5 things to know about the supersonic Concorde, set to return in 2019
Once the pinnacle of commercial air travel, Concorde jets haven't flown for 14 years, though a privately-funded organisation will put one back in service.
Luxury Insider & Liao Xiangjun
01: A CONCORDE COULD FLY HIGHER THAN F-16S
Concordes used to fly at a height of about 17.7km. Passengers were essentially at the edge of space, and were thus able to see the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of space beyond the horizon - all while knocking back a glass of champagne.
The staggering flight altitude surpassed the official upper limit for even military jets like the F-16. At such heights, increased exposure to solar radiation became a concern, so each plane was equipped with a radiometer so captains could keep an eye on the radiation levels, and drop to lower altitudes if necessary.
02: CONCORDES ONCE SERVICED SINGAPORE - BUT ONLY FOR A TIME
Beginning 1977, British Airways and Singapore Airlines jointly operated Concorde flights that plied a London-Bahrain-Singapore route. The thrice-weekly service, which cut travel time to a remarkable nine hours even with the stopover, operated for all of five days before it had to be suspended. The Malaysian government had taken issue with the Concordes' supersonic boom over western parts of Malaysia. (Such complaints were not unprecedented; nomads in the Saudi desert had found that the loud noises stopped their camels from breeding, and eventually the Saudi government withdrew permission for the Concordes to fly at supersonic speeds while within their borders.)
Unable to navigate an impasse with the Malaysian government, the British had to reroute around Malaysia, which shaved precious efficiency off an already embattled route. The service eventually resumed for about two-years before faltering traffic rendered the route unviable. The service ceased formally on Nov 1, 1980.
03: PASSENGERS DINED LIKE ROYALTY
Though Concorde passengers spent little time on board due to its preposterous speed, they could expect to be generously fed in that short time.
Take the menu on British Airways’ first ever commercial flight in 1976. It featured extravagant treats like fillet mignon, caviar and lobster canapés, palm heart salad with Roquefort dressing and fresh strawberries with cream. The flights also carried wines curated by legendary British wine writers Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent. Passengers could then finish with Dom Perignon 1969 champagne and Havana cigars.
04: ITS TOP SPEED WAS LIMITED BY ITS "BODY" TEMPERATURE, NOT POWER
Concorde had a take-off speed of 402kmh and a cruising speed of 2173kmh (more than twice the speed of sound). Yet the Rolls-Royce-powered supersonic craft could have, in theory, gone even faster, had it not been limited by the incredible amount of heat generated by the friction from moving through the air. At Mach 2.0, the aircraft’s aluminium skin would be heated to nearly the point where it would begin to soften.
This is why Concordes were normally coated in a special white paint, to better dissipate the generated heat. Every surface, even the windows, was warm to the touch by the end of the flight.
05: THE DECLINE OF THE CONCORDE WAS STEEPED IN TRAGEDY
Two fateful events precipitated the discontinuation of Concorde flights. The first occurred on July 25, 2000. A chartered flight departing from Paris ran over a piece of titanium that had fallen from another aircraft just minutes earlier. The metal debris shredded one of the Concorde’s tyres, sending a high-velocity chunk of tyre rubber into the underside of a wing. This indirectly cracked a fuel tank, which resulted in a fire. By then the aircraft had attained such speed that it had too little remaining runway to abort take-off. A succession of engine troubles and failures eventually caused a stall, and the aircraft plummeted into a nearby hotel. All 109 passengers and crew on board, plus four hotel employees, died in the crash.
All Concordes around the world were grounded immediately as safety investigations launched. It wasn't until a year later that the first Concorde passenger flight after the incident took off from London's Heathrow Airport. The flight was meant to reinspire confidence that the jets were airworthy and safer than ever. The date then: September 11, 2001 - the same day as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York. Any positive outcome of the successful Concorde flight was naturally overshadowed, even as consumer confidence in the air travel industry tanked. Subsequent Concorde flights fell to less than 50 per cent capacity, and the loss-making services were eventually discontinued by all carriers by October 2003.