by Chris Bertram on October 24, 2003

Today brings the “last commercial flight of Concorde”: . “Concorde”: was built jointly by engineers in Toulouse and in Bristol (the city where I live and work). It is a tremendous source of local pride for the people of the city. Just last weekend I happened to be in the British Aerospace Welfare Association in Filton and overheard a number of elderly people who had worked on the project chatting about their experience of the aircraft. Anyone who grew up in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s will also know what the plane represented then in terms of confidence in a new technology-driven future, how the test flights were reported, the celebrity status of test-pilot “Brian Trubshaw”: , the worries about Concordski (later crashed at the Paris air show) and Boeing’s rival SST (abandoned). Now it will take longer to get from London to New York than it did twenty-seven years ago.



Lance Knobel 10.24.03 at 11:01 am

I think you’ll find that getting from London to Bristol is no faster now than it was in the age of steam, and on many other routes the journey is longer.

Progress in transportation seems mixed.


Jack 10.24.03 at 11:25 am

In general fuel consumption per trip is likely to be at least proportional to the speed. (resistance scaling like the square of the velocity, journey time to the reciprocal). Boarding, taxiing and holding patterns dilute the benefits significantly as do limitations on flight over populated land.

In the mean time more normal airliners have become faster, more efficient and easier to get to. The real boom in aviation has been at the Ryanair/SouthWest end of the spectrum. Unlike the problems with railways which make Sherlock Holmes ability to defeat criminal masterminds with a good knowledge of the train timetables seem like science fiction, most people flying are probably getting there faster if a plane can be involved.
Still Concorde was pretty fab, it’s just that top speed isn’t the most useful measure of techological progress anymore. In fact imagine what Bristol would have been like if an effective rival to the 747 had been built instead.


Matthew 10.24.03 at 12:02 pm

In all the reams of stuff written about the Concorde I think the most interesting was an article in the LRB last year ‘Love that Bird’, by Francis Spufford (sadly subscriber only).

It was full of fascinating facts, such as the fact that it runs very tight on fuel — ‘It can cross the Atlantic, but only just. London-New York and Paris-New York are possible; Frankfurt-New York is not.’, and this rather nice story,

“One of the best was told by Captain Jock Lowe, who had, he said, once met the American pilot of an SR-71 Blackbird spyplane. This pilot had been on station in the stratosphere over Cuba one day, when he and his co-pilot got a crackly request from Air Traffic Control to move a couple of miles off course. ‘Eh?’ they thought; for not much moves in the thin air up at 60,000 feet that a spyplane can get in the way of. But as they sat there swaddled up like astronauts and plugged into their craft’s systems by a tangle of umbilicals, an Air France Concorde out of Caracas sailed by, ‘with a hundred passengers sitting in their shirtsleeves, eating canapés’. Another planeload of rich people had entered the kingdom of heaven.”


a different chris 10.24.03 at 2:55 pm

>Progress in transportation seems mixed.

The number of traffic lights between my house and the main hwy I get on to for work has gone from 4 to 8 in the last 10 years, and a new set (put in to facilitiate a new mega car lot, at I’m sure no cost to the wildly rich owners) is already hung but not uncovered yet.

Ah, sprawl.


Tripp 10.24.03 at 5:08 pm

Ah yes, new roads. First is the inconvenience of the construction, then a blissful honeymoon when the ‘bypass’ is new and clear and traveling is easy. Then reality steps in, traffic increases, and stoplights go up. One here, one there, until the new ‘bypass’ is nothing more than another city street.

And they start planning the bypass for the bypass.


enthymeme 10.24.03 at 6:13 pm

Lance, really? It takes 2.5 hours now on a National Express coach.


Steve Casburn 10.25.03 at 3:06 am

Now it will take longer to get from London to New York than it did twenty-seven years ago.

Good point.

I suspect the cost-per-mile, adjusted for inflation, has dropped considerably, though!


snore 10.25.03 at 3:56 pm

After 9-11, I’ve heard that there are lots of charter jets (corporate jets) that celebrities take to and fro.

They are likely as expensive as the Concorde for a seat, but it’s gotta be much more easy going. I don’t know if every airport has customs, though.

Hmm, I don’t really know if there is a supersonic corporate jet right now. I’d assume not, but it would make sense.

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