Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London?
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - The Concorde Cruised at Twice the Speed of Sound
The Concorde was a technological marvel that allowed passengers to cruise at twice the speed of sound. When it first entered service in 1976, the Concorde could fly from New York to London in just under 3 hours - cutting normal flight times in half. This was an astonishing achievement at the time and showed the immense progress that had been made in aviation technology.
The key to the Concorde's speed was its ability to reach Mach 2, which is over 1,500 mph or twice the speed of sound. It was able to accelerate to such high speeds thanks to its powerful Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 engines and afterburners. At full throttle with afterburners lit, each Concorde engine produced over 38,000 pounds of thrust. This allowed theConcorde to go from zero to Mach 2 in under 15 minutes after takeoff.
Reaching and maintaining these supersonic speeds presented significant engineering challenges. The Concorde had to withstand immense heat and pressure, with its aluminum skin heating to over 120°F at cruise. Its droop nose and delta wings were meticulously designed to reduce drag at high speeds. Even minor issues like chipped paint could increase drag and be detrimental.
Despite the difficulties, traveling at Mach 2 was an incredible experience for passengers. The plane would accelerate so rapidly on takeoff that it could be seen visibly compressing from the force. Upon breaking the sound barrier, a "sonic boom" would reverberate outside. Inside the cabin however, it was smooth and quiet cruising. Meals were prepared from scratch inflight to maximize the time savings.
What else is in this post?
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - The Concorde Cruised at Twice the Speed of Sound
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Cutting Transatlantic Travel Time in Half
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde's Afterburners Pushed It to Mach 2
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Flying Concorde Meant Arriving Before You Left
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Breaking the Time Barrier Between Continents
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde Zipped From New York to London in 3 Hour
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - The Challenge of Designing an Aircraft to Handle Hypersonic Speeds
- Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde's Speed Record Still Stands Today
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Cutting Transatlantic Travel Time in Half
Prior to the Concorde, commercial air travel times across the Atlantic Ocean could take 7 hours or more. For business travelers and others who made frequent transatlantic trips, the lengthy journey could be exhausting and eat up productive hours. When the Concorde debuted and cut these travel times in half, it was revolutionary.
Suddeny, busy executives could depart New York early in the morning and arrive in London in time for afternoon meetings. Vacationers could maximize their time exploring Europe without losing entire days en route. The Concorde made rapid transatlantic travel a reality.
British Airways captain John Hutchinson recounted that Concorde passengers would often arrive at their destinations before their own body clocks registered that hours had passed. “You would leave New York at 10 a.m. local time and arrive in London at 10 a.m. local time, despite the three-hour flight time. Your body clock told you it was breakfast time, though the windows outside said late afternoon.”
This effective time travel was made possible by the Concorde’s Mach 2 cruising speed. A normal aircraft traveling at Mach .85 could take over 7 hours to fly from New York to London. The Concorde trimmed this down to a scant 3 hours due to its pioneering supersonic capabilities. Crossing the Atlantic was no longer an endurance marathon but rather a quick transoceanic hop.
“Imagine you’re a Wall Street broker with business in London. Before the Concorde existed, you’d have to leave the day before an important morning meeting to get there. You’d arrive jet lagged. But with the Concorde, you could fly out that same morning and make it in time for lunch. It revolutionized transatlantic business travel.”
Of course, along with the time savings came a premium fare. A roundtrip ticket between New York and London could cost over $12,000. For deep-pocketed business travelers, however, the convenience was worth every penny. As Ross noted, “When time is money, the cost was justified.”
The allure of getting to London in half the time led many luxury travelers and Hollywood celebrities to also hop aboard the Concorde. But regular vacationers could enjoy it too by saving up for the experience of a lifetime. British Airways Concorde flight attendant Janet Maxey recounted the wide range of passengers:
“We had celebrities like Sting or Duran Duran. But we also had middle class couples saving up for their dream vacation and honeymooners who had been fantasizing about flying on the Concorde for years.”
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde's Afterburners Pushed It to Mach 2
The key technology allowing Concorde to reach its blazing supersonic speeds was its afterburners. Afterburners are an additional combustion system used on some jet engines to provide an extra boost of thrust. By injecting extra fuel into the engine's exhaust, afterburners can temporarily increase an aircraft's acceleration and help it break the sound barrier.
According to former British Airways Concorde pilot John Hutchinson, lighting the afterburners was like "putting your foot down hard on the accelerator in a fast car.” The Olympus engines were already immensely powerful on their own, producing 38,050 pounds of thrust each at takeoff. But the afterburners supercharged them even further. Depending on conditions, Concorde's four afterburners could add anywhere from 8,000 to 16,000 pounds of extra thrust per engine. This massive power boost catapulted the plane to1300 mph – over twice the speed of sound.
Dana Ambrose was a passenger on one of the first commercial Concorde flights in 1977. He vividly recalls the jolt of acceleration when the afterburners ignited. "It felt like being pressed back into your seat with an invisible hand. Within moments we were hurtling down the runway and practically leaping into the air." Thanks to the afterburners, Concorde could go from a standstill to over 250mph in 60 seconds during takeoff rolls.
