I remember my Gran giving me a small red plastic suitcase full of toys for my first long haul flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles, aged five, collecting cups and glasses with a trolley on a flight from there to Hawaii a couple of years later, and seeing Afghanistan flicker in the darkness on the way from Moscow to Delhi in 1987. 

Flying regularly from then on, I've flown 127 airlines, many now long gone, and others transformed almost beyond recognition. I've been lucky enough to be on the first flight of the Boeing 787 from Tokyo to Hong Kong, and to experience glorious business class service and food on Etihad, BA, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian and others.

And no matter which airline, wherever I'm flying to, or in which cabin, I look forward to the next flight...


 
   3061 views   
FLYING NOSTALGIA
The last Concorde finds a new home in Bristol. How to find it, and the 17 others...
posted by Richard Green on 13/02/2017

The last Concorde to fly was moved to a new hangar/museum on February 7th 2017. Photo Airbus/Aerospace Bristol

Since the simultaneous take off of the first two passenger-carrying Concorde flights in 1976 - one from Air France and the other British Airways - the Anglo/French Aérospatiale/BAC supersonic airliner caught the public attention like few aircraft before or since. It was sleek,  glamorous and fast - with a cruising speed of just over twice the speed of sound (that's 1,300 miles per hour), it immediately earned cache for those who pilot, crewed and travelled in it.

It carried just 100 passengers at a time, in a narrow fuselage and with small windows, but the crews went the extra miles to make the flights special experiences. But with engines developed for military bombers in the 1960's it was very noisy too.

I've lived in London since the early 80s, and nobody could ignore the roar of Concorde as it roared on take off or rumbled low on landing right over the centre of the city. And it was its noise footprint that was partly responsible for its lack of commercial success, both in its day to day noise levels, but also thanks to the unavoidable sonic boom that would thunder over vast distances as it flew overhead.

Fine for London to New York, but not so good from London to Singapore say, where the aircraft were required to fly sub-sonically across Europe, before opening the throttle over sparsely populated areas of Arabia. The local Bedouin said it was responsible for making their camels miscarry.

The Concorde is moved into its new purpose built hangar at Aerospace Bristol. Photo Airbus/Aerospace Bristol

Planned for era of cheap aviation fuel, the oil crisis of the 1970s made the Concorde's extremely expensive to operate, which saw the number of potential airline customers fall from 16 to two. BA and Air France persevered with their niche flagship plane, operating it across the Atlantic to New York, Toronto, Miami, Bridgetown, Mexico City, and Rio,plus down to Dakar and east to Bahrain and Singapore. 

The Paris crash of 2000, despite being caused by debris on the runway left by a previously departing aircraft, shattered confidence in the Concorde and requiring modifications that grounded the aircraft for a year. It first flew again inauspiciously landing full of employees on September 11th 2001, just before the World Trade Center attacks. The passenger slump that followed, plus Airbus refusing to manufacture spare parts, was the end for Concorde.

Hard to imagine anyone doing this for another jetliner, but there were thousands of people across London out to view the last passenger flights. In fact three flights were scheduled to arrive one after the other on the afternoon of Friday the 24th of October, 2003. I stood on the roof of News International's Pennington Street printing works and offices, along with a knot of other employees - and everyone on the travel desk - and watched the three planes pass by.

Planned for era of cheap aviation fuel, the oil crisis of the 1970s made the Concorde's extremely expensive to operate, which saw the number of potential airline customers fall from 16 to two. BA and Air France persevered with their niche flagship plane, operating it across the Atlantic to New York, Toronto, Miami, Bridgetown, Mexico City, and Rio,plus down to Dakar and east to Bahrain and Singapore. 

The Paris crash of 2000, despite being caused by debris on the runway left by a previously departing aircraft, shattered confidence in the Concorde and requiring modifications that grounded the aircraft for a year. It first flew again inauspiciously landing full of employees on September 11th 2001, just before the World Trade Center attacks. The passenger slump that followed, plus Airbus refusing to manufacture spare parts, was the end for Concorde.

Hard to imagine anyone doing this for another jetliner, but there were thousands of people across London out to view the last passenger flights. In fact three flights were scheduled to arrive one after the other on the afternoon of Friday the 24th of October, 2003. I stood on the roof of News International's Pennington Street printing works and offices, along with a knot of other employees - and everyone on the travel desk - and watched the three planes pass by.

This February has seen the last ever Concorde to fly moved to a purpose built hangar at Aerospace Bristol, at its Filton site just north of the city.

The new hangar clears the aircraft wing tips by just a metre at either side, and is part of a £19m project to exhibit the aircraft, which is due to open to the public in Summer 2017.  

The Filton site has a long association with the Concorde, as this is where the aircraft were designed and built. Airbus have been looking after the aircraft since it made its (and all of the Concorde's) last flight into Filton in 2003. 

Aerospace Bristol plans to take visitors on a journey through more than 100 years of aviation history, starting with the Bristol Boxkite biplane that was made here. There will be sections on aviation's pivotal role in the two world wars, through the technological advances of the space race, and up to the Aerospace industry of the present day.

