In the beginning - 1950s
The name Concorde reflects the development agreement between the United Kingdom and French aircraft industries and governments, and which is often romantically referred to as 'The Great Collaboration'.
The name is unusual in itself because although 20 airframes were built, in the UK any, or all of them, are unusually known as just 'Concorde’, as if only one existed.
The origins of the project date back to the early 1950s, when Sir Arnold Hall, Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) asked the noted Welsh Aeronautical Engineer Morien Morgan, to form a 'Committee to study the potential of supersonic transport (SST)'. The group met for the first time in February 1954, and after much discussion and deliberation, delivered their first report in April of the following year.
Their recommendations outlined a design that looked very similar to an enlarged Avro 730, although the report also concluded that:
'a short wingspan produced very little lift at low speeds and this would result in extremely long takeoff runs, frighteningly high landing speeds and would require enormous engine power to lift off from existing runways'.
Based on this rather disheartening outcome, the group reported that in their opinion, the concept of an SST was totally unfeasible.
Soon after however, scientists at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough published a series of new reports on a revolutionary 'wing planform', known in the UK as the 'slender-delta concept'. These reports changed almost overnight the entire nature and outlook of supersonic design. Although the 'delta' had already been used on aircraft prior to this point, these designs used planforms that were not remarkably different from the swept wing aircraft of the same wingspan, considered by the earlier committee.
On 1st October 1956, the Ministry of Supply asked Morgan to form a new study group, the Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee (STAC), with the explicit goal of developing a practical SST design and finding industry partners to build it.
In 1959, a study contract was awarded to Hawker Siddeley and to Bristol Aeroplane Company for preliminary designs based on the slender delta concept. These were initially developed as the HSA1000 and the Bristol Type 198. Meanwhile, Armstrong Whitworth had also responded with their own internal design (based on the M-Wing) and specifically targeted the lower-speed shorter-range category.
Even at this early time, both the STAC group and the government were looking for major partners to develop the designs. In September 1959, Hawker Siddeley approached Lockheed in the USA whilst following the creation of the British Aircraft Corporation in 1960, the Bristol Division immediately started talks with US giants Boeing, General Dynamics and Douglas Aircraft, as well as Sud Aviation in France.
Political and economic concerns in France, had led them to hold their own SST Design Contest, which had been won by the Sud Aviation Super-Caravelle. In April 1960 however, Sud’s Technical Director was sent to discuss a potential partnership with the BAC Design Team, who were surprised to find that Sud had designed a very similar aircraft to their initial plans.
During the months that followed, both sets of engineers found that they had much to agree on. For instance, the French had admitted that they had no modern large jet engines available, and that they had already decided they would need to buy a British design.
After much political and economic posturing, the Development Committee negotiated an 'International Treaty' between the 2 countries, rather than relying on any form of agreement between 2 commercial companies. On 29th November 1962, a draft treaty was signed.
Design begins - 1962
Neither country or company had any real experience in airframes that would be required to travel at Mach 2, so it was agreed that the selection of an ogee-shaped wing was going to be the right one for further development.
In fact, the only real design disagreements that occurred were regarding the size, and range of the aircraft. However, whilst the UK Team were focused on a 150-passenger design for use on transatlantic routes, the French were deliberately avoiding this specification entirely, as it considered it economically unviable.
Nevertheless, this did not prove to be the barrier it might seem as there were many common components that could be used in both designs, and cost estimates gradually became agreed upon. The teams continued to meet through 1961, and it soon became clear that the two designs would be considerably more similar than had been predicted, in spite of the different range and seating arrangements of each.
Eventually, a single design emerged that differed primarily in just fuel loading. It was agreed that the chosen Bristol Siddeley Olympus engines (developed for use in the TSR-2) allowed either design to be powered by either two, or four engines.
Initially, the aircraft were named Concord (without an 'e') in the UK and Concorde (with an 'e') in France although this led to uproar when Labour Minister for Technology, Tony Benn announced that he would order the UK spelling to also be Concorde. Things calmed down a little when he also added that the Government considered that the suffixed 'e' represented 'Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale)'.
Development & production - 1965
In February 1965, construction of two prototypes finally began with Concorde 001 being built by Aerospatiale (formerly SUD Aviation) in Toulouse and Concorde 002 by BAC in Filton.
The trials and tribulations of producing 2 parallel prototype aircraft would take a much larger website that this and it is the subject of 100's of publications both simple and highly technical. The collaboration between 2 fully developed industrial giants was astonishing, especially with one working in feet and inches whilst the other was firmly in metres, centimetres and millimetres.
She flies - 1969
Nevertheless all of the difficulties were overcome and Concorde 001 made its first flight from Toulouse on 2nd March 1969, piloted by André Turcat and subsequently went supersonic on 1st October of the same year.
Concorde 002, the first UK-built aircraft, flew from BAC Filton to RAF Fairford just 31 days later (9th April 1969), piloted by Brian Trubshaw.
