Oi, Branson, why not put your money toward this?

I’m reading The World According To Clarkson, a collection of Jeremy Clarkson’s Sunday Times columns from 2001 to 2003. There’s one particularly poignant one about the final flight of Concorde, where Clarkson was a passenger (and famously threw a glass of water over the editor of the Daily Mail). He writes:

As I step off, the temptation will be strong to say: “That was one small step for a man. But one giant leap backwards for mankind.”



Leaving aside the question of whether you should begin a sentence with a conjunction (yes, you can), this piqued my curiosity. We all know Concorde was pretty cool. But Wikipedia’s exhaustive entry on Concorde has some stunning notes in it. Did you know…

  • Thanks to the design of the air intake ramps, it was possible to lose both engines on one side of the aircraft, while flying Mach 2 – and suffer no loss of control;
  • The fuselage would extend by 30cm at top speed, due to frictional heating – and the windows in the cockpit would be too hot to touch;
  • The seat pitch was only 38 inches – about as big as premium economy on an SIA or Air NZ flight;
  • Despite complaints about noise, its takeoff/landing and subsonic flight were quieter than a Boeing 707;
  • When Concorde memorabilia was sold off in late 2003, the machmeter sold for about 65,000 pounds. (WANT.)

And I’ll never have the chance to fly on it.

EADS are allegedly working on a successor, but it’s at least 15 years away. Kinda sad, isn’t it?

If that got you down a bit, here’s a unicorn chaser: there’s some awesome technology that makes high-speed flight possible. The JP-7 jet fuel blend used by the Mach 3.2 SR-71 Blackbird is so thermally stable that if you drop a lighted match into a bucket of the stuff, the fuel won’t ignite – the match will be extinguished. Here’s a picture of a Pratt & Whitney J58 burning said fuel, in afterburner mode. Here’s what a sonic boom looks like. Here’s another. And here’s a truly spectacular photo of an RAAF F111 doing a dump-and-burn – dumping fuel into the air, then lighting it with the flame from the afterburners. Feel better?

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