originally posted by: Forensick
So why didn’t they make Concorde go faster
The short answer:
The Concorde was a British-French project intended to keep the European airframe manufacturers competitive in the world market for commercial
aircraft; at the time the project was initiated (1962) the European industry did not have the technology base for either high-temperature airframes or
The longer answer:
By the early 1950s, the first generation turbojet powered commercial transport aircraft (DH-106 Comet) was flying and other aircraft manufacturers
were planning their own designs to compete (B-707, DC-8, Convair 880, etc.). At the same time, the R&D establishments on both sides of the pond were
steadily advancing the understanding of supersonic flight—through the building and testing of X-aircraft, and primarily for use in military
aircraft. Because supersonic flight was becoming less mysterious and more tractable, the aircraft establishments on both sides of the pond began
studying whether a supersonic passenger carrying transport aircraft might make sense, by the mid- to late 1950s. Some visionaries thought it could
make economic sense--as long as fuel costs remained a small fraction of the total operating cost—which was true, at the time.
Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, the US military and intelligence community had been investing in advanced aircraft studies and technology
development for national purposes unrelated to commercial transport (nuclear war fighting and strategic reconnaissance). In early 1958, the US
actually had two M=3+ airframe projects underway—one was the publicly known X-B70 and the other was the CIA’s covert A-12. Both were high
temperature airframes; the XB-70 was stainless steel honeycomb and the A-12 was Titanium. The XB-70 used afterburning turbojets for propulsion and
the A-12 used the more efficient turbo-ramjet. Both either studied the use of or actually used Boron-containing high energy fuels. These kinds of
designs were possible in the US because the vastly larger investments in defense technologies in the US compared to Europe had pioneered the
manufacturing and use of Titanium materials for primary structure and advanced thermodynamic cycle propulsion.
In the early 1960s, US airframe manufacturers were telling Congress that there were no technical reasons why they couldn’t build a supersonic
transport (SST), if the nation wanted to undertake that goal. The Europeans thought that there might very well be an impending race to field the
first SST, and they didn’t want to be left at the starting blocks. Everyone realized that if SSTs actually were built, there would probably be only
a small number ever built because they were more productive due to their higher speed, and also more expensive. Nobody expected that SSTs would
service more than a small fraction of the flying public--at least at first. That meant that whoever came to market with an SST first might shut out
whoever was second.
The British and French airframe manufacturers had come to this realization independently and also realized they probably did not have the resources
individually to fund the development of such an ambitious project. Talks were begun that eventually resulted in a British-French treaty being signed
to jointly develop an SST, using European technology. Because the project was established under the umbrella of a bi-lateral treaty, it was
originally named Concorde which, in French means “agreement” or “harmony”. Ironically, politicians in both nations began immediately arguing
over the name, with the British claiming that a French name was an affront to their dignity and insisting that it be renamed “Concord” (the
English spelling of the same word). Apparently, the name went backhand forth several times. At the time, Aluminum was the only airframe material that
the Europeans had access to and experience with, so it had to be an Aluminum airframe. That meant that its speed had to be limited to about M = 2 in
order to avoid the loss of strength that would result from excessive aerodynamic heating. They sized the turbojet engines such that the aircraft
could cruise at M = 2 without afterburner. Afterburners were used primarily to accelerate through M = 1. That made the power plants big and thirsty
at low speeds, so in order to be cost-effective, they needed long distance routes where they could operate at steady state cruise for most of the
time. Trans-Atlantic routes were perfect.
The Concorde was the first SST to enter commercial service. It beat out the Soviet TU-144 (“Concorski”) by two years, and the TU-144 was so
troubled by crashes and budget problems that it only flew about 100 passenger carrying flights before it was retired from service. The US, after
beginning its own M = 3 class SST program with government funding in early 1967 (the Boeing 2707) ended up terminating the program only a few years
later in 1971, when the Senate refused to provide further government investment.
On the one hand, Boeing was right; at the time the US SST program was terminated, more airlines had secured more delivery positions in the production
line that Boeing was promising for their faster airplane than for the Concorde. This reflected the belief that the Boeing design would be more
cost-effective. On the other hand, Concorde was right; whoever got to market first was likely to saturate the demand and shut out any competitors.
Which they did.
However, by the time the Concorde was flying its routes, the economic calculations had changed. Fuel was a lot more expensive by the mid 1970s and
the introduction of the 747 for transoceanic routes pretty much scarfed up most of the traveling public. That pretty much drove a stake through the
heart of the SST.