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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Iconic Planes: Concorde

British Airways Concorde G-BOAC 03.jpgThe Concorde is undoubtedly the most recognized and well-known commercial passenger planes of all time. It was one of the only two passenger planes ever to have been able to break the sound barrier. This plane was built by Aerospatiale, a French aircraft company, and the British Aircraft Corporation. The Concorde could reach maximum speeds exceeding Mach 2 and had seating space for about 92 to 128 passengers. It could cover routes in less than half the time of normal aircraft. However, only 20 were built, and its development was quite an economic loss for the companies concerned. Thus, the aircraft was discontinued after 2003. (Above): A British Airways Concorde taking off.
 
Concorde, when it was built, was one of the most advanced planes ever built, constituting a delta wing shape with an ogival fuselage (the term "ogive" refers to the roundly-tapered end of an object. The external tank of the Space Shuttle is an ogival object). It also constituted a fly-by-wire system and advanced circuitry. (Left): The ogival shape of the Space Shuttle's external tank.
 
The Concorde was powered by 4 Olympus turbojet engines which were modified so that they were very efficient at high speeds. This gave the Concorde the highest supersonic range of all planes. However, these engines were extremely fuel-guzzling when not at full thrust, and consumed almost 2% of the aircraft's total fuel just getting on to the runway. Afterburners were required during take-off and the initial climb, after which they were switched off. All these factors made the Concorde highly inefficient on the whole.
 
The high supersonic range of the Concorde required a very thin fuselage with an extremely long nose. This meant that only 4 seats were in each row with an aisle in the middle and headroom was quite short. Undoubtedly the most brilliant feature of the Concorde was the way the nose could droop. During taxiing, take-off and landing, the nose was drooped so that the pilots could see the runway and their surroundings properly. During flight, however, the nose was raised so as to minimise drag. (Left): The rather cramped interiors of the Concorde. (Right): The nose of a Concorde droops as it comes in to land.
 
Quite shockingly, the thin fuselage of the Concorde actually flexed at high altitudes and speeds due to outside forces. This was reported by many passengers who sat at the rear end of the aircraft, who could see the forward buckling slightly. However, this had no profound effect on the airplane's airframe in general. The Concorde's landing gear was also extremely long and strong due to the way the delta wings generated lift, increasing stress on the rear of the aircraft. Also, the whole plane was constructed out of an aluminium alloy to prevent metal fatigue due to huge differences in temperature and pressure. (Right): The longer-than-usual rear landing gear of the Concorde.
 
However, despite the technical leaps and advanced technologies which the Concorde facilitated and incorporated, its impact on the environment was its eventual downfall. Combined with the noise its engines created and their inefficiency, the Concorde was doomed to live a short life. The noise it created was so great that routes had to be planned over the sea most of the time to not disturb people in the more populated areas. Due to its high altitude and nitrogen-oxide-filled exhaust, the Concorde also contributed to ozone layer depletion, though most claim that its effect was negligible due to the fact that only 20 were ever built. (Left): The intake system for the Concorde's engines, which were cleverly designed to be efficient despite all the various temperatures encountered during a supersonic flight.
 
All in all, the Concorde is, and will remain, one of the most iconic commercial planes of all time, whether its due to its advanced technology and engineering brilliance, or just due to its plain cool looks. A Concorde is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre in Virginia.
 
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