Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde: Icon of the Skies or a Supersonic Blunder? - Such Airplanes

Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde: Icon of the Skies or a Supersonic Blunder?

Genesis of Supersonic Transport

The birth of the Concorde was marked by groundbreaking collaboration and engineering that aimed to introduce a new era of flight—supersonic travel.

This section charts the pivotal moments from concept to prototype of this iconic airliner.

Conception and Collaboration

In the late 1950s, both British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Sud Aviation recognized the potential for supersonic travel.

The idea was to cut transatlantic flight times by over half.

In 1962, the British and French governments signed a treaty, sealing a momentous partnership between the two nations. BAC and France’s newly formed Aérospatiale began developing the Concorde, determined to create the world’s first supersonic airliner.

  • France’s contribution: Development grounded in the experience with the Caravelle jet.
  • Britain’s contribution: Advanced engine technology with the Olympus 593 powerplant, a variant of the engine used in the Avro Vulcan bomber, further developed through collaboration with Rolls-Royce and Snecma.

This dual effort exemplified a rare international cooperation in aerospace.

More information on the treaty and resulting collaboration can be found here.

Design Philosophy

The supersonic dream called for revolutionary design.

At its heart lay the delta wing concept—a design optimized for managing the shock waves associated with breaking the sound barrier.

The engineers employed a “slender delta” configuration, which was pivotal for high-speed travel and provided adequate lift at the slower speeds required for takeoff and landing.

  • A focus on aerodynamics for maintaining stability at speeds exceeding Mach 2.
  • Incorporation of droop nose feature for pilot visibility during take-off and landing.

Aérospatiale and BAC envisioned an aircraft that would not only be fast but also embody efficiency and technical excellence.

Initial Prototypes

The first prototype, the Type 198, sparked into life in the late 1960s.

It was a culmination of ideas, from the drawing boards of STAC (Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee) to the physical construct, embodying the ambition of both nations.

  • Initial testing focused on high-speed performance and safety.
  • Continuous refinement led to prototypes that pushed the boundaries of what was possible in aviation technology.

These prototypes served as testbeds for the Olympus 593 engines and for proving the viability of commercial supersonic transport.

For insights into the testing and development process of the initial prototypes, refer to the aviation history on the matter.

Technical Specifications and Design

Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde: Icon of the Skies or a Supersonic Blunder? - Such Airplanes - Other Manufacturers

In a league of its own, the Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde was a masterpiece of engineering, marrying aesthetics with raw performance.

It stood as a beacon of supersonic commercial travel, redefining what airliners could achieve.

Engineering Marvels

Concorde’s engineering was a harmonious blend of innovation and function.

It boasted a narrow fuselage and a distinctive ogival delta wing design, optimizing both lift and control at the high speeds it was designed to reach.

In the cockpit, a sophisticated hydraulic control system provided pilots with the necessary responsiveness for handling the aerodynamic forces at work during supersonic flight.

Powerplants and Performance

Thrust was delivered by four Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 turbojets.

These engines, capable of producing a prodigious 38,050 pounds of thrust each, catapulted the BAC Concorde beyond the sound barrier, enabling it to maintain a cruise speed that exceeded Mach 2.

Fuel efficiency, while not comparable with subsonic airliners, was an engineering focus, with complex fuel management systems balancing the aircraft’s center of gravity throughout different flight phases.

Additionally, variable engine intake ramps were employed to optimize air flow into the engines at various speeds.

Iconic Delta Wing

The Concorde’s delta wing configuration was a visual symbol of its supersonic capabilities.

This slender delta form provided the necessary lift at both high and low speeds while maintaining a compact structure that minimized drag.

The ogival delta wing also housed the main fuel tanks and engine nacelles, integrating functionality with the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft.

This wing design, coupled with its droop-nose configuration, was central to Concorde’s ability to perform at both transonic speeds and during takeoff and landing phases.

Commercial Operations and Routes

The Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde represented the pinnacle of luxury air travel with a network that connected major global cities across transatlantic routes.

Prestigious Airlines

  • British Airways and Air France were the only two airlines to fly the Concorde, signifying a prominent status symbol.
  • The aircraft served as the flagship for their respective fleets, making it a crown jewel in commercial aviation.

Iconic Transatlantic Service

  • Transatlantic flights between New York JFK and London Heathrow became synonymous with the Concorde experience.
  • The jet connected these financial hubs in under 3.5 hours, less than half the time taken by subsonic aircraft.

Expansion and Limitations

  • Air France extended Concorde services to destinations like Rio de Janeiro and Washington Dulles, though these routes saw less frequent service.
  • Despite ambitions, factors such as sonic booms limited the Concorde’s reach, halting expansion to many prospective routes.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde: Icon of the Skies or a Supersonic Blunder? - Such Airplanes - Other Manufacturers

The Concorde, more than just an airliner, became an emblem of national achievement and technological ambition.

Its cessation from service marked a poignant milestone in aviation history.

Symbol of National Pride

The Concorde was a stunning symbol of progress and a point of patriotic pride for both the British and French nations.

Designed to be the pinnacle of supersonic transport, it represented a significant leap forward in aerospace engineering.

Its capacity to cruise at over twice the speed of sound not only revolutionized air travel but also showcased the heights of what Franco-British collaboration could achieve.

The Concorde was ceremoniously granted its French certificate of airworthiness in 1981, underlining its status as a safe and groundbreaking mode of transportation.

Retirement and Museums

After its retirement, the Concorde did not fade from the public eye; instead, it shifted from a commercial marvel to a treasured museum exhibit.

Notably, the Concordes have found new homes where their legacy is preserved and celebrated:

  • Museum of Flight, Seattle: Concorde G-BOAG is prominently featured, symbolizing the era of supersonic passenger flights.
  • Brooklands Museum: The airliner G-BBDG, also known as ‘Delta Golf,’ is on display, inviting visitors to explore the aircraft that once soared across the skies at remarkable speeds.

Through its retirement and subsequent preservation in museums, the Concorde continues to inspire awe, reflecting society’s enduring fascination with the zenith of supersonic aviation.

Retirement and Controversies

Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde: Icon of the Skies or a Supersonic Blunder? - Such Airplanes - Other Manufacturers

The retirement of the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde marked the end of commercial supersonic travel, a decision influenced by both economic and environmental challenges.

The Economics of Supersonic Travel

The operational costs for the supersonic airliner were substantial, stemming largely from its intense fuel consumption and maintenance demands.

The Concorde could transport passengers from New York to Paris in under 3.5 hours, but the premium for speed was costly:

  • Ticket Price: Regular flights charged a significant premium due to the high operational costs.
  • Programme Cost: Development and production expenses were considerable, contributing to the aircraft’s elite market positioning.

Environmental and Regulatory Challenges

The Concorde’s retirement cannot be discussed without acknowledging the environmental and regulatory obstacles it faced:

Sonic Booms

  • Noise Complaints: Sonic booms generated by the aircraft led to numerous noise complaints, restricting its overland routes primarily to oceanic crossings.
  • Regulatory Hurdles: Strict noise regulations imposed by authorities curtailed its flight paths, limiting its commercial viability.

Aviation Noise

  • Community Impact: The high-decibel sounds produced during takeoffs and landings posed a nuisance to communities surrounding airports in major cities like New York and Paris.


  • The Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, often dubbed ‘Concordski’, and the failed American Boeing 2707 project, demonstrated the immense difficulty and risk inherent in developing supersonic commercial aircraft, which may have indirectly impacted Concorde’s standing in the aviation market.