Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THE CONCORDE EXPERIENCE

I recently saw a great documentary on the design and operation of the Concorde, which reminded me I enjoyed two flights on the fabulous supersonic aircraft, in October 1985 and July 1986.



In 1985 I was in New York, about to fly to London on the overnight 747 flight (BA194), when I got a call from BA's North American office, asking if I would like to swap to the Concorde flight the next morning? Well, duh!



I arrived at JFK full of anticipation, and was surprised to be met in the exclusive Concorde Lounge by the Flight Engineer, Trevor Wattling, who said I was going to be invited to the flight deck after take-off. I didn't realise at the time that this experience had been orchestrated by my friend, Ken Cook, who was the Sydney-based PR manager for British Airways.

I was enjoying my dinner in the window seat, having been advised by the cabin crew that if I felt like nodding off, I was not to rest my head against the interior wall of the cabin, as the body of the aircraft generates a lot of heat at supersonic speed.

It was a fabulous feeling, flying at 57,000 feet, and looking down from above the clouds. It was certainly an obvious difference from the view you enjoy on a 747 at 39,000 feet.

As it's a normal habit for me to sleep during a flight, I swapped seats with an attractive young woman called Amanda, who was the daughter of a member of the British Hourse of Lords; and he was flying her home to spend Christmas with the family.



About two hours after takeoff the Flight Engineer came back to me, and invited me to the flight deck. After introductions to the Captain and First Officer he showed me the incredible bank of instruments which serviced the on-board computer (Concorde was the only aircraft in the world at the time with computer-controlled operations).

He asked me if I could put my arm between two particular racks and touch the wall, which I did. He then said he would come and collect me from my seat after we landed at Heathrow.

As all the passengers filed off I remained in my seat, when Trevor Wattling came back and asked me to return with him to the flight deck. He asked me if I could recognise the gap where I had inserted my arm earlier in the flight.

I could, and he asked me if I would like to repeat the exercise. However, it was impossible. The gap between the racks would not even accept my boarding pass.

The incredible explanation was that during supersonic flight, the Concorde stretches ten inches in length (which created the gap for my arm). Once travelling at subsonic speed, landing, and then subsequently cooling down during taxiing to the gate, the aircraft resumed its normal dimensions.

What an incredible experience it was. Dom Perignon before the meal, lobster for dinner, and a great technical surprise. It was fabulous, and a year leater I scored another flight on Concorde - from Heathrow to JFK.

It was errors and oversights by the captain of the Air France Concorde, which crashed on takeoff at Charles de Gaulle in July 2000, which grounded Concorde forever.

However, if strict operational procedures had been followed, Concorde may have continued to fly for many more years - because it was finally making money.

From Ken Cook's viewpoint, getting me on board Concorde twice, paid off commercially. When I was PR Director for Jaguar Cars North America (1990-1994), I convinced a number of wealthy Jaguar customers to fly on Concorde.

I have been an extremely fortunate guy to have enjoyed experiences like this.



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