3 April 2014 – Concorde, the inside story

4 in formationCalled the ‘inside story’ because Colin McCartney told of the work done in design and build of this famous aircraft. Starting with the mathematics that describes flight and associated aspects, the story moved on to early lighter then air balloons and then to powered flight. 1962 saw the first steps in the design for SST (Supersonic Transport).

The efforts on this side of the Atlantic involved a British and French collaboration, and the first hurdle was choosing a name!  Concorde it was, but should it be spelled with an ‘e’ at the end in the French style? In the true British fashion of giving way on points that don’t really matter, the E stayed and the name was Concorde. Of course, on this side of the channel we measured in feet and inches and the other side in metric, which led to some interesting situations.

More of interest to Colin was the development and production of the nose cone to house the weather radar. Since the material couldn’t be metal, a glass fibre was developed to be strong and light enough to stand the stress and heat of supersonic flight while still passing radar signals. While the material had to be strong, it also had
to have the same temperature expansion and contraction as the metal to which it would be attached.

The whole body of Concorde presented some interesting aspects in design and choice of materials since supersonic flight over Mach 2 would cause temperatures to exceed stress limits of the of the aircraft grade aluminium. An interesting conundrum was that using stronger materials as the Americans did, increased overall weight which needed more fuel which made the aircraft heaver. The Russians found that trying to fly at Mach 2.5, or faster, did indeed increase the aluminium stresses to disastrous results.

It’s indeed unfortunate that Concorde is no longer flying today.  An interesting side story was that a French Concorde nose cone (Radome) was sold at Christies for a staggering 480,099 Euros, which prompted Colin’s work associate to suggest they build some more!

Nose cone with heater used to cure the resin in the glass fibre.
Nose cone with heater used to cure the resin in the glass fibre.