It’s been 12 years now since Air France Flight 4590 took off from Charles De Gaulle for what proved to be its final flight. The Concorde ripped a hot chunk of rubber out of a tire (after running over some titanium debris left by a Continental DC-10 that took off before it), and flung it at itself. Spurting flames by the time it left the runway, there was little time to attempt a remedy — like landing at the nearby Le Bourget airport — before crashing into a hotel, taking the lives of all 109 passengers and crew, plus four on the ground. The passengers were mostly German tourists on their way to New York for a cruise.
But was the freak accident the only thing to bring the Concorde out of the sky? If the plane were around today — which some still fantasize about — it’d be like powering a stretch Hummer with dolphin blood. The airlines couldn’t sell enough tickets on the small plane to even make up for the amount of fuel it needed to guzzle on its journeys, let alone cover maintenance for the technological marvel. (A Concorde’s taxi to the end of a runway used as much fuel as a 737’s flight from London to Amsterdam.) Customers were fine with ordinary travel times for a fraction of the airfare and the plane only took transatlantic journeys, because going over land was too disturbing. Too much noise.
I have a friend who remembers flying the British Airways route to from New York to London. He recalled that it was a really noisy plane and the crew would hand out headphones circa WWII. (Has this really improved?) There were four channels of music, and you’d get a hard scone because it was British Airways food. The whole plane was business class, but the there was a front and back cabin (the important people sat in the front cabin). The plane didn’t take off at an alarming speed, because creating a sonic boom above the airport and surrounding area would p*** off the people down on the ground. Only when the jet got above the ocean did it open its throttle. He said this was probably the coolest part, and when it started to get really noisy. There was a meter in the cabin that told you what ‘mach’ you were ripping along at. Three-and-a-half hours later, you’d touch down in London.
For aviation enthusiasts and those who crave to fly at supersonic speeds, there might be hope. Developing an aircraft capable of creating smaller sonic booms and burning less gas is an ongoing pursuit of aeronautical designers. As for the Concorde, we’ll probably never see it fly again after it retired in November 2003. Still, if you’d like to see one on display, here’s a list of places you can hop aboard:
Aviation Viewing Park, Manchester Airport, UK
Smithsonian Museum’s Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles Airport, Washington DC
Museum of Flight, East Fortune Airfield, Scotland
Auto & Technik Museum, Sinsheim, Germany
Airside at Heathrow, UK
USS Intrepid, New York City
Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
French Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget, Paris
Museum of Flight, Seattle
Filton Airfiled, Bristol, UK