Thursday, October 18, 2012

Flying Concorde (Trip Report)

Flying Concorde (Trip Report):
Almost a decade ago, I had the pleasure of being able to fly on one of the most incredible aircraft to have flown passengers around the world… Concorde. After the flight, I wrote the trip up for an aviation discussion group in which I’m still a member, and I stumbled across that trip report in my files yesterday. It didn’t take me long to dig up a few of the old photos from that trip, so I scanned them in (these were old school prints from a negative) and thought I’d share with you all today.
My Concorde
This trip was on the legendary flight BA001 from London/Heathrow to New York/JFK in December 2002, less than a year before the end of Concorde’s life as a passenger carrier. At that time, British Airways had started to get more liberal about letting employees and their friends fly on the aircraft at a heavy discount. Since I had a friend who worked at BA, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I was able to fly in Club World (business class) from LA to London with a return on Concorde for under $2,000. It was worth every penny and more to get such an incredibly unique experience.
Here is the trip report I put together back in 2002 with only minor edits for clarity.

Unfortunately, December 26 is Boxing Day in England. I don’t know what this holiday is, and to be honest, nobody else does either. I must have asked a half dozen different Brits and nobody could explain it to me. I’m pretty sure Harrod’s invented it as a national shopping day, but I could be wrong. All I know is that this meant the tube opened later than normal and the Heathrow Express train service was downgraded to a slower coach service. So though I wanted to get to Heathrow very early to enjoy the lounge experience, it was not to be.

December 26, 2002

British Airways 001 Lv London/Heathrow 1030a Arr New York/JFK 925a

London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate in Lounge, Runway 27R, Depart 2m Early

New York/JFK (JFK): Gate 1 (?), Runway 31R, Arrive 7m Early

G-BOAF, Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, Union Jack Tail, ~60% Full

