'Ode to Concorde' Taking Shape

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When the utterly impractical but beautiful and captivating Concorde flew for the final time, Sir Richard Branson tried mightily to get British Airways to sell their lot to him so they could "fly for years to come." Rebuffed by BA, which was probably (though never provably) happy to keep making fatter margins on 747 first-class, Branson sweetened the offer with millions of pounds and went on a PR offensive with the British government. This, too, failed. No doubt The Undersecretary for Killjoy Affairs got to it before it had a chance.

What is it about this aircraft -- which struggled to get built, struggled to be allowed to land in New York City, and ultimately struggled to make money -- that still fascinates the ordinary traveller and the ebullient billionaire alike? After all, it took so much gas to get from A to B that it never really had the range it needed to be a flexible airline asset. The striking, dagger-like outside gave way inside to a DC-9-sized cabin ... lovingly appointed, but in the end, a pretty tiny tube. And yet, when the aircraft made its farewell tours at iconic airports, people came out to gasp and point and laugh and smile and show their grandkids. Somehow, the appearance of Concorde made today's all-too-ordinary airline experience special again.

Documentary filmmaker Chris Purcell is one of those captured by the undeniable magic of this airplane. While Chris makes his living making films, he's decided to take on a short film about Concorde as a "passion" project. And like most passionate filmmakers these days, he's turning to the Internet to crowdsource the funds he needs to pull it off.

It's called, unpretentiously enough, "Ode to Concorde," and Purcell hopes it will be something many other filmed attempts were not: "a sort of visual poem that revels in Concorde’s lines and shape."

"There have been plenty of documentaries, programmes and one truly awful movie (Airport 80) but none of them seem to do justice to Concorde’s gorgeous aesthetics," Purcell writes on his crowdfunding website for the project. Purcell and his team have also put together a tantalizing clip of some of the interviews with pilots and designers, too.

For those who have seen it up close, it simply casts a spell. Those who have flown it never forget it. I certainly still have warm memories of my 1992 flight on British Airways' Speedbird G-BOAC. LHR to JFK, nose into the wind, in a startling three hours and 17 minutes: just enough time to finish off my tender veal, lovely dessert and oh-so-civilized port.

For those well-heeled one-percenters who paid full fare for their ride that day, I have nothing but sympathy. They had to share their experience with a collection of some of the world's most well-traveled aviation journalists, returning from a week-long visit to British Airways, Rolls-Royce and Boeing that began with a delivery flight of a 747-400 from Seattle to LHR. And we were giddy.

Click on image to enlarge

Some very dear friends were with me on that sortie: Jim Brown, Tom Tripp, Nigel Moll. The more engineering-minded of us chose to sit in the rear of the aircraft for takeoff, the better to watch the subtle sine-wave roll up the aisle as the nose rotated for takeoff. After that, we had the run of the airplane, chatting away with flight attendants and crew about what it was like to work these flights.

At 50,000 feet and supersonic, the approach call to New York began early. At the time, the procedure was to slide over the top of the Air Defense Information Zone (ADIZ) that sat atop the NY metro area, and then crank down around and through it for a fairly steep approach. My time in the jump seat up front remains one of the highlights of my 30-year aviation journalism career, watching our gentle landing in New York as our wheels touched the ground at 160 knots.

I've seen some of the films Chris describes on his website, and I've had the extraordinary privelege to make a Concorde flight from the best seat in the house. Here's at least one Concorde Fan who hopes the resulting film does, indeed, do the beautiful old girl justice.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on May 20, 2014

British Airways Concorde's made the company over £500 million net profit whilst in service, so saying the aircraft struggled to make money is not exactly true. (Although I won't argue with you over Air France's profitability).

The real shame is the true story of the retirement has never been told in the aviation and mainstream media:

http://www.concorde-spirit-tours.com/concorde.htm

on May 20, 2014

Just for correction, that horribly bad Concorde flick was titled "Airport '79". I saw it only once, and that was one time too many.

on May 21, 2014

BA was effectively gifted their six Concordes and made a considerable amount of money out of them, including the short charter flights over the Med they ran regularly. "Utterly impractical"? Hardly. To the end there were sufficient customers who wanted the shortest possible journey time across the pond and who forgave the cramped accommodation because of the exclusive nature of the service. It was essentially a rich man's club.

As to Branson's 'offer' to buy the fleet, don't believe a word of it; Virgin Airlines was, and still is, in no fit shape to run these demanding craft. Despite the big mouth, Virgin is a minnow, worth more for its landing slots than as a going concern.

I went on board Concorde twice, but my favourite memory is landing at CDG, Paris, and having a bird's eye view of an Air France Concorde flaring for touch down while a BA Concorde gracefully rotated on a parallel runway. Exquisite.

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