Revisiting the luxury and glamour of Concorde

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In March 1969, simply months earlier than Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Concorde made its maiden flight. The supersonic aircraft embodied a imaginative and prescient of the future as daring as that of Apollo 11 — however much better trying.
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No aircraft has captured the public creativeness fairly like Concorde, though solely 20 had been ever constructed, and they had been flown by simply two airways. Today, practically 50 years on, it nonetheless stands as one of humanity’s most outstanding engineering achievements, and a really timeless piece of design.

“A lot of designs that were inspired by the dream and optimism of the jet age retain an air of the era in which they were born,” mentioned Lawrence Azerrad, creator of the new ebook “Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde,” in a cellphone interview.

“They had been futuristic at the time, however they positively appear nostalgic now.

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“But somehow, Concorde’s design still remains futuristic, even though it was created in the very early 1960s. It’s a vision of our future from our past.”

Designed by physics

In the aesthetically homogenous world of passenger planes, Concorde was a wide ranging distraction. It appeared completely different from another aircraft, with triangle-shaped wings and a pointed nostril like a fighter jet, each of which had been advantageous for supersonic journey.

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“The design for Concorde was all informed by the physics,” mentioned Azerrad. “The end result was actually quite beautiful, but that was not the motivating intent behind the shape of the aircraft. So it’s remarkable that, without any additional design flourishes whatsoever, it ended up looking like a beautiful swan.”

Concorde flew commercially for 27 years, from 1976 to 2003, and might journey between London and New York in underneath 4 hours. A British and French co-production, the plane was on the buying lists of most main airways — together with Pan Am, Continental, American Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and Qantas — at the time of its first flight.


An early Pan Am advert from 1969 that includes Concorde. Credit: © the assortment of Lawrence Azerrad

“Concorde wasn’t originally intended to be this exclusive bird of the rich and famous,” mentioned Azerrad.

“After propeller planes and the jet age, supersonic was just the next sensible step. All airlines had orders for supersonic planes. It was only once political and ecological objections made it commercially untenable that it became an ultra-premium experience.”

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Most orders had been canceled after the oil disaster of 1973. Only British Airways and Air France would ever function Concordes, with simply two different airways — Singapore Airlines and the now defunct Braniff International Airways — leasing them for a handful of flights.

The airliner’s final demise began on July 25, 2000, when an Air France Concorde departing from Paris caught hearth throughout take-off as a result of of particles on the runway and crashed shortly after, killing 113 folks. Although a uncommon incident in a virtually spotless service historical past, the accident compelled each British Airways and Air France to floor the fleet and spend thousands and thousands on security upgrades.
Service finally resumed in November 2001, though Concorde wouldn’t survive the impression 9/11 had on the airline business or the rising working prices, which made the planes unprofitable. The final flight landed at Heathrow Airport on Oct. 24, 2003.

Prized merchandise

Azerrad, a Los Angeles-based graphic designer, makes use of his ebook to showcase his spectacular private assortment of Concorde memorabilia. Luggage tags, toys, cutlery, bottle openers, matches, coasters, vainness kits, wallets and even cognac flasks — Concorde was a model in itself, spawning merchandise that also instructions excessive costs on eBay.

The final British Airways Concorde flight lifts off from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on its final voyage to London, 24 October 2003. The flight was Concorde's last ever passenger flight, sending the world's only supersonic airliner flying into the history books after 27 years of shuttling the rich and rushed across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY AND - (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

The remaining British Airways Concorde flight lifts off from JFK airport on Oct. 24, 2003. Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Taking a branded merchandise residence was half of the expertise. Anything that might be faraway from the aircraft can be taken by passengers as a memento. Some of these things had been notably wanted, like these designed by Raymond Loewy, the father of industrial design who created cabin interiors for Air France.

“He used a very forward-thinking, futuristic approach for that time, down to the design of the seats, the headrests, the fabric and, probably more famously, the stainless steel flatware, which Andy Warhol would famously steal,” mentioned Azerrad. “There’s a story where (Warhol) asked if the person sitting next to him was taking theirs, she said no and he took her set.”

A social membership

The Concorde expertise began in a devoted lounge, earlier than passengers even boarded the aircraft. With nearly 100 seats, and ticket costs larger than flying first-class elsewhere, the aircraft shortly established an aura of exclusivity.

“It was kind of like a social club in the sky,” mentioned Azerrad. “You could have Paul McCartney leading a sing-along of Beatles songs with the entire airplane, or Phil Collins famously taking the plane to play at Live Aid in the UK and the US on the same day. And then royalty, of course: the queen, the pope, countless heads of states.”


The British Airways Concorde room at New York’s JFK airport in 2003. Credit: © the assortment of Lawrence Azerrad

The home windows had been tiny, to keep away from cracks in the airframe, and the slim fuselage meant that the cabin was slightly small, with a single aisle and simply 4 seats on every row.

“But since it was ostensibly a fighter jet carrying a passenger load of 100, the size was actually kind of remarkable. It was really all about the speed, so it was much more like a small sports car rather than a couch in the sky,” mentioned Azerrad.

The thrill of reaching Mach 2, or about 1,300 mph, was clearly indicated by the giant pace and altitude gauges positioned prominently on the bulkhead (there have been neither headrest screens nor entertainment methods). But much more tangible was the expertise of flying at the next altitude than common jets — 60,000 toes as a substitute of 30,000.


The Raymond Loewy flatware from an Air France Concorde. Credit: © the assortment of Lawrence Azerrad

“At that altitude, you can see the curvature of the Earth,” mentioned Azerrad. “You’re at the edge of the troposphere, the sky is black. Weather patterns are very visible. And the perception of the world below you is much more palpable than on a regular airplane.”

Concorde wasn’t the solely supersonic passenger jet to ever fly. The Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144 — which appeared remarkably related however “lacked the elegance and grace of Concorde,” based on Azerrad — had a short business stint in the late Seventies.

Boeing additionally had plans for its personal supersonic aircraft, which had been scrapped earlier than the prototype stage.

Now, a number of tasks are underway to convey again supersonic journey, some of which promise to materialize as early as the mid-2020s. But earlier than even taking to the skies, they may face inevitable comparisons with the stunning swan that began all of it.
Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde,” printed by Prestel, is accessible now.

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