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Takeoff and death of the Concorde, the millionaire dream of Europe that crashed 20 years ago

2020-06-04T08:12:36.963Z

The jet plane that went from London to New York in three hours and where champagne and lobster were served signed his farewell letter after a traffic accident 20 years ago. Today it remains in memory as a tribute to the excess of a Europe that is not what it dreamed of itself



When you find yourself in the endless boarding row of a low-cost flight, with all your belongings squeezed into an arbitrarily absurd suitcase that won't fit in the overhead compartment anyway, it's hard to believe there was a time to fly it was a pleasure. The elbows when fastening their belts, the hostesses who sell lottery, perfumes and vodka, the toilets decorated by their users with eerily damp toilet paper ... Flying has become a frightful process, a trance that we are inevitably forced to overcome to get from a point A to a point B. If somewhere an ingenious inventor discovered a way of teleportation that required thirty minutes of physical torture to activate, almost certainly the common people would prefer it to flying. After all, what are thirty minutes of physical torture with the infinite agony that is a flight in economy class.

The Concorde was a monument to impracticality, waste, chauvinism, over-engineering and not wondering if being able to do something was justification for doing it. It was also a monument to luxury, excess, pride and impatience

We can make the mistake that all generations make and think that being in a seat for two hours is a recent invention, but that would be daring. What is novel is the idea of ​​doing it for little money, because there was a time when one was willing to pay more or less what today would be about ten thousand euros for a round trip from London to New York, I could have the same experience that an Erasmus has today that flies from Santiago de Compostela to Bratislava at five in the morning. Of course, with Dom Pérignon and lobster Thermidor. We speak, of course, of the Concorde.

There is no comparable thing today. The first class is shrouded in the mists of discretion and modesty: suites and partitions, private cars, curtains and secret rooms try to prevent the true rich and famous from being mixed with those who fly in the other cabins, but in order to beads is just a piece of plastic or fabric that separates them from the disinherited. A considerable part of the outlay is intended to pretend that the first-class men and women are alone on the plane, but it is, after all, a fiction.

Three British hostesses pose with a model of the Concorde in London in 1967, years before the project came to fruition. Cordon Press

The Concorde was insultingly expensive, terribly awkward and ridiculously impractical, but it was also undeniably exclusive. There were no partitions or curtains, no extravagant suites with Egyptian cotton duvets covered in rose petals. There were seats and already. Exclusivity permeated the entire cabin, without the need for fuss or fuss. One could board and find himself sitting next to Madonna, the Duke of Kent or Gloria Vanderbilt. It was the only airplane in the world that served exclusively to see and be seen. It was the aerostatic equivalent of Louboutins.

When you traveled in Concorde, you did it more to demonstrate that you could than to have any special interest. Passengers enjoyed exclusive VIP lounges, separated from the subsonic mob in a higher sphere of existence; they ate fabulous haute cuisine menus and drank champagne on a whim throughout the flight

But even if his destiny was to become frivolous and ostentatious, the Concorde did not begin his life like that. The Concorde was born, as a concept, in that turbulent maelstrom of optimism and fatality that was the post-world war. Just two years after the first commercial flight of a jet (that of Havilland Comet) the race began to launch the human being at supersonic speeds. The United States put Boeing and Lockheed in competition, convinced that the forces of capitalism would distill the aircraft of the future. On the other side of the iron curtain, Moscow put all the power of socialist science and organization at the service of going very quickly from one place to another. Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom, still in denial about ceasing to be the center of the universe, embarked on their own programs, much more modest than their post-war economies should be, but ambitious in any case.

The Boeing 2707 never became more than a model. The Tupolev 144 flew a couple of years before the Concorde, but it had a certain tendency to fall more than might be expected and was acceptable, even to the disciplined comrades of the Soviet bloc. The French and British projects, for which no one gave a penny, had been merged in the mid-1960s in a last attempt to save them from the most abject of oblivion. Inexplicably, out of the bureaucracy, chauvinism, and delusions of grandeur of two coming powers unless a historical milestone emerged: the only supersonic aircraft to fly commercially.

A Concorde rests at the Scottish Aviation Museum, where it has been on display since 2009. Cordon Press

They called it Concorde for referring to the harmony and cooperation between the two countries. The funny thing is that they spent the following years deciding whether in the United Kingdom they would call it Concord, which is the British spelling of the word, or Concorde, which is French, thinking that if they gave in that 'e' end everyone I would think the plane was fundamentally French. The controversy reached the highest levels, and only ended when the British government accepted the final e saying that it could perfectly well be an E for 'England'. When the Scots complained they were told it could be an E for 'Écosse' (Scotland in French), the matter was over. Concord, certainly.

By the time the accident happened in 2000 (Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after taking off from Paris and all 109 people on board and four on the ground died), the Concorde was a relic of a time and ambition that has already they did not exist. The accident is often cited as one of the causes of his fall from grace, but it was more an excuse than a trigger

The things of the airplanes in general go slowly, for this reason to avoid that they plunge into the void being full of people, and it still had to take seven years until the 21st of January of 1976 the first commercial flights operated by a Concorde finally took off. . And on what route would these prodigies of technique fly? One would think that their natural habitat would be to cross the North Atlantic, making a bridge between the decadent and ostentatious Babylonians that made up the apotheosis of First Worldism already then. But one would be wrong. As we have already said, there were many things that were not taken into account at first and that unfortunately proved to be more important than anticipated. One of the most important was that the Concorde made a terrible noise.

