takeoff and landing, Concorde flew at a steep angle, with its front end tilted
skyward and its tail pointing down. If a conventional plane were in this
position, its nose would block the pilots' view. But Concorde's long, pointed
nose had a hinge. As the plane took off, landed, and taxied, the pilots tilted
its nose forward so that they could see the runway. For supersonic flight, the
nose was hydraulically lifted, streamlining the plane's shape and allowing it
to efficiently pierce the air.
a classic aerodynamic problem: most wing shapes that perform well at high
speeds by minimizing "drag" don't have the "lift" needed for takeoff. The
solution for Concorde was an elegant delta- or triangular-shaped wing
reminiscent of 1950s military aircraft. It had few moveable parts compared to
the wing of a subsonic jet, but the sleek delta wing was aerodynamically
complex. It took over 5,000 hours of wind-tunnel testing before Concorde's
designers and engineers were confident they had the optimal shape.
four turbojet engines were twice as powerful as engines on large subsonic jets.
Mounted in pairs under the wings, each engine could provide more than 38,000
lbs of thrust, accelerating the plane from 0 to 225 mph in only 30 seconds. At
takeoff and again when Concorde zoomed from Mach 1 (the speed of sound) toward
Mach 2, raw fuel was injected into the engine exhaust, providing a powerful
boost. This afterburner system was similar to technology used today by fighter
jets and the Space Shuttle. It gave Concorde's engines a fiery glow (and also
made them extremely loud).
jet engines wouldn't perform well if they took in air flowing at supersonic
speeds. Concorde's ingeniously designed air intakes slowed down the air rushing
toward the engines. Even when the plane reached its top cruising speed of 1,350
mph, the speed of airflow to the engines remained less than 300 mph. Concorde's
air intake system, developed 40 years ago, is still leading-edge technology
at Mach 2—roughly 1,350 miles per hour—wind friction quickly raises
the surface temperature of an aircraft's airframe. Concorde's nose could heat
to 260°F, a temperature that would shatter ordinary glass, so engineers
devised a visor for the nose cone made of several layers of special glass to
protect the flight deck. The high temperatures also caused Concorde's
titanium and steel skin to expand—the plane stretched as much as ten
inches in length during flight. A specially developed white paint accommodated
this stretching and dissipated the heat generated by supersonic speeds.
an overall length of 202 feet and a fuselage only 10 feet wide, Concorde seemed
more akin to a streamlined rocket than a subsonic aircraft. It was about the
same length as a Boeing 747 but had a fuselage three times as narrow.
Concorde's long, slender body reduced the increased drag caused by supersonic
flight. Admiring its graceful form, one of Concorde's engineers remarked that
its sleek look was a by-product of the laws of physics rather than a target of
the design team.
enabling planes to "fly themselves," automatically adjusting parameters such as
pitch or heading, existed before Concorde. But the system in Concorde's cockpit
was far more sophisticated. While they had to monitor the system, Concorde's
pilots could fly "hands free" through much of a flight. The autothrottle
maintained high Mach speeds even when wind direction and other environmental
conditions changed. The autopilot kept the plane on course and even guided the
aircraft to a touchdown point on the runway, landing the aircraft like an
expert pilot would.
Concorde's aerodynamic, narrow body restricted space for passengers. British
Airways planes seated only 100, while Air France planes, with a slightly
roomier cabin layout, sat just 92. Given Concorde's gas-guzzling, costly
operation, you paid dearly for the chance to go supersonic. But with a $10,000
round-trip ticket, you flew in high style—toasting your takeoff with
caviar and champagne, followed by a five-course gourmet meal. Eleven miles
high, above 90 percent of Earth's atmosphere, the ride was rarely rocked by
turbulence, and the view of our planet's curvature was spectacular.
Concorde's landing gear was state-of-the-art in the 1960s. Antilock breaks, now
standard on cars and aircraft, were first developed to prevent Concorde from
skidding as it landed at high speeds. In addition to two tires near the nose of
the plane and four under each wing, the plane has "bumper gear" beneath its
tail in case it tips to the ground during takeoff or landing. In July 2000, a
ruptured tire, shredded by a piece of metal lying on the runway during takeoff, caused a crash
that killed 113 people and ultimately contributed to Concorde's retirement.
At takeoff, Concorde carried roughly 31,500 gallons of fuel weighing more than
200,000 pounds, an enormous weight that, depending on the fuel's location,
changed the plane's center of gravity. A fuel-transfer system adjusted the
center of gravity and helped to keep Concorde stable. Before takeoff and during
acceleration to supersonic speeds, about 20 tons of fuel was moved backwards to
tanks in the plane's tail and wings. As the aircraft slowed down at the end of
a flight, fuel was pumped forward to a tank near the plane's center.