The Malone Col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Pat Malone PAT MALONE Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and former he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT

The Con­corde story lives on in hearts and minds

Acou­ple of months ago I men­tioned in this col­umn a meet­ing of Con­corde pi­lots at the home of the orig­i­nal Con­corde test pi­lot, An­dré Tur­cat, to which I was lucky enough to be in­vited. Some chaps in the fly­ing club bar told me they were pro­foundly en­vi­ous that I’d not only met M. Tur­cat but had spent the day in his house, and wanted to know more. So over a drink or two, not paid for by me, we had a long chin­wag, and I basked in the re­flected glory of a great avi­a­tor sim­ply by virtue of hav­ing stood un­der his roof.

The meet­ing, in 2013, had been ar­ranged by Les Brodie, who is the con­sum­mate fly­ing man: Tiger Moth pi­lot, Cessna 150 in­struc­tor, Ci­ta­tion cap­tain; he would rather fly than eat. Les was also the very last Con­corde pi­lot in the world — he flew G-BOAF to Fil­ton on 26 Novem­ber 2003. And of course An­dré Tur­cat was the first, hav­ing flown F-WTSS on its maiden flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969. The first and last Con­corde pi­lots met only once, and I took some pho­to­graphs of them in An­dré’s gar­den. An­dré in­sisted that I get into the pic­ture — he called his gar­dener to take my cam­era. So there’s Edgard Chillaud, Chief Con­corde Pi­lot of Air France, then, lean­ing on his stick (he was 92 at the time) An­dré Tur­cat, then Les Brodie, hold­ing a model of Con­corde… and then me. I was a lit­tle em­bar­rassed. What right did I have to a place in that ex­tra­or­di­nary pan­theon? Well, you couldn’t say no, re­ally… the photo’s on my of­fice wall.

An­dré lived in a beau­ti­ful se­cluded home near Aix-en-provence, with a wall of glass look­ing out over the foothills of the Alpes Mar­itimes. The house was full of stun­ning antiques, and one wall of his library was given over to a huge me­dieval ta­pes­try of myth­i­cal beasts. An­dré was a man of all the tal­ents — a Pro­fes­sor of His­tory of Art, and a renowned the­olo­gian. He’d flown with the Free French air force after 1943, and as a C-47 pi­lot dur­ing the In­dochina War be­fore be­ing sent to EPNER, the French test pi­lots’ school. Les was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in An­dré’s test flights in the ex­tra­or­di­nary Nord 1500 Grif­fon, the ram­jet-pow­ered delta that achieved Mach 2 in the 1950s. What was it like to fly? Su­per-sen­si­tive, An­dré said. “We started by mak­ing some jumps, and I thought the con­trol sur­faces were in­ad­e­quate. But then I saw that the move­ments were my fault, not the air­craft, so I had to learn not to fly it.” There was no sim­u­la­tor for the Grif­fon, but An­dré said he’d gained some ex­pe­ri­ence of deltawinged air­craft in Eng­land fly­ing the Avro 707, the tail­less delta test-bed for the Vul­can, on which he was checked out by Roly Falk. The Grif­fon pro­to­type reached Mach 1.7 on its tur­bo­jet en­gine alone; the Grif­fon 2, with both tur­bo­jet and ram­jet, flew in 1957, and An­dré even­tu­ally reached Mach 2.19 in 1958.

There were many prob­lems, he said, in­clud­ing air­frame heat­ing and in­sta­bil­ity of the ram­jet. “I was un­able to fly it above 60,000 feet be­cause things like the ejec­tor seat and the cock­pit glass were not cer­ti­fied above that height. It was still climb­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing at 0.2g, but I had to roll it over at 60,000 feet and come back down. We should have found a way to throt­tle the ram­jet, but we did not. We had a project for a Mach 3 twin but it came to nothing. Mach 2 was too slow for the ram­jet. We could have reached Mach 3 be­fore the SR-71, but it was not to be.”

But of course, most of the time they talked about Con­corde, and the Paris crash. Les had re-en­acted the ac­ci­dent in the sim­u­la­tor dozens of times for the AAIB and the BEA, and there was no pos­si­ble way the crew could have saved the day; from the in­stant the tyre was slashed by a piece of stray metal on the tar­mac, the air­craft was doomed. Les said: “They faced an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. They dealt with what they knew, and did so very well, but fire was quickly de­stroy­ing the air­craft. It took two min­utes and forty sec­onds from the tyre burst­ing to the crash. The first minute was okay, but even­tu­ally the fire took out the hy­draulics, the ailerons went to neu­tral and they were help­less.”

Al­though he’d al­ready re­tired, An­dré was con­sulted dur­ing the re­turn to ser­vice pro­gramme, in which Edgard was heav­ily in­volved. “We went back to the draw­ing board, lit­er­ally,” Edgard said. “Con­corde was de­signed in the pre-com­puter era, so we worked off these mas­sive blue­prints pinned up on boards.” The Dun­lop tyre, which had shat­tered on 57 oc­ca­sions prior to Gonesse, was re­placed by a Miche­lin made of a new com­pound that de­formed only slightly on de­pres­suri­sa­tion and re­sisted dis­in­te­gra­tion. An­dré said: “The tyre was al­ways the talon d’achille of Con­corde. The air­wor­thi­ness au­thor­i­ties con­cluded that Con­corde was re­spon­si­ble be­cause of the weak­ness of the wing, but it was not right. It was not nec­es­sary to put the Kevlar lin­ing in the fuel tanks once the Miche­lin tyre had been adopted, be­cause the prob­lem had been fixed.”

But the dis­cus­sion was far from gloomy; most of their mem­o­ries were happy ones, full of hu­mour. Edgard once had an in­ter­est­ing en­counter with a well-known French ac­tress on the flight deck, which he later had to ex­plain away to his wife. And this is (al­legedly) a true story: Con­corde was per­pet­u­ally short of fuel, and thirsty — they’d put in an ex­tra 3,000kg just for taxy­ing at Heathrow. ATC would help­fully sneak them past queu­ing traf­fic to the thresh­old, some­times to the cha­grin of wait­ing sub­sonic crews. On one queue­jump­ing oc­ca­sion, Con­corde was in­structed to pull in be­hind num­ber two at the hold, a Mid­land DC-9. “Is that the blue one?” they dou­ble-checked. Mo­ments later a Qan­tas 747 was told to move up be­hind Con­corde. Came a huffy Aus­tralian voice: “Is that the white one?”

All moves to res­ur­rect Con­corde have come to naught, but the vi­sion lives on, with par­ties as di­verse as NASA and the be­he­moths of Sil­i­con Val­ley plan­ning a su­per­sonic fu­ture. An­dré died in 2016 but, God will­ing, some of us may live to see it.

I basked in the re­flected glory of a great avi­a­tor... Most of their mem­o­ries were happy ones, full of hu­mour

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