Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Concorde

As I have become increasingly afraid to fly, I have also become increasingly knowledgeable about flight. Until recently, for example, I thought that the Concorde was the first supersonic passenger plane. It was, however, the Soviets who beat the British and French on that score, just as they had beaten the Americans into space.

The prototype of the Tupolev Tu-144 flew for the first time on December 31, 1968, a few months before the prototype of the Concorde. But the Tu-144 flew fewer than 60 passenger flights and was retired in 1978. The Concorde, on the other hand, flew more than 40,000 flights between 1976 and 2003. The aircraft's maximum ceiling was 60,000 feet and its maximum speed was Mach 2.2 (about 1450 mph). At one time, a total of 20 planes were in service.

The only crash of the Concorde was on July 25, 2000. Air France Flight 4590 crashed on take-off from Paris with destination New York. The official report on the crash cites a Foreign Object of Debris (FOD) as the cause and not an inherent problem with the aircraft. The FOD in question was a titanium strip (3 cm by 50 cm), part of a thrust reverser, that fell from a Continental Airlines DC-10 which had taken off four minutes ahead of the Concorde.

Ninety-six Germans, two Danes, one Austrian, and one American died in the crash. Perhaps strange, perhaps not—the plane carried no French passengers. And although the official report was later disputed, two Continental mechanics and three others have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and, after nearly ten years, are going on trial today.