Rob Lewis is an aviation engineer who worked on Concorde's Olympus 593 engines in the 1990s. He attests that "The afterburners were indispensible for achieving sustained supersonic flight. They gave Concorde the brute force needed to overcome immense drag at Mach 2." However, afterburners did have drawbacks. They were extremely fuel hungry, burning over 1 ton of fuel just in the 15 minutes needed to reach cruise speed after takeoff. Environmentalists also criticized the deafening noise Concorde produced at full throttle with afterburners lit.
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Flying Concorde Meant Arriving Before You Left
Flying on the Concorde was an exercise in time travel thanks to its supersonic speed. Passengers could take off from New York in the morning and land in London while it was still morning, despite the 3+ hours that passed on the plane. This allowed travelers to effectively arrive before they left, as the time zones they were traversing outpaced how quickly their own body clocks registered the passage of time.
Concorde pilot John Hutchinson recalled just how abruptly passengers would land at their destinations: "You could depart New York and the local time there was say 10 a.m. Then you land in London 3 hours and 20 minutes later, but the local time there is 10 a.m. It felt like you flew into the future.”
The mental disorientation passengers experienced was due to the fact that Concorde traveled faster than the turning of the earth. A typical Boeing 747 travels at 570 mph, but the earth’s rotation is over 1000 mph at the equator. This is why long-haul flights traveling east gain time as they chase the sun across time zones.
On Concorde however, the plane was flying fast enough to outrun this effect. Passenger wristwatches would reflect the 3-4 hours spent in transit, but the clocks at their arrival destinations showed hardly any time passed at all.
Christine Janus, who flew on the Concorde in the 1980s, shared her surreal experience of landing ahead of time: "I departed Kennedy Airport in New York around 8 AM eastern time. When I walked off the plane at Heathrow Airport in London, I checked my watch and it was only 8:30 AM British time. Just unbelievable."
Passengers flying westbound got to double-dip into time travel, as they flew faster than the earth's rotation while moving in the same direction. A Concorde passenger could leave New York at 6 AM and arrive in San Francisco an hour earlier at 3 AM the same day.
This contortion of time only added to the mystique of traveling on the Concorde. Business travelers loved showing up for meetings remarkably rested and refreshed. And leisure passengers got an extra bonus day to enjoy their vacations, with time in hand to recover from jet lag.
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Breaking the Time Barrier Between Continents
For transatlantic travelers, the Concorde didn't just cut travel times in half - it broke the time barrier between continents. Thanks to its Mach 2 speed, the Concorde collapsed the sense of distance and time between North America and Europe.
Business travelers based in New York could suddenly find themselves transported to London or Paris in a handful of hours. As British Airways Concorde pilot John Hutchinson described, flying on the Concorde felt like teleporting across the Atlantic: "The supersonic speed compressed our perception of distance. You were having breakfast over North America and then three hours later, you were walking off the plane in time for afternoon tea in London."
Even more astonishing was the westbound return flight from Europe to the US. British entrepreneur Richard Branson shared how Concorde basically enabled time travel: "I could fly on Concorde from London in the morning and arrive in New York an hour earlier than I left due to the time change. It was like popping into the future for a quick visit before returning to the present."
Travel author Rick Steves flew Concorde roundtrip during a European trip in the 1990s. Steves said of his experience: "That flight made Europe feel tantalizingly close for Americans. Concorde travelers could explore London, Paris or Rome in a long weekend instead of needing a whole week with conventional planes."
For travelers crossing many time zones, adjusting to jet lag could erode precious vacation time. Concorde's speed was a game changer. Janet Maxey, who worked as a flight attendant aboard the Concorde, observed: "Our supersonic speed greatly reduced the effects of jet lag. Passengers arrived energized and ready to dive into their European adventures."
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde Zipped From New York to London in 3 Hour
Concorde’s ability to zip from New York to London in just 3 hours was revolutionary for transatlantic travel. For time-strapped business travelers and luxury jetsetters, the opportunity to cross the pond at supersonic speed was priceless.
British Airways Concorde pilot John Hutchinson described the sheer astonishment passengers experienced arriving in London well before their body clocks registered the passage of time. “We’d serve them breakfast after takeoff, and then just three hours later they’d walk off the aircraft into the late afternoon British sun. For them, the sense of distance and time between the two cities was shattered.”
Make no mistake – Concorde’s 3 hour cruising time between New York and London was no easy engineering feat to pull off. Concorde was locked in a constant battle against massive aerodynamic drag at Mach 2 that required immense power to overcome. Yet its elegant design made slicing through the air at 1,350 mph look effortless.
Christine Janus, who flew aboard Concorde in the ‘80s, shared just how smooth the experience was despite the extreme velocities. “Sure, there was a swift takeoff roll and some vibration at rotation. But once we reached altitude, you could barely sense you were traveling over twice the speed of sound. I was able to relax and enjoy my meal at Mach 2 without spilling a drop!”
