www.benlovejoy.com | Concorde | Our trip: Part 2: The flight

Once seated, the Captain announced that boarding had been suspended due to a technical glitch with the jetty. But we didn't mind the holdup as the delay in the remaining passengers boarding gave us time to get settled in and for an American passenger to offer to take our picture.

Settling in

The first thing you notice when looking at Concorde from the outside is how small she is, and that's reinforced when boarding her. There's plenty of space in the seats, but you really see how narrow she is when everyone's aboard. The width of the aircraft is more like one of those little 17-seater commuter jets you sometimes get on short domestic hops:

The overhead lockers are also tiny. Each pair of passengers gets their own locker, but this was one flight where our usual policy of handbaggage-only was completely out of the question:


A small camera bag and Birgit's handbag, and it's full!

However, cramped she is not. The absolutely gorgeous Connolly leather seats, designed by Terence Conran, have plenty of legroom, and more than enough space around you:


The cushions are a nice touch


The seats even have their own instruction leaflet

The next thing you notice is how tiny the windows are. This is partly a reflection of the age of the aircraft, and partly due to the much higher pressures the windows have to withstand at 55,000-60,000 feet:


Not much bigger than the size of a passport

You then start to notice the attention to detail, with lots of lovely little touches ...


The illuminated welcome screen - very subtle lighting, so hard to photograph


The subtle BA swirl in the headrests


And again in the seat-belt buckles


Even the drinks mats are branded
.

Departure

The jetty problem delayed departure by half an hour, so it was 19:02 by the time we left the stand:


Synchronise watches ...

Not being on a schedule, the delay was irrelevant to us, so we turned our attention to more important matters:


The menu cover

A cabin attendant takes your drinks orders during the short taxi to the runway, ready to serve them shortly after take-off. Heathrow has two parallel main runways, South and North, with one used for take-offs and the other for landings. Although everything else was taking off on the South runway, resurfacing work meant that Concorde has to take off from the North runway (27R). This is because the much higher take-off speed of Concorde would place too much stress on the fuselage as she reaches the bumps where old and new surfaces meet. Air Traffic Control are very good at slotting her in between arriving aircraft. As a bonus, this means that she doesn't have to queue up behind other aircraft for a take-off slot.
.

Take-off

The take-off was an experience I'll remember forever. The first thing that happens is the incredible roar of the engines as they spool up to full power and the after-burners are lit. We had deliberately opted for the rear of the aircraft, both to see some of the wing in-flight, and to hear the engines up-close. The aural symphony we were experiencing now confirmed the wisdom of that choice!

The second thing is the strength of the push in your back as she leaps down the runway. The power-to-weight ratio is Ferrari-like. The roar grows beyond anything you can imagine from experience of other airliners, the sense of acceleration is utterly fantastic and the view through the window looks exactly like an ordinary take-off in fast-forward mode.

Then we're in the air, and climbing with unbelievable rapidity. This is more like a fighter-jet than an airliner. I just want us to land and do it all over again!

Reheat has to be switched off very soon after take-off for noise-abatement reasons. The first officer tells us when it's about to happen, and that we'll feel the drop in acceleration. This turned out to be something of an understatement: you almost feel like the aircraft has run into a giant sponge!
.

Through the sound-barrier

Even before the canapes have arrived, we go through the sound barrier. There is absolutely no sensation at all as we do so, just an announcement by the Captain and the magic figure appearing on the Mach meter:

Ah, and here are the canapes:


With champagne, naturally

By the time we've eaten the canapes, we've already gone through Mach 1.7:

Then the canape plates are taken away and a crisp white tablecloth laid:

Then the entrees arrive:

I don't eat prawns, so I concentrated on the side-dish:


Complete with mother-of-pearl spoon

Again, the attention to detail was superb:


That swirl again, in the napkin holders


Individual salt and pepper mills for each passenger


But those damn security rules!!!

The climb from Mach 1.7 to Mach 2 takes a fair bit of time, but finally the figure rolls over on the Mach Meter. We're now travelling at twice the speed of sound, and much faster than a rifle bullet:

At this speed, the whole aircraft is heated so much that it expands by about 10-15cm, and even the plastic covers on the inside of the windows are hot to the touch:


.

Curvature of the Earth

Now, this 'being able to see the curvature of the Earth business' ... Some people report that they could clearly see it, others say it's a myth. So, what's the low-down? (Or, rather, high-up.) First, if you simply peer out of the window, you can see so little of the horizon that you would have no chance of seeing the curverture:


As close to the view from a Space Shuttle as I'm ever likely to get

However, if you sweep your head quickly across the window, to see a rapid pass of horizon, or look through several windows while standing in the aisle, then the curverture is just about discernable.

I do have to say that the more you drink, the more discernable it becomes, so I recommend several glasses of wine at this stage to get the full astronaut impression ...
.

Back to food ...

In the meantime, the main courses arrived. These were an entirely schizophrenic experience. They looked exactly like any other airline meal:


Birgit's Guinea Fowl ...


And my veal

And yet both meals tasted absolutely divine. We're talking really top restaurant divine here. But they must have been heated from frozen (or at least chilled) on board. Fantastic.

The main courses are again quickly cleared, leaving us a clear table:

And then the dessert trolley arrives. Unfortunately they've run out of the 'chocolate silk' by the time they reach us, but I was going to opt for the cheese anyway, and the cheese tray includes chocolates:


.

The mandatory photo

With dinner complete, it's time for the one absolutely mandatory Concorde photo: posing in front of the Mach Meter while it's reading Mach 2. There can't be many people who've flown on Concorde and don't have a similar pic of themselves ...

Our new-found American friend again obliges, taking one pic with my Ixus (set to web quality) and a second with my Pentax (set to TIFF):


.

Landing

Of course, even on Concorde, immigration formalities must be completed:


How decadant a landing card is that? :-)


Just time to sample the astonishing noise-cancelling headphones before landing

Ah yes, the landing. It was almost better than the take-off! You approach the runway at an incredible speed - one which would signify something having gone horribly wrong in any other airliner - and the blur through the window as you touch down is back to fast-forward mode. Then they kick in reverse thrust. It's like a roller-coaster ride! Absolutely fantastic, and within what seems like seconds, we're at taxying pace.

I'm sure it's just coincidence, and nothing to do with the wine, that all my after-landing photos are blurred ...


We taxied out at 19:02, and taxi off the runway at 17:38


Just time for one goodbye pic


.

Flight-deck visit

Security procedures mean that the cockpit door had to remain locked throughout the flight, with not even the cabin crew allowed onto the flight deck, but it's possible to pay a quick visit after landing:

I said to the crew that they must be very sad about Concorde's end, and they both said that they were - neither of them wanted to go back to an 'ordinary job'. I asked whether there was any chance of a reprieve if bookings picked up and the Captain said 'Absolutely not'. This was, sadly, proven to be the case.


A last goodbye to an incredibly special machine
.

Copyright Ben Lovejoy 2003 | Email me | Bookmark this site | Special thanks to Adrian Elkin