In March of 1969, the renowned supersonic airliner, “Concorde” took to the skies for the very first time after years of stringent design and arduous planning. Today, there are currently no supersonic airliners flying passengers between nations at speeds greater than that of a 747. More than 16 years after Concorde’s initial retirement, Concorde is still very much a mystery to those who only have common knowledge of the aircraft. Former British Airways Concorde pilot Tony Yule shares what it was like flying Concorde.
What was it like flying Concorde?
“To actually hand-fly Concorde was a dream itself. She’s an absolute delight to handle and not unlike all flying machines, keep her in trim and you’re having a ball. Interestingly throughout the entire speed range, you must keep her at VMO. That speed is Maximum Operating Speed; 10 knots below that speed, and you’re flying at 10% less range for example. At Mach 2, a slight change of one degree nose-up or down would see a rate of climb or descent of 1500ft per minute. To make a 360° turn when flying in ‘supercruise’ would entail a turn with a radius of 62 statute miles and a fuel burn of 6500 kilograms! We did not make 360° turns.
Concorde’s flight training was considerably longer due to her delta-wing, which created high drag when on the approach. Concorde’s minimum drag speed was 400 knots, which was also her climb speed. She is, in technical terms, right on the back of the drag curve; thus making it more difficult to fly accurately. If you do not fly the exact profile, you can end up in serious trouble with the possibility of making a very hard landing and risking damage to the airframe. The average number of landings for a Concorde pilot varied from 25 to 35. Training pilots had to make sure that the trainees were able to fly the precise profile on every approach.”
Was Concorde hard to fly?
“Concorde was not difficult to fly.” Sir George Edwards, former chairman of British Aircraft Corporation once said, “The most difficult part of designing Concorde was making it easy to transfer from any other aeroplane to Concorde.” Concorde was a technically advanced flying machine. However, I think it’s worth noting that all aircraft require that crews receive proper training in approved ground schools. Concorde was very different for training. Firstly, the ground school was completed at Filton near Bristol some 120 miles to the west of London. No Computer Based Training (CBT) there. It was all ‘Chalk and Talk.’ The instructor did all course on the blackboard with follow-up showing how systems worked in the flight simulator next door to the classrooms. This phase took seven weeks. Then, the simulator phase of a two to three sessions a week completing a total of seventeen sessions.
Another thing about Concorde was the fact that she had to operate without special treatment in the lower atmosphere just like a Boeing 737 or 747. She then had to operate within the hostile atmosphere of ‘supercruise’ at 50,000ft and Mach 2 (1350 mph). Each supersonic flight was one supersonic cycle. Concorde’s life was initially for 4500 supersonic cycles; later increased to 6000 cycles and was being considered for 9000 cycles in 2003 before the plug was pulled.”
After a 46-year long flying career, Tony Yule now spends much of his time in his house’s office in the Netherlands, preparing presentations for his business. Tony Yule is a member of Concorde Speakers, a group of former Concorde Pilots and Flight Engineers that frequently do lectures around the world.