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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 4)

How long Concorde will enjoy this status is anybody's guess; it's possible to find airliners still flying that are 50, 60, even 70 years old. Concordes are still relatively young airplanes. And, given that each Concorde only has the miles of a three-year-old 737 and the hours of a five-year-old 747, Bannister and others say that Concorde service could foreseeably continue until 2025.

Typically, when an airliner grows too old and fatigued to fly, its owner sells it for scrap. From there, it can end up melted down into aluminum and hammered into pots, mobile homes or even new airplanes; in some instances people have bought an old fuselage and converted it into a restaurant or even a nice lakefront home.

Concorde's fate promises to be radically different. Though the French have cannibalized one to use for spare parts, the remaining few will undoubtedly end up in aviation museums such as the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. One of the pre-production prototypes has already been donated to a Royal Air Force museum.

Flying east to west, Concorde flies so fast that you arrive an hour earlier than you depart; it's like flying into the future. As for the future of mass supersonic transportation, the crystal ball remains hazy. Deciding there may be a fortune in the far-flung Pacific Rim, Boeing is once again studying the feasibility of an SST, but this time one with a range from Los Angeles to Tokyo--and in less than five hours, slicing the normal trip time in half. Concorde simply can't do that distance nonstop. A few years back, Gulfstream Aerospace announced plans to build a supersonic business jet, although that seems to have been placed on the back afterburner. And then there's Ronald Reagan's much-touted Mach 25 (18,000 mph) Orient Express, which hasn't left the artist's concept stage. The future of supersonic flight, then, rests on the gossamer wings of Concorde for a long time to come.

Phil Scott is the author of Canvas, Steel and Wire: A Documentary History of Early Flight, to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.


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