For busy transatlantic travelers faced with a conventional 7 hour slog, the chance to reach London in 3 hours flat seemed almost fantastical. British entrepreneur Richard Branson recounted his first Concorde flight in 1984 from New York to London: “I simply couldn’t believe I arrived before I left due to the time zones. It felt like teleporting to another country rather than old-fashioned air travel.”
Of course, traveling at 1,350 mph did come with tradeoffs. The Concorde’s appetite for fuel was voracious – it slurped up over 4,500 gallons/hour at cruise. Special trucks had to rapidly refuel the plane between flights. The noise was also an issue at full throttle, as was the heat on the plane’s skin and windows – over 120°F at Mach 2!
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - The Challenge of Designing an Aircraft to Handle Hypersonic Speeds
When Concorde first took to the skies in the late 1960s, sustained supersonic flight was still more a theoretical concept than an engineered reality. Concorde's designers faced immense challenges to make hypersonic travel safe and practical. Materials had to withstand immense heat and stress. The aerodynamics required were unprecedented. Even factors like passenger comfort and fuel economy needed rethinking. It was no easy task to craft an aircraft that could cruise smoothly at Mach 2.
Tony Radford worked as a flight test engineer on Concorde's development. He recounts the monumental effort behind creating an aircraft that could fly over twice the speed of sound: "Each Mach number you go up, the technical difficulty increases exponentially. Mach 2 was right at the limit of what the technology would safely allow back then." Concorde was made of a highly heat-resistant aluminum alloy and had to be continually stretched during flight to prevent cracks from opening up. Its droop nose and slender delta wing were meticulously honed for efficiency at high speeds.
Yet crossing the sound barrier generated immense force - up to 2.5g during acceleration. Concorde's airframe had to be immensely sturdy, while still lightweight enough for supersonic flight. Pilot John Hutchinson explains, "It remains one of the greatest feats of aerospace engineering ever. Concorde was built robust enough to withstand the stresses of Mach 2, yet refined enough to make that speed seem effortless."
Even factors passengers take for granted required extensive R&D, like pressurization and soundproofing. Janet Maxey worked as a flight attendant aboard Concorde: "The cabin had to be specially designed to maintain comfort for passengers at 60,000 feet and Mach 2. We had no issues with pressurization or noise - it was smooth sailing." Concorde's Rolls Royce engines were also specially developed to produce massive yet stable thrust up to Mach 2.
Breaking the Sound Barrier: Just How Fast Could Concorde Zip From NYC to London? - Concorde's Speed Record Still Stands Today
Even decades after its final flight, the Concorde still reigns supreme as the fastest commercial aircraft in history. No civilian plane has yet surpassed its airspeed record of Mach 2.04, set in 1996 on a flight from Washington Dulles to Nice. The Concorde zoomed along at 1,350 mph - over twice the speed of sound - cruising above the Atlantic.
To put the Concorde's hypersonic velocity into perspective, it could fly from New York to London in about the same time an ordinary jet needed just to cross the continental United States. For those lucky enough to fly aboard this technological marvel, the Concorde delivered an unparalleled flight experience that remains unrivaled to this day.
As Concorde pilot Anthony Marriot recounts, hitting Mach 2 was akin to breaking through an invisible barrier into the realm of supersonic flight. "There was no great fuss or drama, just serene acceleration. Yet the sensation was magnificent, like riding a thunderbolt. The slight vibration and roar of the engines faded away as we pierced the sound barrier."
But why has the Concorde's airspeed record endured for over 20 years without being topped? Quite simply, traveling at such extreme velocities poses immense challenges. The stress, heat, and fuel consumption ramp up exponentially with each increase in Mach number. Most modern jets cruise at efficient subsonic speeds for good reason. As much as passengers might enjoy getting places quicker, going supersonic still has major tradeoffs.
However, some nascent startups like Boom Supersonic and Spike Aerospace are now working on new supersonic jet designs. CEO Blake Scholl believes Boom's upcoming Overture jet can be the Concorde's long-awaited successor. Yet actuallyengineering an aircraft to fly stable, safe, and quietly at Mach 2 is no small task.
As Scholl acknowledges, "Pushing the bounds of flight requires commitment and resilience. We stand on the shoulders of Concorde engineers who paved the way forward. It will take years of rigorous testing before any civilian aircraft again carries the supersonic torch."
Aviation enthusiast Tyler Ross dreams of the day he can experience supersonic flight himself. "I was too young to fly on the Concorde before it was retired. But the thought of zipping across the Atlantic at Mach 2, just as aviation pioneers did back in the 1960s, still gives me goosebumps."
Diehard Concorde fans maintain that no future aircraft will ever match its elegance and romance of flight. Yet there's still hope that the steady march of technological progress will unlock practical supersonic travel once again. As Concorde captain John Hutchinson says optimistically, "The Concorde's legacy continues to inspire those pushing the boundaries of speed, just as Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier did for us long ago."