Over the next 10 years, a total of 20 aircraft were built in France and the United Kingdom although 6 of these were prototypes and development aircraft.
Concorde 002 maiden flight 9th April 1969
After nearly 7 years of testing, development, route proving and an extensive sales programme, scheduled flights began on 21st January 1976 on the London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio (via Dakar) routes.
Of the 14 customer aircraft, 7 each were delivered to Air France and to British Airways. With only 20 aircraft being finally built, the development of Concorde represented a substantial economic loss on both sides of the channel.
Concorde fuselage manufacturing
Both Air France and British Airways received considerable government subsidies in order to purchase the aircraft and the final overall cost of the project was said to be in the region on £1.3 billion.
Certainly, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was when the US Congress banned Concorde landings in the USA, mainly due to residents protest over sonic booms created over the mainland routes to LA and the west coast. This prevented the launch on the coveted North Atlantic routes and dissuaded any potential purchases from the American airlines. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation eventually gave limited permission for Concorde services to Washington and both Air France and British Airways simultaneously began flights to Dulles International Airport on 24th May 1976.
Among other destinations, Concorde flew regular transatlantic flights from London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to New York-JFK, Washington Dulles and to the holiday island of Barbados; it flew these routes in less than half the time of other airliners. Over time, the aircraft operation became profitable when it found a wealthy customer-base willing to pay for flights, on what was for most of its career the fastest commercial aircraft in the world.
The aircraft is still regarded by many as an aviation icon and an engineering marvel.
Despite orders being placed by 17 different airlines, for 74 aircraft over the next 27 years, Concorde only ever flew commercially in just 4 individual airline liveries. British Airways and Air France were the largest operators of course, with Singapore Airlines and Braniff International Airways both operating just one individual aircraft on a short term lease.
Concorde would regularly operate at over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h at cruise altitude) with seating configurations for between 92 to 128 passengers and, with the possible exception of the Tupolov-144, it is still the only supersonic passenger carrying airliner.
A giant leap backwards
Concorde was retired in 2003, generally due to a downturn in the commercial aviation industry following the type's only crash at Paris on 25th July 2000 and following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001. Added to this, the remaining in-service aircraft faced multi-million pound overhauls for which the airlines could not prove a financially-viable business case.
This, combined with a decision by Airbus (the engineering design support organisation) to discontinue its maintenance support, left the airlines with only one decision.
Many have equated the retirement of Concorde represented a 'giant leap backwards' although it must always be remembered that it represented so many 'giant leaps forward' as well.
The distribution and disposal of remaining aircraft around the world was overseen by the airlines, in consultation with original aircraft manufacturers. This ensured that they were all placed in noteworthy locations, and with the correct facilities to ensure their continued availability to the public, as an example of just what can be achieved when ‘great minds think alike’.
BAC Concorde Image Gallery
BAC Concorde Air France departing JFKThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
Concorde 002 on apron at nightThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
BAC Concorde SUD Aviation prototype 001 first take off 2nd March 1969The images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
BAC Concorde head on view during take-offThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
BAC Concorde G-BOAF arriving at Farnborough Air show 1980The images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
Fuselage productionThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
Fuselage ProductionThe images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
Concorde 002 maiden flight 9th April 1969The images on this site are the property of BAE Systems (Copyright © 2021 BAE Systems. All rights reserved)
|Powerplant||4 × Rolls-Royce / SNECMA Olympus 593 Mk610 afterburning turbojects|
|Span||84 ft 0 in (25.6 m)|
|Maximum Weight||Taxiing - 412,000 lb (187,000 kg)|
|Capacity||3 (2 pilots and 1 flight engineer) 92–120 passengers|
|Maximum Speed||Mach 2.04 (≈1,354 mph, 2,179 km/h, 1,176 knots) at cruise altitude|
|Range||3,900 nmi (4,488.04 mi, 7,222.8 km)|
20 (6 non-airline)
|F-BTSD||Museum of Air and Space, Le Bourget, France
|F-BVFA||Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia USA
|F-BVFB||Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum, Germany
|F-BVFC||Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
|F-BVFF||Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France
|F-WTSA||Musée Delta, Orly Airport, Paris, France
|F-WTSB||Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
|F-WTSS||Museum of Air and Space, Le Bourget, France
|G-AXDN||Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England, UK
|G-BBDG||Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey, England, UK
|G-BOAA||National Museum of Flight, East Lothian, Scotland, UK
|G-BOAB||British Airways Engineering, London Heathrow Airport|
|G-BOAC||Manchester Airport Viewing Park, England, UK
|G-BOAD||Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, USA
|G-BOAE||Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
|G-BOAF||Bristol Filton Airport, Bristol, England, UK
|G-BOAG||Museum of Flight, Seattle, USA
|G-BSST||Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, England, UK