We say that the Concorde was a supersonic aircraft because its cruising speed was higher than the speed of sound. Even if you are not an expert in physics, it makes sense to think that an object that moves at a speed lower than the speed of sound and that later moves at a speed higher than the speed of sound must at some point cross that barrier, and it turns out that when an object crosses the sound barrier a phenomenon occurs called a sonic explosion or sonic boom , which can be technically described as tremendous noise. We've all heard that sound when we've snapped a whip or a piece of string. The thing is that a hundred passenger plane makes a similar noise but much more tremendous, so much so that it can cause structural damage to structures that are just below. It seems that no one in the entire duration of the development of the Concorde thought that this could be a drawback worth noting. But it was.

By the time it was time to start flying, the sweet routes of the North Atlantic were out of competition: the FAA, the highest authority of American aviation, had banned the Concorde in its airspace. Orphaned on purpose, the Concorde launched his professional career with two rather lackluster routes: a London-Bahrain that didn't interest anyone on the British side, and a Paris-Rio de Janeiro via Dakar that didn't make much sense either. That the flight to Bahrain was nonsense occurs to anyone who has access to a world map: the route flies over populated areas almost all the time over which supersonic speeds cannot be reached. The only way to do it was by following a somewhat bizarre zig zag over the Red Sea, and consequently the flight time, instead of being cut in half, remained three-quarters of the usual. Which was fine, but it didn't deserve the premium price for Concorde tickets, which IATA had set 20% above the first-class fare for the same route. For laymen in the field that is a lot, a lot of money.

The interior of the Concorde, as this image from one of its first commercial flights shows, was the complete opposite of what one might expect from a luxury aircraft. Cordon Press

The Paris-Rio deserves almost less explanation, because it also drew attention to another of the aircraft's great weaknesses: its extremely poor autonomy. Anything a little longer than an Atlantic crossing required a refueling stop, and refueling stops clashed with the whole concept of traveling extremely fast. Fortunately, the American tantrum did not last long, and flights to Washington Dulles were soon authorized. New York was still closed, because its airports are owned by the Port Authority, which maintained the ban, but something was something.

The interior was cramped and cramped, more like a regional jet than a double-aisle aircraft, and the noise inside the cabin was deafening. High speeds made the fuselage extremely hot, and not all the air conditioning in the world could make passengers enjoy a truly comfortable temperature

Flying in the Concorde was one of those experiences that become luxurious almost exclusively for its cost. The interior was cramped and cramped, more like a regional jet than a double-aisle aircraft, and the noise inside the cabin was deafening. The high speeds made the fuselage extremely hot, and not all the air conditioning in the world could make passengers enjoy a truly comfortable temperature. The seats were small and flimsy: upholstered in leather, yes, but otherwise not unlike the economy-class seats. So why did the rich and famous pay fantastic amounts for the privilege of having one of those flights?

If there is one thing that cannot be denied to the French and the British it is the ability, each in his own way, to understand what true luxury is. It is not so much about personal comfort, although this is a plus, but about the perception of others. When you traveled in Concorde, you did it more to demonstrate that you could than to have any special interest. Passengers enjoyed exclusive VIP lounges, separated from the subsonic mob in a higher sphere of existence; They ate fabulous haute cuisine menus and drank champagne on a whim throughout the flight. They were unequivocally the privileged few, and that was what the matter was about.

No airline wanted to risk the Concorde. All the orders were canceled until only British Airways and Air France remained, at that time still public companies at the service of the same governments that had bet all their international prestige on the success of the invention. The Braniff - the airline that put its stewardesses in astronaut helmets in the 1960s - experimented with the route from Dallas-Fort Worth to Washington Dulles, which operated at subsonic speeds and, once in Washington, changed the crew for one of Air France which was already continuing to Paris. Something similar happened with Singapore Airlines and British. Neither experiment was excessively successful, and after a few months they disappeared and no one missed them.

Menu with lobster on a Concorde flight. The photo was taken in 1978. Getty Images

By the time the accident happened in 2000 (Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after taking off from Paris and all 109 people on board and four on the ground died), the Concorde was a relic of a time and ambition that has already they did not exist. The accident is often cited as one of the causes of his fall from grace, but it was more an excuse than a trigger. Air France never made money from the Concorde, and although BA claimed to do so, there are serious doubts that it was true. The flights were half empty. The progressive improvement of premium classes on long-haul flights made those few more hours cease to be so unbearable, while the mores of the new century were more inclined to privacy and discretion than ostentation and seeing-and -to be seen. The highlight was 9/11, which launched the biggest crisis in the aviation sector until then — recently far exceeded by the last Apocalypse we have had to live through. Concorde time had come.

Today we pay separately for such extravagant privileges as carrying luggage or sitting in a seat that fits a human being; We booked tickets that cost less than what we spent on the taxi to go to the airport; we hold our breath trying to survive the ninety minutes of advertisements, lottery and cologne sales and overheated bazaar items and machine sandwiches giving them time to squeeze into a flight to Beauvais that will land ninety kilometers from Paris but somehow We have decided what counts as going to Paris. It seems incredible that so recently, just seventeen years ago, it was possible to fly from London to New York in just three hours, enjoying the company of ministers, actresses, models and glitterati and blowing up the bench at the open bar in Dom Pérignon.

The Concorde was a monument to impracticality, waste, chauvinism, over-engineering and not wondering if being able to do something was justification for doing it. It was also a monument to luxury, excess, pride and impatience. It was, above all, a monument to all the most interesting defects of the human condition. Perhaps a world without Concorde is a more complete world, but it is also a much less interesting world.

Rafael de Jaime Juliá is the author of 'Calypso' (free children's editorial) and is a great fan of aviation and excessive and useless things. Throughout his professional career he has worked on three different airlines, none of which already exists for reasons unrelated to him.

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Source: elparis

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