Concorde was the preeminent badass of the commercial skies from the 1970s to the early aughts. Despite the fact that only 14 were ever pressed into service, it's a towering figure in the annals of aviation—one that represents the ultimate achievement in fusing advanced technology and luxury.
You probably remember the multitudes bemoaning its retirement, but did you know there was an international movement dedicated to preventing Concorde's existence in the first place? Read on for 21 things you didn't know about Concorde.
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1. Concorde wasn’t just supersonic; it flew at up to Mach 2.04
That means your New York to London commute was less than three hours long.
2. The Rolls-Royce engines were so powerful that they made taxiing difficult
Pilots would turn two of the four off just to make maneuvering around an airport a little easier.
3. You could see the curvature of the Earth while drinking champagne
Cruising altitude was nearly 60,000 feet. Not only is that higher than the official ceiling for planes like the F-16, it’s high enough to see both the curvature of the Earth and the darkness of space while the flight staff's popping corks. It’s also high enough that increased solar radiation was a concern, so each plane had a radiometer on board to keep an eye on things.
4. You knew exactly how fast you were going at all times
And how high up you were. Beats the hell outta those tiny drop-down monitors, doesn’t it?
5. Each Concorde was more expensive than even the most advanced fighter jets
Converted to today's dollar, each plane cost the equivalent of nearly $200,000,000. That’s more than an F22 Raptor.
6. Concorde was the first airliner to use fly-by-wire avionics
They enabled a smoother flight and a much more comprehensive autopilot than that of contemporaries.
7. Concorde was so beloved when it debuted that it’s one of the very few planes to completely eschew the “The” from its name
The planes didn’t have names other than Concorde, and you’ll never hear one referred to as “The Concorde.”
8. Not everyone loved the plane and there was actually something called the Anti-Concorde Project
It held serious sway in numerous countries, too. The skyrocketing costs combined with fear of damage from sonic booms ultimately resulted in strong enemies. Concorde was prohibited from supersonic flight over a slew of countries, including the U.S.
9. Concorde’s opposition was so strong in the U.S. that the Supreme Court had to step in
The New York-New Jersey Port Authority issued its own ban on the jet and successfully delayed flights into JFK for nearly two years, until the SCOTUS heard the case. Flights into NY began shortly thereafter.
10. Concorde had a supersonic arch rival from the Soviet Union
The Tupolev Tu-144 hit Mach 2.0 before Concorde, and decades later it was used by NASA for research. As a passenger jet, though, it was an epic failure that was barely airworthy. It crashed multiple times, including in front of a global audience at the 1973 Paris Air Show when it broke apart mid-air, killing 14 people.
11. The shape of the wing is named after a late medieval period style of arch
The ogee arch was quite popular in both Britain and France in the 13- and 1400s.
12. Concorde’s top speed is actually limited by temperature, not power
At Mach 2.0, the friction from moving through the air heats the aluminum skin almost to the point at which it begins to soften.
13. They were always painted white to help keep everything cool
Two planes were briefly painted blue for promotional reasons, but both were limited to only brief runs at Mach 2.0.
14. The reason the nose cone could move up and down was to help the pilots see during landing and taxiing
Because of the shape of the wing, the plane needed a high angle of approach and high speed to produce sufficient lift at the relatively low speeds used for landing and takeoff. The long and sleek nose was great at supersonic speeds, but blocked pilots’ vision of the runway.
15. The landings were at such a steep angle that there was a special wheel at the tail of the plane
Without the bumper wheel, there was a risk of the engines’ nozzles touching the ground first. That’s a bad thing.
16. Ever hear of carbon brakes? Meet their grandparents
Dunlop specially developed a set of brakes to cope with the immense heat generated by the increased landing speed. Slowing a large jet from 170 mph isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.
17. Concorde was the ultimate political bargaining chip
While the plane began as a corporate project, it quickly escalated to a full-on governmental cooperation between the U.K. and France at a time when Britain was inching closer to the forerunner of the EU. The two countries signed a treaty, or—cough—a concord, to jointly make the plane—hence the name.
18. The first time Concorde ever flew to America was to...Dallas
DFW Airport’s dedication ceremony was held on September 20, 1973, and at the time it opened, was the largest airport in the world. A few years later, Dallas became the only inland American city with routine Concorde service.
19. Concorde was grounded after its one and only major crash on July 25, 2000. Its first passenger flight after that? September 11, 2001
Talk about one of the most overshadowed events in aviation history.
20. It was retired for good a few years later
This is the very last landing Concorde ever made.
21. Of the 20 originally made, just two are no longer with us
The one that crashed (obviously), and one other that was disassembled. Most of the rest are on display at various airports and museums around the world. There’s a complete list right here.
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He watched Concorde take off from De Gaulle airport in Paris when he was 10, and remembers it like it was yesterday.