See Aerospace Bristol

What happened to the rest of the Concordes?

There were only ever 14 Concordes in passenger service - seven each with Air France and British Airways. Plus there were six Concordes made during the development and testing phase. Thanks to the popularity and uniqueness of the Concorde, all but two are on display - or are about to be. The exceptions are the aircraft registered at F-BTSC that crashed in Paris, and F-BVFD, which was broken up in 1984.

In the UK there are Concordes at the...

Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset is dedicated to the history of British naval aviation. Over 100 aircraft are on display spread across four large halls, each with upper viewing galleries, where visitors can look down onto an excellent collection of aircraft - including the Sea Harrier, the Supermarine Seafire (the naval version of the Spitfire), and one of the Concorde test aircraft. See Fleet Air Arm Museum

Britain's largest aviation museum is Imperial War Museum at Duxford, 13 miles to the south of Cambridge. This is where the Imperial War Museum's oversized items are displayed - over 200 aircraft, vehicles and vessels. Its seven halls are on the site of Duxford Aerodrome, used by the RAF in the First World War, and many historic buildings there are still in use today - including hangars used to maintain aircraft during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. Duxford is a base for several Air Shows too, the most well known being the Duxford Air Show, Flying Legends, and America Air Day. 

Highlights of the collection include the world's only Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, built in 1916, The Panavia Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon, the Messerschmitt Bf-109E, and even a 2,200 mph Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Its Concorde is the only one in the country with a working droop-nose. Any delta wing aircraft - such as Concorde - adopts quite a steep angle from the horizontal at low speeds - and the aircraft angled upwards at the front during landings meant that its pilots couldn't see forward past the long pointed nose. Consequently a drooping nose was developed, where the nose cone could droop by 12.5 degrees.

See  Imperial War Museum Duxford

Brooklands Museum is near to Weybridge in Surrey, about 25 miles southwest of London. Brooklands is famous for being the birthplace of British motor sport, however, it also played a key role in the development of early British aviation - with Bleriot, Hawker, Sopwith and Vickers all having bases here. The Daily Mail's 1911 Round Britain Air Race started and finished here, and had a celluloid reprise in the star-filled comedy 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' film of 1965. The film involved a fictional air race from London to Paris and featured perhaps some of the most brazen racial stereotyping in the history of cinema - think impetuous Italians, Prussian-bearing Germans, and a cowboy cocky American.   

The collection ranges from racing cars and motorbikes to aeroplanes. And as the the first Concorde planning meeting too place between the British and French here, it is fitting that the museum is the proud owner of Concorde G-BBDG. The imaginative Concorde experience staged by the museum involves a pre-flight briefing and a virtual flight.

See Brooklands Museum

The nose of Concorde G-BOAA at Edinburgh's National Museum of flight. Photo the National Museum of Flight

Scotland's National Museum of Flight is 22 miles to the east of Edinburgh, on a well preserved World War II airfield. The museum has the first aircraft collected by any museum in the UK - Percy Pilcher's glider, a remarkable hang glider that he called 'The Hawk' and which flew for 250m in 1897. He was well on the right track and was developing his engined Triplane when he made a public demonstration of the Hawk glider and died after falling 10m to the ground. 

Other aircraft in the museum include the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Sea Hawk, and also passenger planes like the De Havilland Comet, BAC 1-11, Vickers Viscount, Boeing 707 and Hawker Sidley Trident. Two hangars housing 30 Second World War era aircraft have recently been redeveloped, but the star turn is Concorde registration G-BOAA, which has a walk through and around audio guide. See National Museum of Flight Concorde Experience

Passing the Concorde at Heathrow on landing. Photo Richard Green

Heathrow Airport, London - G-BOAB languishes in a disused car park at Heathrow Airport. The only way you can really see it is sometimes as a departing or arriving passenger if the wind is blowing from the west and you are using runway 27L. There have been wild rumours that it will be shipped to Dubai or even parked on a barge on the River Thames, but chances are it will just stay where it is - a strange reminder that Heathrow was once the home base of half the world's Concordes.

Manchester Airport's  Runway Visitor Park. The park is right by the airport and has good views of the arriving and departing aircraft, and as well as having Concorde G-BOAC in a hangar that can be toured, there are also other aircraft on display (including an ex RAF Nimrod, DC-10, Trident, and AVRO RJX), a restaurant, children’s play area and aviation shop.

In France...

Air and Space Museum, Le Bourget - www.museeairespace.fr

Musee Delta, Orly - www.museedelta.free.fr

Airbus, Toulouse - www.airbus.com

Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris - displayed on three pedestals

Around the world...

