It’s easy to be obsessed with Concorde: the droop nose, the delta wing – the most iconic aircraft ever designed and capable of whisking Joan Collins at supersonic speed (with a fluteful of champoo in hand) from London to New York in under three and a half hours. I’ve loved it forever… in fact, we both started meeting the public in the same year (ahem – gives age away, but ’76 was a great year, and who cares when Concorde is one’s contemporary)… and I can remember being wowed whenever I was passing by Heathrow at the same time it was taking off.
I wish I’d had the opportunity to fly on Concorde – just once – but we all know what happened (the accident… the escalating running costs), so now all I can do is content myself with visiting the eighteen remaining aircraft of the twenty originally built. The two prototypes, two pre-production, two development and twelve of the fourteen production aircraft that are on display/in storage at various locations across the globe.
This is where the story begins. An evening HVAC trade association meeting at Brooklands (not quite as dull as it sounds, they are mostly lovely people, and it transpired that the association chairman, Malcolm, had once flown on Concorde!) was preceded by an opportunity to have a look around some of the aircraft in the museum collection. There’s so much to love about Brooklands – the world’s first purpose-built race circuit (another passion of mine!) – the remains of the banked track and brilliantly maintained buildings take you right back to the 1920s. And when you come from the clubhouse, turn the corner and see Delta Golf standing in all its glory, well! I think that was the moment the seed was planted: the mission to track down all of its brothers and sisters.
I have since been back to visit Delta Golf (with thanks to my brother, who gifted me a Deluxe Concorde Flight for a birthday) – a super day where you get to go on board and sip champagne and get emotional over a film charting the aircraft’s history; quiz a Concorde stewardess and engineer; sit in the captain’s seat and visit the flight simulator.
Delta Golf was the British model of the two development aircraft that were used for final testing and evaluation to allow Concorde to receive its airworthiness certification. It was never used by British Airways as part of the commercial fleet, instead its parts were harvested and used for spares to service the production fleet. Brooklands’ fabulous team of volunteers have restored Delta Golf to superb condition, even the droop nose still works!
There’s a brilliant conspiracy theory to be found over on Wikipedia concerning Delta Golf: “There is an unverified story amongst British Aerospace staff that the last flight of the Filton aircraft was on a contract to the MOD, to see if a supersonic jet of that size would be radar visible heading over Iceland and down towards the UK from the west; a test of the country’s radar defences against the then-new Tupolev Tu-160 ‘Blackjack’ bomber. However, the flight test logs show the final flights of G-BBDG as being test flights related to primary nozzle control (PNC) development work, which was a planned post entry in the service development area.” The mind does run amok…
Two in Toulouse
Since my Dad relocated to the Occitanie region of France, when I go visiting I get to fly through French airports quite a bit – and I’ve discovered probably THE best airport for aviation geeks is Toulouse Blagnac – home of Airbus. This is where Airbus prepares models of all sizes (from the dinky little Beluga to the monster A380) for their global customer base. It’s a sight to behold the shiny new aircraft in their freshly painted liveries, all waiting to be delivered. About five minutes from the passenger terminal by car, is the fabulous aeronautical museum, Aeroscopia. It houses a collection of military and commercial aircraft, as well as a a development and production Concorde!
The French counterpart of the Brooklands’ Concorde – and similarly, never entered service as a passenger-carrying aircraft. After many years of tests flights, she was kept at Chateauroux as a ‘reserve aircraft’ ready to fly, before returning to Toulouse in 1985 to be put on display. At the rear of the plane, there is a 32-seat VIP cabin used by French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing. The seats were salvaged from Concorde 102 (now at Paris-Orly). This marks the two development aircraft ticked off the list!
Everyone has a favourite something-or-other of a collection about which they are passionate, and Foxtrot Charlie is mine. Maybe it’s because I see her so often… I don’t *need* to detour past Aeroscopia when I fly through Toulouse, but I do. I don’t even need to go in the museum. I can just look at her from the car park. And it helps that the sun is always shining in the Midi-Pyrenees, making her look extra lovely.
Foxtrot Charlie made her first flight in August 1976, and flew Air France’s last ever supersonic flight (sob!) on 27th June 2003, from CDG back to Toulouse. During this time, she made 4358 flights including two round-the-world trips.
One of the seven Concorde aircraft in Air France’s commercial fleet – she is in immaculate condition on the outside. I am really looking forward to going on board one day!
Encore deux à Paris…
The Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Paris-Le Bourget is quite possibly the best museum I have EVER been to (and I’ve done a lot!). I was lucky as I pretty much had the whole museum to myself (it was 23rd December, the last Sunday before Christmas – only nerds visit a museum on such a day, right?). The collection is fantastic. On the aviation side, the highlights include a 747-128 (which you can go on board – this and other aircraft – if you pay 9€), a DC-8, an A380, a large number of French air force fighters and halls devoted to wartime and civilian aviation.
The hall devoted to the conquest of space was mind-blowing! Probably my favourite exhibit in here was the Soyuz T6 re-entry capsule from the 1982 mission that saw Jean-Loup Chrétien become the first Frenchman – and first ‘western’ European – to go into space. By looks, it’s not vastly different from the capsule that brought Tim Peake home 30+ years later. I found myself just staring at it for ages, marvelling that such a flimsy, battered contraption had been in space and survived re-entry. Also, of slightly morbid interest, are the mock-up of a nuclear-blast-proof missile firing room, a ballistic missile and cross-section of a nuclear warhead.
Outside, there are two scale models of the Ariane 1 and 5 rockets that dominate the complex – they absolutely dwarf the 747 sitting next to it! Ariane 5 was the ESA’s most successful workhorse, clocking up 50+ launches between 2003 and 2013. But in my eagerness to encourage you to visit the museum, I have digressed from the task at hand… two more Concordes to see.
This was the first prototype and made it’s first flight on 2nd March 1969 with André Turcat at the controls. The following October it broke the Mach 2 barrier, sustaining a speed of 2200 km/h. Aside from its many hours of test flying, 001 had its share of interesting exploits. In 1971, she flew the then President Pompidou to the Azores for a (not-so) secret meeting with US President Nixon. And on 30th June 1973, with a host of astronomers on board, 001 chased a solar eclipse, allowing the scientists to make the longest ever observation of a solar eclipse (at 1 hr 15 mins) – you can still see the special rooftop portholes that were cut into the fuselage.
The record-breaking Sierra Delta is another of the Air France production fleet. In her years of service between 1980 and 2003, she made 5136 flights and 11 trips around the world. She holds the record for the fastest flights around the globe: westbound completed in 1992 (Lisbon to Lisbon) a distance of 40,454 km in 32 hours 49 minutes 3 secs and the record undertaken in 1995, and eastbound (NY to NY) a distance of 40,630 km in 31 hours 27 minutes 21 secs.
So, there we have it: the story so far! It’s a little bizarre that my tally of French to British is 4 – 1, but that should make collecting the next few a little less costly (but at the same time, less exotic, with the decreased opportunity to indulge in pains au chocolat!). Five down, thirteen to go…