Seat 2A

Flight Time 3h30m
I arrived about an hour and a quarter early and went straight to the Concorde check-in desk. They checked me in quickly and asked if I was okay with sitting in seat 14D (the seat I had pre-reserved). I said I would prefer a seat further forward in the window if they had it. The agent told me they didn’t, but he would put my request in the computer in case something opened up. After stealing an extra Concorde bag tag, I headed to security. BA First Class, Business, and Concorde passengers can go through the “Fast Track” line which had no waiting. This was helpful, because the regular security area had very long lines. Once I made it through security I headed to the lounge.
Upon arrival at the lounge, the agent at the front checked my boarding pass and told me that if I went to the gate (which is in the lounge), they would be happy to take my coat for me, so I did just that. After, I put my bag down and got a small sandwich from the restaurant area, which had the sound of birds in the morning being piped in through the speakers.
Neighbor Concorde
They had a full menu of breakfast foods, hot and cold, and of course a full bar. The lounge had big panoramic windows which looked out on two Concordes parked side by side. I don’t know where the other one was going, but it was at the adjacent gate to ours. I checked my email in their business center which also had fax machines, printers, and anything else you could possibly need. The bathrooms were also very nice… they had only one faucet for both hot and cold water. This is apparently something the rest of the UK has yet to figure out. There is also a spa for Concorde passenger use, but I did not have time for that.
An agent announced boarding at about 10a, and everyone slowly wandered over toward the gate. I didn’t see anyone famous, though there was a family that had the same odd inbred look that many of the royals have. I walked up to the podium and they took my boarding pass and informed me my seat had been changed to 2A since those people had not shown for the flight. I was surprised that a request in the computer actually turned into results, because that always seems to be a black hole. I walked through the jetway with several people wishing me a pleasant trip along the way down. I don’t know if that was their only job, but if so, then they were very good at it. I turned the corner and there she was… Concorde.
First thought? Damn that door is small. You really have to crouch down to get inside. If you turn to the left, the cockpit is there, but there is a huge galley area along both sides before you reach the first passenger seats. There is not much headroom in there, and anyone taller than me would likely have to duck. The new interiors are very attractive.
I grabbed a couple of things out of my bag and then squeezed my carryon into the small overhead bin. I sat down in the small yet somewhat comfortable blue leather seat which had cradle seat tendencies and looked out the extremely tiny windows, noticing how high we were off the ground.
There were no pre-departure drinks offered onboard, probably since we had just come out of the lounge, but they did take our drink orders for once we were airborne, and they did give us hot towels on the ground. As everyone settled in, the captain came on and welcomed us on board and told us about the weather in London (showers, of course) and New York (friggin’ cold and windy). Then, with his most perfect British accent, he said “the weather enroute doesn’t concern us. We’ll be well above it.” So cool.
[Editors Note: I later found out from a pilot friend who flew the Atlantic that day that it was a rough one with the seatbelt sign on much of the crossing. We, however, felt nothing at our lofty altitude.]
We pushed back a bit early and on our taxi out, the menu for the inflight breakfast was handed out to each person. Then the captain came on again and explained to us that he uses the “reheats” on takeoff, but soon after, he cuts them off to reduce noise, so we should not be alarmed when we hear the engine noise decrease dramatically.
The takeoff roll on this bird is phenomenal. I felt and heard the power right away, but it doesn’t seem to get going very quickly. It’s a long roll, and when we finally were airborne, we seemed to hover above the runway only climbing slightly for the first minute or so. Then, it was like Top Gun. Nose up, steep climb into the clouds, and then finally he cut the reheats off and we settled back down to a shallower climb.
At about 10,000 ft, he turned on the Mach meter in the cabin. This had Mach speed, MPH, outside temp, distance to JFK, and altitude. At that time, we were going Mach .93. We stayed between .93 and .96 until we reached about 26,000 ft. At that point, we cleared the coastline, and it was show time. The reheats came on and it was an odd feeling. It’s like little boosts of power, so you feel a surge forward and then it comes back a little.
Only a few seconds later, we broke the sound barrier.
It was a rapid climb to about 35,000 feet and then a slow creeping climb beyond that. We hit Mach 1.5 at 40,000 ft and then Mach 1.8 at 45,000 ft. We finally hit our cruise speed of Mach 2 as we passed through 48,500 ft. Of course, until this point, I had been staring alternately out the window and at the Mach meter with a drink in my hand. Once we hit cruise, it was time for the meal, so I switched my focus.
Lunch appetizer
The meal service was phenomenal, even if I had no idea what the things on the menu actually meant. Here is my best translation of what they served me. (Yes, I’m frighteningly unsophisticated.) Surprisingly, all utensils were plastic, not just the knives:
  • “Canapes” – little round things with lox and other stuff on them
  • Appetizer “Carpaccio of pineapple with greek yoghurt, fresh berries and honeycomb” – fruit with cream, also served with caviar and toast and fresh bread
  • Main Course “New season lamb with a thyme and herb pancake wrapped in brioche served with ginger and redcurrant compote” – great meat in the form of a hot pocket – there were 3 other choices, but this looked best
  • Dessert “Chocolate and caramel tart with Earl Grey tea creme anglaise” – awesome chocolate death
Finally, I finished with some tea and I was a happy man. Just staring out the window of this plane is awe-inspiring. You can see the deep, dark blue thin atmosphere overhead and the curvature is noticeable. Unreal. Of course, the ride is completely smooth up there and while it’s loud, you don’t feel the speed in any way.
View From 55000 Feet
While I don’t usually mention the lavs onboard, I think this time it’s worth a mention. The lavs on Concorde are very nice. Of course, they’re small, so a mile high club encounter would have been very impressive. There was a red rose and bouquet of some other flowers near the sink. In addition, there were cloth towels to wash your hands.
I started talking to one of the flight attendants. Everyone on that plane loves what they do. I noticed that they did not sit down the entire flight to take a break. It must be a tough 3 1/2 hours, but then again, it’s only 3 1/2 hours. The flight attendant brought me a couple of certificates that the Captain would sign for me upon landing saying that I flew Concorde. Nice touch, especially for an airline dork.
A couple of hot towels later, it was sadly time to descend. The inital descent was rapid as we dropped speed and altitude very quickly. At about 32,000 ft, we came back down through Mach 1 and we leveled out. At 14,000 ft, we were down to Mach .72 and we were getting ready for landing. The coat that I had dropped off at the gate now appeared at my seat as we passed through 10,000 ft and 420 mph. At 5,000 ft, they turned off the Mach meter and we bounced our way down through the howling winds.
Enjoying the Ride
Though I’ve heard that Concorde is not very stable on approach, I didn’t find it to be uncomfortable at all, even with the strong winds. We touched down at about 225 mph (according to the flight attendants), and that was a odd sensation to be going so fast. That ended quickly when our friendly captain slammed on the brakes apparently trying to set the world record in the “Unbelted Passenger Toss” event. Fortunately, there were no contestants on our flight.
It was a slow taxi with all the snow and ice on the ground from the previous day’s storm, but we pulled into the gate, and I stayed back until everyone deplaned. I walked around a little, talking to the flight attendants, and then I went up to the cockpit and had a look around at the vintage dials and gauges.
I was very sad to step off the plane into the bitter cold NYC air, but it was a phenomenal trip. We hit a max altitude of 55,000, a max speed of 1280 mph, and it took 3:30 flying time. I will never forget this experience.
from The Cranky Flier 

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