Flying High (for the last time)

55,000 feet at Mach2

Sometimes you just get lucky, when you think that bad luck hit you.

Frank Greenhalgh 8/30/11

In the 1990s I spent a lot of time consulting for two companies: CEAG Electric in Germany, and CELAB a British company owned by CEAG at the time. At least twice a year I would travel to Europe to bring over new designs and assist in existing projects. I normally would spend a week in the UK and a week in Germany before returning to the US. I would fly on British Air (BA) as I preferred their business class service.

        Typically I would fly from JFK to Heathrow in the UK to start. My flight BA175 would leave JFK at 7:30PM and arrive in Heathrow in the early morning. One time the flight seemed to be landing early. At around midnight the pilot announced that we would be landing, not at Heathrow but at JFK. The navigation system on the plane failed and the pilot rather than chance flying without it, returned to JFK.

       A steward came into the business section and told us we would be taken to a hotel for the night and that first class and business sections would fly out in the morning on the Concorde! 

       The next morning we were taken to the BA terminal. As I entered the terminal I stopped for coffee and a bagel for breakfast. Then I went to the Concorde boarding area where they had a lovely breakfast buffet for the passengers before boarding. I guess I should have figured out that if you are paying four thousand dollars extra to save a few hours flight time you should be treated well.

    Although I had seen photos of the Concorde, I didn't realize how small it was. The Concorde held only 100 passengers. There were twenty five rows of four seats (two,aisle,two) with a galley in the center. The seats were only slightly larger than normal coach seats. The window seats had very small windows, about one quarter the normal size and of very thick glass.

      After boarding I realized that I was out of my class. The normal passengers getting on were very rich. There were old men with beautiful young women on their arms. The papers they carried were Variety, the Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair, no NY Times, Daily News or NY Post. Soon we taxied out to the runway and were airborne.

    On the bulkhead in the front was a Mach speedometer. One Mach equals the speed of sound (768 mph) and as we ascended we rose slowly from .5 Mach to one Mach, then slowly to 2 Mach, where we stayed, cruising.

      When we had leveled out, our altitude was 55,000 feet, high enough so that when you looked at the earth from the small window you could actually see the curvature of the planet. It really was exciting to be in this plane, of which there were only 20 built. Although we broke the sound barrier when we passed Mach1, we didn't hear it as we were flying faster than sound and it couldn't catch us.

       As we settled down a very attractive stewardess served us coffee or tea and clotted cream and scones. A very tasty treat, I must say.

     The flight ended sooner than I expected with a total flight time of about 3.5 hours. Still due to the five hour time difference we didn't land in Heathrow until around six PM. Too late to work, but well worth the disruption, which allowed me to experience this rare treat of supersonic flight.

 

Good Luck Strikes again

       About a year later, I had reversed my travel and went to Germany first and then to the UK. On my last day in the UK, I received a call from Mel my travel agent. Mel informed me that those lovely people at British Air had offered to fly me back to New York on the Concorde, instead of the normal 747. This was a bonus due to my frequently flying BA. We departed Heathrow at about six PM. How lucky can you get, I thought. This time we landed at JFK around 5 PM an hour earlier than we left  the UK.

 

Farewell to the Concorde

Some Facts from Wikepedia

 

The Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner, a supersonic transport (SST). It was a product of an Anglo-French government treaty, combining the manufacturing efforts of Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation. First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercial flights for 27 years.

With only 20 aircraft built, their development represented a substantial economic loss, in addition to which Air France and British Airways were subsidized by their governments to buy them. As a result of the type’s only crash on 25 July 2000 and other factors, its retirement flight was on 26 November 2003.

 

        I am very thankful that I had been able to experience the two flights I had and wonder if there ever will be another supersonic aircraft built for commercial flight. Certainly that won't happen in my lifetime, and with oil as expensive as it is I am not so sure it will ever happen.