The Concorde Supersonic Jet

“Drop the Supersonic Aircraft Ban, Watch Business Boom,” by Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond. The Wall Street Journal, 6/13/2016.


Without passenger windows

I worked for ICI in Wilmington, Delaware, a huge British chemical corporation you probably never heard of. ICI (that once stood for Imperial Chemical Industries) was a British chemical company very similar to Dupont in size and products, but there was a gentlemen’s agreement that Dupont would have the American market and ICI would have Europe and Asia. Although the agreement is long over, many Asian visitors to Longwood Gardens have never heard of the Dupont company, let alone Pierre du Pont.

The Concorde was manufactured by a joint venture between Brittan and France, and both governments were intent that it succeed.   (“Concorde” means “harmony.” Strictly speaking,  the term refers to the program that produced some half-dozen planes, not to the individual aircraft themselves. The international cooperative spirit of the joint venture survived under the name “Airbus” that now makes most of the standard commercial jets we see in the sky today.) Several ICI executives commuted between England and the U.S. every week on a Concorde, and they loved it. The cost was about double that of a normal transatlantic flight, but the service was above normal first class and the executives themselves were not paying.

I once saw a Concorde parked at London-Heathrow Airport (they had a gate all their own). I was looking down on it from a fourth story window and was surprised how tiny it was, much smaller than you would guess from the photo. At first, I mistook it for some sort of military fighter jet. The Concorde project was doomed in 1973 when the U.S. banned supersonic overland flights because of the sonic booms. An engine fire and crash on takeoff in 2000 that killed everyone on board ended the flights for good, even though the cause was clearly debris on the runway left by an earlier subsonic airplane.  Boeing also dropped the development of its own supersonic jet, the Boeing 2707.  I think everyone was happy for an excuse to end the expensive programs that were going nowhere.

Some images of Concorde aircraft show passenger windows, some do not.  Even when there, the windows were tiny, 4 x 6 inches.  On any airline today, the windows are smaller than they appear.  Only the interior design makes them look reasonably sized.

This WSJ Opinion piece advocates bringing back supersonic flight with today’s designs that diminish the severity of sonic booms. The regulations currently state that a manufacturer has to demonstrate with an actual flight the effectiveness of a new design to gain authorization to fly overland. The authors correctly point out no manufacturer would go to the huge expense of building a new airplane without the certainty that it could be flown commercially—overland.

The regulations are unlikely to change, and I am pleased. Like millions of others, I do not want to be startled throughout the day by unseen sonic booms, even if they no longer break windows or damage foundations, just so a few executives can get to their destinations sooner. And even for them, supersonic flight is no longer needed. Top executives do not fly coach with we common unwashed masses, jammed into a cramped seat with only a few tiny pretzels and satellite radio to pass the time. Communications have improved such that they could hold a video conference while flying. They could even stretch out and nap. Life is not so short nor their time so valuable that they could not sacrifice a few hours in idleness, I kid you not!


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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