Supersonic Dud


The Concorde makes its last London-U.S. flight today, causing infantile observers whose vision of the future peaked around the time 2001: Space Odyssey came out to weep. Here's a Wired News story quoting one of these aeronautical Miss Havershams:

"She represents the hopes and dreams of a generation of people for whom nothing was impossible; the future was there for the taking," Sira said in an e-mail message. It was all about Mach 2 airliners, fast cars, man walking on the moon, manned space stations and moon bases. The technology used in Concorde was decades ahead of her time. She is still decades ahead of our time and needs to be saved and kept flying at Mach 2."

As this peppery op piece in the International Herald-Tribune points out, the technology that literally underwrote the Concorde is as old as taxing poor Peter to subsidize well-off Paul's affluent lifestyle:

No, I don't admit it's a beautiful sight, this engineering's answer to the mosquito, nose drooping as though ready to stick a taxpayer.

The taxpayers paid, it's reported, well over a billion 1960's pounds to develop it. The full cost is as secret as only something really embarrassing to governments can be.

At today's prices, that billion-plus would get you a great start on a new airport, one that wouldn't have to route hundreds of daily landings over the most populous city.Small-minded of me, of course. Concorde's legion of defenders puts down to jealousy the reluctance of New Yorkers to have this plague fly over them.

NEXT: Cuba, a Little More Libre

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  1. I am sorta torn. I think the Concorde is beautiful piece of engineering, but commercially completely impractical (not to mention environmentally). It’s a shame that I’ll never get to fly in one, but it is probably about time that they were retired.

    I hope Richard Branson can make a go of it with them.

  2. One other interesting Concorde-related note is that, prior to 9/11, Boeing’s big new project was the “Subsonic Cruiser”. This was marketed to the airlines as basically a faster version of the current widebody jets in commercial aviation today. Where previously an airline could only make, say, 4 trips between two cities daily, this airplane would allow for 5, which would produce more revenue for the airline. Since 9/11, however, that project has been scrapped. Cost, not speed, is now king in aviation. Boeing is now focusing on building more cost efficient airplanes.

  3. One wonders about the expense of the complete rebuilding of the fleet after that crash. Hardly time to recover any of it.

  4. Peter,

    Thanks for the crx on the Great Expectations reference. Apologies to all for spelling from memory.


    You’re doubtless right re: people’s emotional response to the end of this era. But even apart from the subdsidy issue, I find the future as embodied in the Concorde to be one that is remarkably unimaginative. As for existentialism, you’re also doubtless right, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

  5. Is there any way these Concordes could be turned into supersonic bombers? That would be pretty cool.


  6. Boeing spent several years looking at the feasability of developing a supersonic jet during the 1990s. It faced three basic problems.

    1. Fuel efficiency
    2. Noise
    3. Pollution level

    According to the report, under current technology they could solve any two of the above problems. Good fuel efficiency and low noise= High Pollution. Low Pollution and Low Noise = Low fuel efficiency.

    Personally I think it is kind of sad. I would love the flight from L.A. to London to be 5 Hours instead of 11.

    Regards Joe

  7. Joe:

    Well, if people were paying to pay enough of a premium for supersonic flight, that could overcome the fuel efficiency issue.

  8. It’s weird, I remember from childhood three dramtic things about New York: Seeing the new concorde flying overhead while playing in the water at Rockaway, the building of the Twin Towers, and our neighborhood getting torn up for a couple of years to build a huge water tunnel.

    Two down, one to go?

  9. The Concorde is a beautiful sight, and a boondoggle.

    I don’t know if the writer means to say that he doesn’t find the Concorde visually pleasing, or just that he can’t appreciate it in a purely visual way because the sight of it forces his mind to dwell involuntarily on the suffering taxpayers.

  10. Nobody really wants a supersonic bomber; the B-58 Hustler debuted around the same time as the Concorde, but was rendered useless by advancing SAM technology. There was also that B-70 Valkyrie, but that project got scotched when the slipstream from it caught one of its escorts, forcing it to crash into its tail.

  11. Cost/economics aside, the Concorde was beautiful and DID seem to capture the spirit and grace of flight more “poetically” than a comparatively fat 747.

  12. I hope people don’t get all weepy and sentimental like this when it’s time to put the space shuttle to sleep.

  13. I hope people don’t get all weepy and sentimental like this when it’s time to put the space shuttle to sleep.

  14. Hope springs eternal . . .

  15. I heard they were putting them up on Ebay and word on the street is the high bidder is expected to be Hooters Air.

  16. It take it as a sign that what people really want are dirigibles. Bring back the airships!

  17. Clement – Kylie Minogue may have no downside, but she definitely has one hell of a nice backside!

    Regarding the Concorde, it was an amazing machine from an engineering standpoint and a disastrous machine from an economic standpoint. Whatever you think of the Concorde, you have to admit that it would have been pretty darn cool to fly on one.

  18. Madog: “Oh, the humanity!!!”

    Brad S.: No question it was an epicurean delight to be a passenger. and Kylie Mingoue’s ass probably tastes like french vanilla ice cream, as Clarence Whorley said in “True Romance.”

  19. “No, I don’t admit it’s a beautiful sight, this engineering’s answer to the mosquito, nose drooping as though ready to stick a taxpayer.”

    This is a very nice line.

    Checking my libertarian credentials, I find the Concorde obnoxious, but the space program less so. I can’t figure out why …

  20. That’s a pretty snotty, attitude, Nick. People aren’t lining the fences at Heathrow thinking about the implications for poltiical economy. Myself, I think existentialism is infantile, but to each their own.

  21. That would probably be Miss HAVISHAM Nick wants to reference.

  22. Nick writes: ” I find the future as embodied in the Concorde to be one that is remarkably unimaginative.”

    I find it (very fast transit between distant continents) to be rather more inspiring a prospect than seeing the world with one’s fat ass planted in front of a monitor. Which is the remarkably bland future we’re going to have.

    “Woohoo, so this is Paris. Click. Damned popups.”

  23. The Concorde is beautiful in the same way that “Colossus: The Forbin Project” is a great movie.

    Kind of looks like some old toy you’d find in a thrift shop.

  24. I loved the sight of Concorde, an amazing plane, though hard to justify on economic grounds. Interesting to find out just why neither Richard Branson nor some other rich guy with a love of planes got to take em over. They could easily have made spares for it.

    Sometimes even a minimal statist libbo like me has to stand back and gasp in admiration for stuff like this plane. Oh well, bring on the X-Prize!

    and let’s not forget, that Concorde was that rarity – a successful joint British and French enterprise. Frog-bashers please note.

  25. >>As for existentialism, you’re also doubtless right, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.

  26. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/10/2003 07:15:13
    Just because there’s a pattern doesn’t mean there’s a purpose.

  27. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/20/2003 10:37:38
    Virtue never stands alone. It is bound to have neighbors.

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