Home' Aerogram : Aerogram 2011 3 September Contents Aerogram September 2011
after take-off and cruise at Mach 0.95
towards Nantucket Island. The ride to
the end of runway 13R-31L was rather
bumpy, probably as a result of that
sensitive suspension mentioned earlier.
It seemed a little odd when Captain Morris again reminded
passengers about the turn to the left, emphasising this time
that it would a “rather sporty” manoeuvre. I certainly did not
appreciate what he was on about – as the saying goes,
ignorance is bliss!
At 1.58, as we paused at the end of the runway, there was a
moment of calm before the excitement began. Then, with the
afterburners on, the brakes were released, and I was thrown
back in my seat. Alpha Alpha was rolling, to the most exciting,
electrifying sound in the world, which really made my spine
tingle. Amid a thunder of enormous power, the aircraft moved
faster and faster, the bulkhead in front of me becoming
steeper by the second due to Concorde’s thirteen-degree
angle of attack. Take-off came at 250 miles an hour. Almost
immediately, at about a hundred feet, the much-promised turn
to the left was initiated – a roll so sharp that I was looking
straight down on to the runway.3 Despite the earlier
announcements, I wasn’t expecting anything like this! The term
“sporty” was quite an understatement – this was thrilling, like
riding in a fighter, not an airliner.
Effortlessly, the great power of the aircraft soon had us away
from the residences of New York, and enjoying a fine view of
Rockaway Beach and Jones Beach on the south shore of Long
Island. At 2.14, as drinks were being served, I was watching
the America’s Cup – from 29000 feet at Mach 0.95! Captain
Morris informed us that Australia II had a lead of more than
two minutes. This was evident even from our height, as the
two yachts could be discerned quite easily, two white flecks in
the middle of what looked like the eye of a storm for, around
them, the wake of the spectator craft formed a huge white
circle in the ocean. (Months later, at an art show, John
Bertrand was initially puzzled when I asked him to sign my
Concorde menu, but became quite interested when I told him
about my unusual vantage point.)
By 2.18, with Cape Cod on the left, the afterburners were lit,
and pushed Alpha Alpha through Mach 1. Fourteen minutes
later, at Mach 2, I looked down at a smooth, unbroken carpet
of cloud many thousands of feet below; on my left was an
infinity of blue that grew darker as I looked upwards. Since the
flight was so smooth, there was absolutely nothing anywhere
to convey a sense of movement. Except for the digital display
that was flicking above and below a reading of M2.00, I could
easily have believed that the aircraft was suspended
motionless in a void.
At 2.40, I was escorted to the cockpit. Since it was still
daylight, the view through the cockpit visor was so much better
than on my flight in 1980. The instruments showed that we
were at 52,400 feet; the body temperature of the aircraft was
100°C, with an air temperature of minus 65°C. Evidence of the
fuselage stretching with the heat was quite apparent when the
flight engineer, Bill Johnston, put his hand into a space at the
end of his console, a gap that wasn’t there when Concorde
was on the ground. Captain Morris pointed out a similar crevice
that, as he put it, “gets bloody hot!”
While enjoying a meal of Scottish salmon, followed by steak, I
stared at the very pale but bright blue curve of the horizon. As
my gaze moved upward, the colour deepened, becoming a
dark-blue grey at the limit of my vision, which was restricted by
the small window. By 3.40, as night approached, the shadows
were lengthening on the clouds far below. Twenty minutes
later, a thin band of pinkish orange stretched along the horizon.
Above it was a touch of gold, then a magnificent rich blue.
Below, the clouds were turning from grey to a delicate pink as
they caught the last rays of the sun but ahead all was dark.
Just after four, there were cheers when it was reported that
Australia II had levelled the series at three-all.
Sadly, at 4.25, Captain Morris announced that, in ten minutes,
he would start to slow down and commence the descent, so
that by the time we passed over Ilfracombe and Bristol the
sonic boom would have dissipated. As the Machmeter dropped
to M1.90, the deceleration was quite noticeable, and at 5.00
[10 p.m. London time] the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign appeared.
Near Windsor, where the floodlit castle provided a memorable
sight, the undercarriage was lowered. Three hours and twelve
minutes after leaving New York, we landed at Heathrow at a
speed of 180 miles an hour.
While the aircraft was moving to the terminal, I reflected in my
diary about my incredible afternoon:
Absolutely exhilarating, but not long enough – I could travel
forever on this great aircraft. There is a real sense of let-down
after the flight is over – what can one do to follow one of the
outstanding technological achievements of all time? Only keep
trying to re-live it all again – and again.
A British Airways executive once said that Concorde was born
of dreams, built with vision and operated with pride. Like the
Apollo moon programme, it was a reminder that, at times,
mankind can do extraordinary things.
1. Orlebar, Christopher: The Concorde Story, Sixth Edition, Botley, 2006, p.7;
Kelly, Neil: The Concorde Story–34 Years of Supersonic Air Travel, West Molesey, 2005, p.7 .
2. Owen, Kenneth: Concorde–New Shape in the Sky, London, 1982, p.241.
3. Personal Diary; Orlebar, Christopher: op.cit., pp.66, 88.
G-BOAA at New York
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