Concorde in the beginning

Inspiring Travel Company | 5 Aug, 2014

Pierre Horsfall CBE, was a production engineer working on the BAC 1-11 when he was invited to work on Concorde, because he spoke French and could help to facilitate the early meetings. He was soon transferred to Concorde in a Liaison capacity. Here he discusses his memories of getting the passenger aircraft that travelled faster than a rifle bullet into the skies.

“Just think of that first meeting in 1962, only armed with slide rules, the Directors were talking of taking a military rifle, the Lee Enfield 303, firing it and overtaking the bullet at twice its speed, with an aeroplane full of people drinking Champagne in style and comfort. What amazing vision and confidence.

“A sensitive thing that had to be resolved [between both countries, France and Britain] was what to call this aeroplane; any name had to work in both languages. The Bristol house magazine ran a competition and an 11-year-old submitted ‘Concord’ and won. After international arguments an ‘e’ was added and Concorde was born; in my opinion a fabulous result that has had instant recognition anywhere in the world.

“I remember the first budget was of the order of £140 million for the entire project: multiply that by ten and you get the real answer, but of course there was many years of inflation in between. In those days it wasn't called inflation, it was called escalation.

“One of the areas that was finalised in the initial agreement was that the French would have technical leadership and the Brits would have production leadership. It was also decided who would make what, the main fuselage and wing sections were to be made in France, and the nose section, tail section, the engine Nacelles and which actually were very complex, together with the aircraft systems, were to be built in Britain. The main work, including Final Assembly of complete Concordes was done at Filton Bristol, though some sections were built at Weybridge and sent to Bristol. The concept and design of British components was led by the Bristol division of the British Aircraft Corporation.

“I think it's worth reminding oneself that this beautiful aeroplane, which is still reckoned to be an icon of engineering today, was actually designed by men and women on drawing boards with paper, pencils, rubbers, rulers and slide rules. The control of the movable ramps in the intake was critical, it's really what made the aeroplane work. Because the air flow into the engine has to be around 400 miles per hour, it is clear if the aeroplane is flying at over 1,000 miles an hour the air comes in at over 1,000 miles an hour, but by the time it gets to the front of the engine, which is only about 10 feet away, it has got to slow down to 400 miles an hour. This was done through these movable ramps and manipulation of the shock waves they create. This was to be controlled by an analogue computer, I believe the first time that an aircraft system had been so controlled. The key to this was a man called Michael Wilde, Chief Aerodynamicist, and the computer control was totally new ground at the time and was a masterpiece of its day. That intake alone was a serious innovation in engineering in those days.

“It has been a pleasure to bring back memories of hundreds of men and women at drawing boards armed with pencil, paper and slide rules, what brilliant people they were.

A sobering thought to end on, is that of the first team that attended the formative meetings, I believe that, having been by far the youngest present, I am now the sole survivor.”

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