In1956, studies were initiated in Great Britain and France that aimedat developing high-speed commercial airplanes. The design studiesundertaken at Sud-Aviation in Toulouse and British Aviation inBristol became the formation of the program that later resulted inthe inception of the Concorde airplanes (Bramson). However, thedevelopment was pressured by the competition from the United Statesand the Soviet Union, who undertook similar studies. Thus, GreatBritain and France pushed to get rapid results on the project. TheEuropeans were determined to compete with the United States whoserising domination in air transport was becoming increasinglyintolerable (Chan). In 1962, the French and British governmentsresolved to combine efforts in setting up a design and forming theplan for developing the planes (Orlebar 50). The two governments wereconfident that their efforts would be successful because the existingtechniques could handle the necessary structural materials. Moreover,flight experience in the Mach 2 region was becoming increasinglyavailable (Dowling).
Thefirst test flight of the supersonic airplane occurred in March 1969.However, the first flight of the Concorde commercial planes was in1976 and continued its operations for the next twenty-seven years.The development was a joint program between the United Kingdom andFrance thus, each country had seven of the turbo-charged supersonicaircraft (Bramson). In 2003, the Concorde stopped its operationsfollowing a general lack of popularity following an Air France Flight4590 crash in 2000 where one hundred and thirteen people perished.Air France and British Airways also discontinued all the Concordeflights since they were no longer profitable owing to the rise inmaintenance costs (Dowling).
TheConcorde was a revolutionary project in the field of commercial airtransport, which was accompanied by several advantages. The Concordeplanes were the fastest commercial airliners ever built (Orlebar 54).Besides, it had the ability to fly twice as fast as the speed of thesound with a maximum thrust estimated at over Mach 2 (Dowling). Ittook the Concorde just under three and a half hours to fly fromLondon to New York while the subsonic commercial airplanes took eighthours for the same trip. The Concorde was twice as fast as theconventional aircraft. The fastest flight across the transatlanticroute was from JFK Airport to Heathrow in two hours fifty-two minutesand fifty-nine seconds (Bramson). When the manufacturing, theConcorde were installed with a state of the art autopilot, which hadthe first full regime autopilot and auto-thrust system. The AutomaticFlight Control System wasdesignedto allow easy control of the plane from climb out to the landing.Furthermore, the Concorde could fly at 60,000 feet above the groundthus, they had no competition (Chan). Therefore, The North AtlanticTracks, which were the shortest and most economical routes on theplanet, were specially designed for the Concorde. Besides, the safetyof the Concorde was undeniably impeccable. For the twenty-seven yearsof service, the Concorde only recorded one accident in 2000(Dowling).
Nonetheless,the production and the maintenance costs of the Concorde were veryhigh. The final cost figure of the program quoted by the Britishgovernment in 1977 was $3.25 billion for development and $0.85billion more to cover the production costs and losses sustained inoperating the Concorde. The high cost of production and maintenancefor the Concorde called for high travel expenses in a bid to realizeprofits (Wald and Zuckerman). Accordingly, Travel expenses for theConcorde were quite high which made the planes were affordable onlyto the wealthy. Noise pollution was another drawback associated withthe Concorde airplanes since the magnitudes of sonic booms producedby the planes were quite high. The moreover, the Concorde produced anoverpressure of 1.94 pounds flying at a speed of Mach 2 at analtitude of 52,000 feet (Wald and Zuckerman). Despite every surfaceof the airplane being covered in extremely reflective white paint toprevent overheating, the Concorde still got quite hot due to aircompression on the outer surfaces, especially when flying at highaltitudes. Therefore, flying so close to the sun heated up theConcorde aircraft and exposed the passengers to twice the amount ofradiation than passengers on conventional commercial airplanes (Waldand Zuckerman).
Duringthe early days of the Concorde’s commercial service, there werespeculations that the high exposure to radiation during supersonicflight would increase the passengers’ likelihood of getting skincancer (Bramson). The again the planes had a low passenger capacitycompared to other conventional commercial planes. The Concorde has amaximum capacity of one hundred and ten passengers while aconventional commercial aircraft such as the Boeing had the capacityfor three hundred passengers (Orlebar 50). The Concorde airplanesconsume large amounts of fuel to facilitate the attainment ofsupersonic speeds. The fuel consumption of the Concorde wasadmittedly higher than that of the subsonic aircraft. For example,when the Concorde was launched, there was a fuel crisis experiencedin 1973 and fuel became a significant concern in the global historybecause the toxins emitted from the Concorde especially when flyingat supersonic speeds are harmful to the ozone layer (Bramson).Additionally, the nitrogen oxides produced in its exhaust are knownto cause degradation of the ozone layer, especially at the highaltitudes the planes flew.
TheConcorde vortices design also made it risky for the plane to fly low.For example, when a Concorde visited Heathrow in 1972, its trailingvortices ripped tiles from the roofs of houses beneath its approach(Chan). After this incident, the British Airports Authority set up aroof insurance scheme for houses under the flight path. Although themanufacturer later explained that the vortices were an important partof the Concorde that aided in its flight, the fact remained they werehazardous to the settlements around the airport all the same (WaldandLaurence). The Concorde’s fuel tanks were relatively small.It had seventeen tanks that could only hold 31,569 gallons of fuelthat allowed for only six hours of continuous travel. Consequently,the planes could not fly across the Pacific without landing torefuel. Hence, it could only fly from Europe across the AtlanticOcean into the United States, but its inability to have trips fromthe of the United States’ West Coast to Asia made the Concorde lessprofitable (Chan).
Theera in which the Concorde dominated the commercial air travel wasquite eventful, which made the planes a legendary commercialairplane. The technology used to develop the airplane was veryhelpful in the development of supersonic military aircraft. Besides,the development of the Concorde planes paved the way for theadvancement of the commercial airplanes. Nonetheless, the noise andair pollution, the financial burden, and the gruesome accident causedby the aircraft damaged the plane’s profitability and reputation.Therefore, a critical analysis of the Concorde’s drawbacks givesthe impression that its retirement was well deserved.
Bramson,Dara. Supersonic Airplanes and the Age of Irrational Technology. 1July 2015. Web . 27 Nov. 2015.
Chan,Casey. “The Last Supersonic Flight Of The Concorde Was 10 Years AgoToday.” Gizmodo24 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Dowling,Stephen. How Do You Bring Back An Aircraft From The Dead? BBC25 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Orlebar,Christopher. TheConcorde Story.London: Osprey Publishing, 1997. Print.
Wald,Matthew L. and Laurence, Zuckerman. “The Concord Crash: TheSupersonic Airliner Until Now, Safety Wasn’t One of the ManyProblems.” NewYork Times,26 July 2000. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.