What would it be like to fly at twice the speed of sound, across the globe, to chase the sun and actually “arrive before you leave”? That was British Airways’ flagship carrier, the Concorde’s tag line. One could fly from London to New York in just under 3 hours and land in a time zone that effectively allowed the passenger to arrive before they left.
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The Concorde was one of the only two commercial Supersonic Transport airliner to ever fly the skies, the other one being Russian aircraft Tupolev Tu-144. This technological marvel that flew at Mach 2.04 was a result of a treaty signed by the United Kingdom and France in 1962. Britain’s British Aerospace and France’s Aerospatiale were responsible for the airframe, and the jet engines were developed jointly by Britain’s Rolls-Royce and France’s SNECMA. The Concorde cruised at 1,350 mph, could carry 100 on board, and had several notable features including fly-by-wire controls, it’s “delta-wing” that was very different from conventional commercial carriers, and “droop snoot”, the pointy nose that could that gave maximum air penetration while flying but could be lowered during take-off or landing to allow the pilot better visibility.
Another interesting aspect of the Concorde was that the skin of the aircraft expanded due to heat generated as it traveled through the atmosphere at high speed, due to which special alloys were used to fabricate the structure of the aircraft. We shall take a brief look at two of these aspects, namely the delta-wing and the expanding skin.
As mentioned earlier, the skin of the Concorde was susceptible to kinetic heating caused by friction as the aircraft traveled at supersonic speeds. The Concorde’s 62.2 ft fuselage would expand by approximately12.5 cm during supersonic cruise, so much that a passenger could actually feel the heat transferred to the window panes as being distinctly warm. As commercial alloys were not suited to this situation, the manufacturers chose Titanium and Steel in areas where extreme heating occurred, and derivatives of aluminium alloys CM001, CM002, CM003 that contained Aluminium, Copper and Magnesium for most of the airframe.
The alloy CM001 was specifically designed to be economically viable and last an aircraft such as Concorde, that operated at speeds over Mach 2.0 experiencing temperatures in excess of 200℉ i.e. ideally expand without the fuselage sustaining damage, for an estimated service lifetime of 60,000 hours or more.
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