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Anatomy of Concorde

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Droop nose

Droop Nose
During 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.

Delta wing

Delta Wing
It's 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.

Turbojet engines

Turbojet Engines
Concorde's 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).

Air intakes

Air Intakes
Most 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 today.

Heatproof airframe

Heatproof Airframe
Flying 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.

Narrow fuselage

Narrow Fuselage
With 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.

Automated flight

Automated Flight
Technology 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.

Passenger cabin

Passenger Cabin
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.

Landing gear

Landing Gear
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.

Landing Gear

Fuel Transfer
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.

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