Concorde to fly again?
PUBLISHED: 19:07 11 November 2009 | UPDATED: 09:07 21 July 2014
It's nearly four years since Concorde made her final historic flight, and the distinctive silhouette is still missed by many. But there could be hope yet - here in Surrey, a dedicated group of former pilots and colleagues are determined to see her...
Words by Caroline Harrap. Pictures by Adrian Meredith
When Concorde completed her last flight in November 2003, bringing to an end three decades of supersonic passenger travel, there were few who didn't shed a tear. It was, quite simply, the end of an era.
British Airways said the decision had been made for commercial reasons, with declining passenger numbers set against a backdrop of ever-rising maintenance costs. It seems the terrible accident in 2000, when a Concorde crashed in Paris killing 113 people, spelt the beginning of the end.
Nevertheless, there was still an overwhelming sense of sadness, and even indignity, that this unique aircraft should be consigned to history - and nowhere has that been more apparent than here in Surrey where a dedicated group of Concorde devotees are determined not only to keep her memory alive but to see her take to the skies again.
With that in mind, they formed Club Concorde, based in Esher, exactly a year ago, and have already attracted over 30,000 members, many of them from the Save-Concorde Group, led by Ross Mallett, who is backing the campaign to get Concorde off the ground again.
"The support we have received has been overwhelming," says the president of Club Concorde, Paul James, who lives in Walton-on-Thames. "We are amazed at the continuing interest in all things Concorde - new supporters have been joining at around 150 per week over the last few months, due to media coverage in the USA, Europe and the Far East. With this level of support, we feel confident that Concorde will fly again."
It may all sound a bit farfetched, but rest assured, this lot are far from just a bunch of glorified plane spotters. While Paul himself is a former Concorde charterer, the other founders of the club include the famous Concorde captains, David Leney from Camberley and Jock Lowe from Marlow in Bucks, and retired lawyer and Concorde enthusiast, Tony Heald, the club secretary, who lives in Esher.
They also have the backing of Colin Mitchell, from Kingston, who ran Goodwood Travel for over 20 years, during which time he organised Concorde flights for over 120,000 people generating £70 million of business around the world. Another key supporter is Adrian Meredith, of West Byfleet, who was the British Airways official Concorde photographer for over 20 years.
"We decided that with our unique combined insight into the problems surrounding Concorde, we are in a position to actually make this happen," says Paul. "Many ex-Concorde staff live here in Surrey - from captains, pilots and flight engineers to cabin and ground staff - for the simple reason that they needed to be near Heathrow but wanted to live in agreeable surroundings.
"Of course, the people of Surrey also played a vital part in the development of Concorde with over 35 per cent of every one of them built at Brooklands in Weybridge. Like so many others, they all want to see Concorde fly over the county again, and much further afield, for many years to come."
Despite the group's lofty credentials, however, any one of them would be the first to admit that their ambition to see Concorde fly again is no small undertaking. They have set their sights on three possible aircraft, all of which are overseas, and estimate they will need around £10 to £12 million to complete the refit, depending on which one they choose. They will also need an extra £2 million to fund the management of the project. As a result, their first goal is to recruit some heavyweight investors to come on board.
"We have sources who are already interested in funding the project," continues Paul. "Investors will more than recoup their money from the multi-national sponsorship deals surrounding the relaunch programme and beyond. The world-wide TV rights alone would exceed the refit costs.
"The opportunities are limitless, and along with our passion for Concorde, we also recognise the immense business potential of a relaunch and so intend to remain in control of the whole campaign."
The immediate plan is to ensure that at least one Concorde is resurrected as a private heritage aircraft within the next three years - hopefully in time for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, September 15, 2010, when they plan to stage a very special event.
"Our aim is to reproduce the famous flight of Concorde and a Battle of Britain Spitfire over the White Cliffs of Dover," says Paul. "We have already been joined in our campaign by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, to which the 150 survivors belong. Nearly 3,000 men fought in the battle of whom 544 died, plus a further 800 did not survive the war. We think we owe these brave men, who between them changed the course of history, and want to give them one last day to remember.
"Of course, because of health and safety regulations, they will not be allowed to get on board. It's just as well these regulations were not around in 1940."
Indeed, while they may be quietly confident of getting Concorde back in the air again, actually carrying passengers looks like it could prove a little more tricky - so it's probably a tad early to think about booking your tickets just yet.
"As a private, heritage aircraft, Concorde would not be allowed to carry passengers, basically for insurance reasons," continues Paul. "It would be hoped, though, that regulations would be relaxed after the first year to allow some passengers on board. However such passengers would not be allowed to be fare-paying, as private aircraft can't charge fares, so a members' ballot is one option."
One of the most advanced planes ever built, the story of Concorde goes back to 1962 when the French and British governments entered into a formal agreement to jointly develop a medium and long range supersonic airliner.
In the UK, a Concorde prototype was almost complete, and at the official meeting with the French, British technology minister Anthony Wedgwood Benn announced that from now on our own aircraft would also be called Concorde. The "e", he said, stood for "excellence, England, Europe and entente".
The overall shape, aerodynamics, flight controls, propulsion and auxiliary systems made Concorde a generation ahead of any other form of civil transport, and everyone fell in love with her - from the rich and famous who could afford to buy tickets to the general public who would gaze up adoringly at her from the ground.
"Not only was she the only commercial aircraft to fly at twice the speed of sound (1,360mph), it was that unique, iconic design that made her so special," continues Paul. "Just the sight of her made so many people around the world feel happy. What else can do that?"
There's no doubt their ambitious project is receiving plenty of support from all four corners of the globe, but with the astronomical costs involved, not to mention the health and safety considerations, whether they will actually achieve their goal remains to be seen. Not that any of that seems to concern the president of Club Concorde ...
"On the cockpit door of a French Concorde, a pilot has written, 'Concorde est toujours vivant, il n'est qu'en sommeil'," adds Paul. "It translates to, 'Concorde lives on, it is only sleeping'."
Club Concorde is based at Vine House, 12, Riverside Drive, Esher, Surrey KT10 8PG. Club membership for life costs £10. In order to raise funds, the group is also selling A4 (12"x8") colour prints of a spectacular photograph of Concorde flown by Captain Jock Lowe with a Battle of Britain Spitfire over the White Cliffs of Dover. For more details on how to join, or to order the print or other merchandise, visit the website: www.clubconcorde.co.uk
Concorde - the facts
- Concorde carries 100 passengers, 40 in the front, 60 in the rear, sitting in rows of two either side.
- The internal width of Concorde is just 9ft.
- Concorde takes off at 250mph and lands at 185mph.
- Concorde is 202ft long, but stretches 10" at MACH 2. MACH 2 is 1,360mph at 55,000ft.
- At MACH 2, the outside temperature is -65 degrees centigrade, whereas the temperature at the tip of Concorde's nose-cone is +127 degrees centigrade
- There were 20 Concordes in all of which 14 flew commercially - seven were owned by British Airways and seven by the French.
- Brian Trubshaw flew the very British prototype, 002, in April 1969 from Filton in Bristol.
- The group's most famous Concorde captain is the legendary Jock Lowe, who has a PhD in chemical engineering from Birmingham University.
- The last ever flight of Concorde was 'Alpha Fox', which landed at Filton on November 26, 2003, a very sad day but watch this space!