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The Concorde. Mystery Solved. Regress instead of progress.

The Concorde (or Concord for UK beer bellies) was a technological marvel, an accomplishment that could be considered even more important than the so-called Moon landing, which, regardless if it actually existed or not, it certainly required a lot of painstaking work so that today we may enjoy the famous black and white video clips and pictures. The simple fact that we’re discussing the Concorde in the past tense is a slap in the face of progress, evolution, civilization and so on. But those are just big and empty words. Not that we ever went to the Moon again either... The beginning
It suffices to consider that this supersonic aircraft was designed back when Steve Jobs was still struggling to memorize the multiplication table and wasn’t naming everything “iThis” or “iThat” yet, and Bill Gates wondered why eating one of the three apples in a basket left him with two remaining, since there was an orchard full of apple trees just outside his home.

But while these modern day geniuses were studying the mysteries of nature (or math), a bunch of engineers labored intensely, tracing plans on giant paper sheets, to design an aircraft that would eventually break the speed of sound barrier and become an unparalleled achievement for many years to come. You’ve got to admit that coming with such a complex design, without using any kind of computer or helper software is quite a feat!

The Concorde saw the light of day due to the foolhardiness of Europe’s two “black sheep”: France and Great Britain. In spite of their giant ego, the British and the French found themselves forced to team up, as one side had an interesting plane frame, while the other possessed engines that were just perfect for it.
Let’s set aside their disputes, the fact that only rock-solid contracts kept their joint-venture together, and even the superhuman efforts that were necessary to bring this craft into existence and make it fly. Fact is, the first airline flight of the Concorde took place on 21st of January 1976, on the London-Bahrain route, thus marking its spot in modern history.

This was an airplane capable of going twice as fast as the speed of sound (1,350 mph), covered the Paris-New York route in 3 hours and 35 minutes, was uncomfortable (small seats), crowded (VERY small seats), astonishing for the simple fact that it existed, annoying because it was rarely seen, very very expensive (nearly $9,000 for a News York-Paris flight) and was used on very few routes. An incredible, yet very real achievement of the human kind, now seemingly impossible to replicate.

The record set by the Concorde in 1979, 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds from London to New York remains only a dream for today’s airline passengers, in an era when all great innovations are focused on the scanning and screening of passengers and not improving flight speeds or cutting airport waiting time for connections.The end
The Concorde was supposed to be a relatively easy to maintain aircraft and safe from any exceptional problems, save for the usual wear and tear for the parts, caused by flying at 59,000 ft. and the incredible speed.

It didn’t fly very often and wasn’t in service 24h/24h like today’s airplanes, so there was plenty of time for maintenance and in-depth safety checks.
It did have some issues, but virtually all airplanes have them, especially supersonic ones.

The real problems began when a Concorde crashed on the 25th of July 2000. Flight 4590 crashed down in France, becoming the first and last catastrophic accident involving an aircraft of this type, one which was otherwise quite safe and well designed.

This was enough to suspend all Concorde flights for a full year, during which improvements were made to the plane’s design and an investigation was carried. The conclusion was dumbfounding: a part from another aircraft, a DC 10 from Continental Airlines, fell off and caused some damage to one of the Concorde’s wheels, while it was taking off. The tire exploded and some debris pieces hit one of the wings, which also housed a fuel tank. A full crash was just a step away. A small step that took down a large plane, a big setback for humankind, which gave up on a rather emblematic aircraft.

Although flights started again in 2001, the Concorde only lived for two more years, as its official termination was announced in 2003. The stupid accident, coupled with the 9/11 events lead to very low demand for flights, a general lack of confidence in airlines and, especially, in the more sophisticated services. The Concorde simply couldn’t keep up due to its high operation costs.Epilogue
A few days ago, ten years after the accident, an ordinary and otherwise insignificant court in Paris closed the Concorde case. More precisely, on the 6th of December 2010, Continental Airlines, the company considered guilty for the Concorde crash and the death of 109 people, was fined the sum of... 220,000 Euro, while the mechanic who neglected checking the part who eventually fell off got a suspended sentence of 15 months in prison and a symbolic 2,000 euro fine.

Just because a stupid man didn’t pay attention to a single airplane part, the whole humankind has to put up with top speeds of 8-900 km/h on long range flights and planes that are less safe than the old, and yet so modern, Concorde. Because a company was unable to take care of its own planes, the whole planet was left without the dream of safe, supersonic travel.

The fine? 220,000 Euro? I really doubt any amount of money could ever be enough to pay back for losing the only commercial supersonic aircraft, or for the lives of the 109 people on board, regardless what happens to the unlucky mechanic who will be mentioned in history books as “the idiot who destroyed the Concorde dream”.
Several companies have “menacingly” announced the launch of new supersonic airliners and there are also those who still hope the Concorde will make its comeback in a few years.

Right now, we’re regressing. We had a supersonic commercial airplane, and now we don’t have it anymore. That’s the fact! Everything else is just words.

 
 
 
 
 

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