (3,500 mph) hypersonic
will utilize "scramjets". This engine technology, a major evolution
of the ramjets that powered the infamous V1 Buzz Bombs of WWII,
incorporates both rocket and turbojet functional characteristics. Meaning,
it can operate quite well in the rare air at the edge of the atmosphere.
"Scramjets, I understand, are well on their way developmentally speaking......."
(Maybe I didn't say it quite that well, but we all want to remember such
things in a somewhat embellished way).
continued though with less intensity. The point, I believe, had been made.
A DAY TURNED TRAGIC
'... I walked the streets of mid-town Manhattan, fighting the growing
realization that a Concorde had crashed with no survivors.'
The exhilaration of that day and a later flight in 1985 when I flew in
the FAA observer's seat from roll-out to cruising altitude, came into
sharp focus as I walked the streets of mid-town Manhattan, fighting the
growing realization that a Concorde had crashed with no survivors.
Concorde was never truly welcomed here, the
residual effect of a vehement anti-Concorde campaign launched by a New
York area public official in the mid '70s. Concorde had just begun regular
service, and the claim was it was too noisy, or "the sonic boom breaks
windows and if it is allowed to fly cross-country, it'll make cows stop
giving milk", and so on.
that we've been flying supersonically since 1947 and Americans have been
putting up with sonic booms since 1955. I've always perceived that as
an outgrowth of the "not invented here" (NIH) syndrome.
'These [airline lobbyists] contended that Concorde, no matter its small
numbers, relatively (100) limited seating and airfares affordable only
by Rock Stars, CEOs and Movie Producers, were a threat to their East/West
killed funding for the Supersonic Transport (SST) program in 1971, citing
cost overruns in nearly a decade of development. At the time, Boeing,
Lockheed and McDonnell-Douglas were all pursuing there own separate programs,
while the British and French decided to pool technological and financial
resources in a joint collaboration between British Aerospace and Aerospatiale
(now EADS) thus the name Concorde.
The Concorde first flew in 1969 and then into regular service in 1976,
while setting aviation records for speed, altitude and distance, along
the killing of government funding for SST in 1971 effectively scuttled
the development of a supersonic airliner here. All was not lost for the
U.S. effort though, the knowledge pool derived from that advanced research
is the basis for Boeing's new Sonic Cruiser.
The disbelief quickly morphed into extreme displeasure as I listened to
presumed responsible aviation officials call for the aircraft's grounding
"until we find out what went wrong". These were joined by a
cacophony of professional Concorde naysayers claiming that their misgivings
about this marvelous bird were finally borne out.
In this agitated state, I opted not to call British Airways U.S. PR Director
John Lampl, knowing he was having one of the worst days in his life as
well. It was Lampl who advised me all those years before that I would
be flying Concorde out of Tampa. Instead, I called Allan Dodds Frank at
CNN/FN to discuss aircraft history and what could have gone wrong.
Let's see, Concorde's been flying since 1976 in the fleets of British
Airways and Air France (the French even derived a supersonic bomber, the
Dassault Mirage IV, from the joint British Aerospace, Aerospatiale development
program) and has never had a fatal accident. In other words, a perfect
safety record unmatched by any other aircraft in the world at any period
in aviation history (av buffs, hit the books).
If this logic, that is to say, the immediate grounding of Concorde after
a fatal accident that would later be traced to runway debris were applied
to other existing commercial aircraft, why, there would be no passenger
aviation! Strange, if not disturbingly myopic thinking, indeed.
We are now hearing that the right kind of logic has prevailed and according
to both British Airways and Air France, Concorde will fly again this summer.
Marvelous, simply marvelous.
advise that AIRBUS has been forced to consider immediate development of
its own version of Sonic Cruiser.'
of supersonic flight says it all: New York to London in three hours 10
minutes versus 7 hours 55 minutes for typical aircraft. In a bottom line
world, Concorde allows face-to-face meetings with core clientele on critical
business despite an ocean separating their executive offices. Conversely,
Concorde's speed allows you to leave London after lunch and get to New
York in time for breakfast...the same day. The plane's reputation as a
time machine is well earned.
We'd like to think that Boeing's recent announcement of Sonic Cruiser
is more than a validation of the whole high-performance airliner concept.
Therefore, the legitimacy and legacy of the world's fastest passenger
jet is assured. In fact, sources advise that AIRBUS has been forced to
consider immediate development of its own version of Sonic Cruiser.
Suddenly, hypersonics don't seem so far off.
Vive la Concorde!
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