Long before wanting to get my pilots license, I’ve always had a big interest in Space Travel and Supersonic flight. With these, I always wanted to fly on Concorde and the second was to see a Shuttle Launch. My two dreams will hopefully be realised this week. The first was as close as it will happen unfortunately, I got to crawl over my favorite Concorde, G-BOAD.
Anyway first things first, my 8 year old and I visited the Intrepid Air and Space museum in New York this week. We got early entry to the museum to do a tour of Concorde. G-BOAD, the record setting Concorde is on display. It sits on the end of the pier between a 1950’s submarine and the USS Intredid aircraft carrier.
The first impression of the aircraft is how high it sits off the ground. Other visual appearance was pretty much as I’d expected having seen it many times at Heathrow between 2000 and 2003. As it was raining, we stood underneath as our tour guide rolled off stats, stories and goodness knows what else. I was too busy just taking it all in and appreciating the amazing engineering.
As the stories came to an end, we made our way up to the stairs to the small entry in the aircraft side. My anticipation of seeing inside was building, however it would have wait another 10 minutes more. Our tour guide, placing his large frame in the doorway, then started listing off the rules. “Folks remember this is a now a museum piece, the only Concorde you can enter”. We were provide more facts and stats. Finally the rules. “1. Please sit only in the first 4 rows, the seats have plastic covers and will protect the seats, 2. Don’t open or close anything, 3. Stand back and view the cockpit, there are no barriers so you can get the full appreciation and only come forward when I call you. 4. Hold your breath so you don’t… actually I made that one up. There were about 20 rules, of which I thought were all fair enough.
Inside, the cabin is narrow and very long. In fact nearly 150 feet long. There is a divider after row 10 with loos and a mid-ship galley. Although the whole aircraft is a single class, it was often felt amongst travellers that the front 40 seats were first class with the rear 60 being for the riff raff. Apparently Madonna had to sit the back section one time and was rather pissed after she was refused a seat change (damn I did get one of his stories). Anyway the seats are nice leather and quite comfortable. Lots of leg room. As they are 2 x 2, you could easily get out from the window seat without the aisle passenger having to move. Not something a regular airline can boast!
We all took a seat (there was just 2 adults and 3 kids on this tour) and listened to more interesting facts and stats. The tour guide revealed why the windows were so small, how the aircraft would extend “8 inches” when it was at full tilt and how the engineer would ignite the after burners when the pilots had given the aircraft full throttle for take-off. He claimed it could climb to 29,000ft in the first minute, at which time I coughed to the sound of *B*U*L*L*S*H*I*T*. If it was the Space Shuttle, it would have been more believable. Anyway, Concorde’s climb rate is impressive at around 5000 ft per minute (quoting Wikipedia).
The time came when the stories ended and we were invited up in twos to the cockpit. Josh and I were first and we certainly took our time. Entering the cockpit, you realise that the aircraft is from a previous generation. It is certainly not adorned with GPS units, digital displays or other such equipment. Rather it was dials, switches and other good old fashion equipment. It takes 3 to fly this thing and the pictures tell the story.
My excitement at this point had reached a high and our tour guide seemed to be enjoying it. I had to ask, can we take a seat. He hesitate, looked back out the door and said, go on. Please be careful. That was all I needed to hear. I lobbed Josh into the captains seat and I was only seconds behind him, taking the co-pilots seat. We were both very careful and there were instructions and a general fear emanating from behind us as the tour guide re-assessed…
It didn’t matter, once in the co-pilots seat I was in another world. My eyes scanning the instrument panel looking for those familiar gauges and appreciating the rather larger scale from the trusty Cessna. The IAS went to 330 odd knots, but below it was the “Mach gauge” which takes over where the IAS finishes. The panel was complex and as you take into account all the systems, the Pilot Operating Handbook must has been like an encyclopedia.
With at least five minutes in the seat, the tour guide was fantastic and answered many of my questions. I put myself into the shoes of the pilots as they would have flown past my London apartment at 5pm every afternoon when on finals into Heathrow. Thinking about all those on the ground looking up to the super loud noise as the 4 Rolls Royce Olumpus 593 Turbojet engines powered us into land. It must have been a proud experience to fly one of these birds.
Before I finish up, there are a few records this particular aircraft set and the reason it has always been my favourite. A few of the records include:
1. It has the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing for any passenger aircraft.
2. It was the place where the worlds longest putt occurred. A 150 foot putt was performed done down the aisle of the aircraft by Jose Maria Olazabal into a cup in the cockpit. The fact that Concorde was travelling at 2 times the speed of sound meant the putt actually travelled 9.13 miles!T
This visit to see Concorde was awesome and something that I will always remember. The sad part is that none of us will ever get the opportunity to fly on her. A combination of economics and politics (at Airbus the only organisation licensed to perform the maintenance) killed her off. At least we can visit awesome museums such as this and watch YouTube to be able to appreciate the amazing engineering long into the future…