. For an all-too-brief period from 1976 until 2003, if you were rich enough, it was possible to fly at twice the speed of sound in a scheduled airline service aboard the Concorde - the most advanced passenger aircraft of its generation, much of which was developed in Bristol.
The idea of supersonic airline travel dates back to the 1950s, when aircraft companies in several countries investigated the possibilities. The tremendous costs led to the British and French governments agreeing to develop an aircraft jointly, and different aspects were parcelled out across both countries’ industries. Filton concentrated on the engines (based on the successful Bristol Siddeley Olympus design) and the cockpit, and carried out the final assembly. The first prototype flew at Toulouse in 1967 and the aircraft entered scheduled service in 1976.
Initially it was believed that over 130 Concordes would be produced but a combination of rising fuel costs, changing patterns of travel, opposition from the United States (albeit eventually overcome) meant that only 20 aircraft (including prototypes) were built.
As well as its remarkable speed, Concorde led the way in a number of other developments: it was the first civil aircraft with now-universal ‘fly by wire’, where the pilot’s actions at the conventional controls are transmitted electronically to the flying surface operating units. All of the systems were duplicated in case of power failure – again, now commonplace but then rare. The aircraft also had to withstand incredibly high temperatures, for which aluminium alloys had to be developed specially. Interestingly, although the Mach counter is a digital display, the cockpit of Concorde contains a vast array of analogue dials and instruments – it was truly a pre-digital design.
To many Concorde was the most beautiful aircraft to have flown so far. To others, it was a tremendous waste of public money, never recouped to even a small degree in service, for a limited number of technological advances.