THE CONCORDE EXPERIENCE
By Kevin vk2ce
In 1988 Pam and I decided to take an overseas trip. I was well aware that this trip would probably be our first and last so we made the most of it and went first class with British Airways and United Airlines on an around the world ticket. Our travel agent suggested that for an extra $500 each we could fly from London to Washington DC on the Concorde. This was an offer too good to refuse as the return air fare at that time was nearly $8,000, (now $17,100AUS)
We arrived at Heathrow on the morning of 12 November 1988 for our first flight in the World's only supersonic airliner. British Airways has it's own Concorde Lounge at Heathrow where and this is where the pampering of the customers begins. Nothing is overlooked in terms of passenger comfort and service. Everyone is treated like royalty. Most of the assembled were seasoned travellers on Concorde, being mainly business men and women who commute backwards and forwards to the States for meetings etc. We looked a bit out of place as casually dressed tourists among the expensively suited high flyers of business.
I wandered over to the lounge window which was on the first floor, to have a look at this aircraft which was shortly to ferry us across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the delta winged creature on the ground outside the window. It was so small and looked no larger than a Fokker Friendship. We had made our seat reservation before we left home and booked the very front seat on the right side so that our view would not be affected by the wing. This proved to be a good move as all we had in front of us was the bulkhead which housed several digital readouts for height, speed, outside temperature, mach speed and time left to touchdown
As we taxied out for take-off, the Captain in a typically BA voice welcomed us to our supersonic flight to Washington. This aircraft leaves at 1pm and always leaves on time. It has preferential clearance over all other aircraft for takeoff because it uses a lot of fuel just idling on the tarmac and the engines also get quite hot so she leaves asap. The Captain informed us that we would be taking off at around 200 knots and would fly as a normal aircraft until we cleared the Bristol channel because of noise abatement rules. After that, he said, he would turn on the afterburners and we would feel a nudge in the back as we accelerated to Mach 2 on our way to an altitude of 10 miles.
Almost as soon as we left the ground the pampering began by the 6 cabin crew, 3 men and 3 ladies. We were each given a presentation pack of goodies to keep. Books about the Concorde postcards, a diary, a writing pad, biros, toilet bag, in flight sox etc etc. Drinks arrived soon after with the lunch menu and the wine list. This featured some quality Australian wines plus, of course, a selection of fine French champagne. Lunch was a difficult choice between prime fillet of beef grilled and dressed with herb butter, served with tomato, broccoli spears hollandaise and baked potato, OR crayfish tails gently poached with white wine then finished in a cream and Dolcetta cheese sauce, garnished with sauteed pimento, asparagus spears an saffron rice pilaf. All of this with appetizers, salad, deserts, a cheese platter, coffee or tea.
Several minutes after leaving the Bristol Channel, Ireland came into view and by that time we were fairly high so it was possible to see almost from one side of Ireland to the other. The sensation of going through the sound barrier was a bit of a disappointment as all we felt was a slight shudder. Conditions on the plane were cramped after the luxury of the first class cabin on a Jumbo. The fuselage is only 2.9 meters (9 foot 6 inches) wide and that's outside diameter. It expands about 15cm at cruising height. There are 2 seats on each side and a narrow gangway down the centre for the trolley at the crew. It is also very noisy because of the speed through the air. Pam and I had to almost shout to each other to be heard. The inside of the double glazed porthole also became quite hot from the external friction at 1,350 mph
At 10 miles altitude the air is a bit chilly and the outside temp. according to the display was minus 67 F. At this height, which is in the stratosphere, the curvature of the earth is quite distinct and all that is below is water. There are no life jackets on Concorde, they feel that by the time you hit the ocean you wouldn't need a life jacket. One of the crew passed on this gem just before we landed. Setting this bird down on the ground was apparently second nature to our Captain who proudly announced that our flying time was 2 hours 56 minutes and 23 seconds. It touched down without a bump at 12.15 pm and felt a bit like being on the back of a huge bird. We arrived at Washington DC 45 minutes before we were due to leave London.
Dulles airport, Washington DC, was where the BA hospitality ceased with a bang. Once we left the aircraft in a completely sealed vehicle which telescoped up to the door of the plane. We were herded like unwanted cattle into the terminal to undergo rude, bossy American customs and immigration procedures. I did not like our first taste of America at all. We then attempted to catch an airport taxi into the city and when one turned up we were promptly told by a local lady, who was the only other person waiting ,to "f... off, that's my f....g cab!!" Needless to say we were a bit apprehensive about our forthcoming stay in USA after this little episode.
Concorde is an amazing piece of engineering. Some of her statistics are:
Age = around 30, length= 204 feet, width= 9
feet 6 inches, wing span = 84 feet, wing area = 3,856 sq feet,
Powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Snecma Olympus 593 engines which produce 38,000lb each of thrust at takeoff.
Cruising altitude is 50,000 to 60,000 feet at a speed of mach 2 or 2,150kmph (1,350mph).
Her fuel tanks hold 119,750 litres but she only carries enough for the trip involved to keep the weight down.
This story has been written following the Paris disaster which has prompted people to learn more about Concorde. After talking to friends about it, it has became clear to me that Pam and I are part of a very small group of Australians who have actually flown on the Concorde. It is nice to be able to share this experience with you.
British Airways web site for the Concorde is worth a visit but you have to be patient while it loads:-