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The Concorde: Faster Than Sound

For the Traveler in a Hurry, 20-year-old Concorde is Still the World's Fastest Way to Fly
Phil Scott
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 3)

The captain turns to me and asks, "Is this your first Concorde takeoff?"

"Inside the flight deck, yes."

Then he adds, "This is actually only my sixth unsupervised takeoff." I think he's just being proud of having made it through all the wickets, but when you're a passenger on any airline you always want the pilot who's about six landings short of retirement.

Sixth unsupervised takeoff notwithstanding, again the rush of power is unbelievable--but then so is the speed at which we blast toward the precipice at the end of the runway. Miraculously, the laws of aerodynamics are not repealed in this particular instance, and the long nose lifts off, followed oh so eventually by the tail. Once we're airborne, though, London, and then the English countryside, quickly recede.

"The visor's coming up," says Carrigan. "It's going to get a lot quieter now." Indeed, when the droop nose rises and its visor covers the windscreen, it's like being in a luxury car commercial when the driver rolls up the window. Now the captain explains how they transfer fuel within the aircraft to balance and cool it. "That's why the engineer's so busy throughout the flight," he adds.

"And it's not reflected in my pay," Carrigan jokes.

"We fly at a block altitude of between 50 and 60,000 feet," Captain Thompson says. "It's unlikely for there to be anybody out there--unless you're watching 'The X-Files' at the moment."

Climbing over the Bristol Channel, we blow past supersonic and keep building speed; too soon, the engineer kindly recommends that I go back to my seat and enjoy my meal. "There's really nothing more to see after we reach Mach 1.7," he says, and indeed the action seems to have decreased as we've flown faster. "Come back anytime," the captain adds.

Returning to my seat, I note that a lot of seats on this flight are vacant. That is one of the longtime tender spots at British Airways. The program has been profitable from the first year, Captain Bannister had said almost defensively before the question was even asked--but rumors persist to the contrary.

"Does it make a profit? If you write off the cost of development, then it seems to," says aviation analyst Bill Wagstaff. "But I have been on a street in London when Concorde flew overhead, and people stopped in their tracks and applauded. As a symbol of national pride, I've never seen anything surpass it."

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