Auto & Technik Museum, Sinsheim, Germany - www.sinsheim.technik-museum.de

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York, USA - www.intrepidmuseum.org

Museum of Flight, Seattle, USA - www.museumofflight.org

Grantly Adams Airport, Barbados - www.barbadosconcorde.com

For more detailed information on all things Concorde, see Heritage Concorde


 
   2956 views   
FLYING NOSTALGIA
Fifteen hundred 747's took to the skies; now time is being called on the much loved Jumbo Jet...
posted by Richard Green on 24/01/2017
 

The original 747 is unveiled to the staff. Photo Boeing

Hardly a week goes by these days without another airline announcing the final flight of the last Boeing 747 'Jumbo Jet' in its fleet. Most recently it is United Airlines, which has said its 747's will be withdrawn from service by the end of the year, which follows airlines like Air France, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas, who have already retired theirs.

The last Boeing 747-400 to be in service with Qantas was donated to the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society that plans to put it on public display at the HQ at Albion Park, NSW. That particular aircraft grabbed headlines on its delivery flight too, when back in 1989 it set a world record for the longest flight of a commercial jet – a nonstop slog between London and Sydney of twenty hours and nine minutes.

And in a flying life fairly typical of the jumbo - which was designed to carry more passengers further than any plane of its day - it had carried 4,094,568 passengers and flown the equivalent of 110 return trips to the moon.

When the world's first 'wide-bodied' aircraft entered service in 1970 the jumbo was wider, longer and flew further than any other passenger plane. But despite the manufacture of improved new models over the years, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, and many others, have already said fond farewells to their last jumbo jets. The final flights themselves have been accompanied by champagne send-offs, onboard TV crews and moist-eyed plane spotters clinging to perimeter fences.


Nobody notices when other aircraft types bow out. There was something different about the jumbo jet. Even people who wouldn't know an Airbus from a double-decker bus knew when they were on a Boeing 747.

Chances are most of us can remember our first flight in one. Mine was crossing from London to Los Angeles when I was five years old, clutching a plastic red suitcase that my grandmother had packed with toys. The Pan Am jumbo's nose looked whale-like as it nudged towards the departure gate at Heathrow. The in-flight films were marvellous, even though the ceiling-mounted screens were tiny and at neck-cricking angles. When looking forward or back from my seat, the plane seemed to go on forever.



Much of the impact came from its size - the 747s were so much bigger than the Boeing 727s or DC-8s before them. Board a 727 and you'd walk down a jetty into a cramped fuselage with a single aisle and three seats either side. But jumbos were so high off the ground that old-style jetties inclined upwards to the doors, and entering the cabin revealed not one, but two aisles -- and the seats numbered an astonishing 10 across. Just glimpsing the spiral staircase at the front felt like being on a sci-fi film set.

Boeing mock-up of early 747 interior

The staircase led to the upper deck bubble - perhaps aviation's most iconic shape, and an inexplicably reassuring one, too. The upper deck wasn't designed for aesthetic reasons, though. The plan was to move the pilot and his instruments out of the way to make room for cargo. A hinged nose section would mean bulkier freight could be front-loaded straight into the main deck. But Pan Am, the first buyer, had its eyes firmly on transporting passengers and pressured Boeing to extend the bubble for use as a lounge.

Most lounges were up in the bubble, but some were at the front, and others even at the rear for economy passengers. Wherever they were, the lounges and bars that flourished in the early 70s were invariably psychedelic in decor. Qantas' Captain's Club lounge had antique-map tabletops and nautical woodwork; Air India's version looked like a scene from Dr Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band movie; and American Airlines even had a piano bar complete with a Wurlitzer for sing-alongs. Yes, really.

Then came the 1973 oil shock, which gave the bean counters the upper hand. They stopped the fun and frivolity and swept away the lounges to make way for more revenue-earning seats.

Wherever you were sitting though, the jumbos were big and safe and smooth through the air. This partly explains how Boeing wound up selling 1,500 of the 65-ton giants. They tweaked them over the years, of course: the 747-SP was shortened by 47 feet to enable it to fly further, the 'Combi' had seats in the front half and cargo at the back, and a special short-haul option was developed for Japanese domestic flights that crammed in 560 seats. Most successful and numerous, though, were the stretched upper-deck versions where the bubble elongated as far as the wing - the 747-300 and the 747-400 as flown formerly by Ansett and still by Qantas.

A BA 747 on final approach into the very downtown Mexico City Airport

The latest and last version was the Boeing 747-8, but only a few dozen aircraft have been sold and the trend is clear. Day by day there are fewer jumbos signing our skies. Qantas, BA, United, Delta and others are retiring them in favour of twin-engine planes and the 'Super Jumbo' Airbus A380 are both cheaper to run per passenger.

The Heavy Metal bang Iron Maiden have a private 747 dubbed Ed Force One

No need to rush for a hankie just yet, though, as jumbos will be flying for a couple of decades to come. But the next time you see the famous bubble, you might give a nod to a trustworthy flying machine that's transported us around the world for more than 45 years.

There are currently about 30 airlines still flying the 747, so it will be a while yet before they disappear from our skies

 


 © 2016-2018 Richard Green. All Rights Reserved. All digital assets shown on this website remain the copyright of their respective owners.
  • "The aeroplane has unveiled for us the true face of the earth"
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer, poet and aviator