The flames, then the crash: the piece of metal knocked the Concorde to the ground

France, Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, 25 July 2000. A supersonic airliner Concorde, operated by the national airline Air France, flight 4590, awaits its starting slot on runway “26 right”. There are approximately twenty minutes to 5pm (local time) when the flight controllers grant take-off clearance.

From the cockpit that dominates the pointed and swiveling nose, the co-pilot confirms. When the commander addresses the crew to ask if everything is ready for take-off: “Are everyone ready?, question in French – receives the consent of the first officer and the flight engineer. He grabs the throttle and proceeds to reach the “V1” thrust. The engines are all green, the thrust is there. An unidentified voice urges the commander to take the sky. He calls him by name, says: “Vai Christian!“. It could be Jean Marcot, the first officer, or the flight engineer Gilles Jardinaud. The commander is Christian Marty, a veteran of the Air France company for which he has been flying since 1969: the same year in which that futuristic aircraft, born from the collaboration Anglo-French of British Aerospace and Aérospatiale, carries out the first test in the air.

But let’s take a step back. The Concorde, or more precisely Aérospatiale – Bac Concorde, was a supersonic transport aircraft developed during the 1960s, to allow British and French flag carriers to complete major intercontinental routes in record time. This long and tapered aircraft, equipped with pointed delta wings, variable nose and powered by four Olympus 593 engines developed in collaboration by Rolls-Royce and Snecma (inspired by those mounted on the strategic nuclear-capable bomber Avro Vulcan), measured 62 meters and was long opposed by the Americans – who for the first time in history had fallen behind in aviation technology. The project was so “inconvenient” that it gave life to what we could call theConcorde case: a curious diatribe that in the 1960s and 1970s involved the CIA in awork of discouragement of the governments of London and Paris who intended at all costs to achieve the futuristic result, which would have led them first to make civilian passengers travel at twice the speed of sound. According to the Americans, that project was “too dangerous“But the warning did not stop the Anglo-French plan, which instead went to fruition – at least until the tragic day.

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When Commander Marty gives the maximum thrust in the cabin, a little less than four hours of flight await him to reach his destination at speed Mach 2 (over 2,000 kilometers per hour). The destination is Jfk International Airport New York. On board the aircraft, which represented the “maximum” of commercial flights in the last stages of that era in which traveling by plane and crossing the ocean was still considered a luxury – especially at supersonic speeds – there are 100 passengers. Virtually all Germans, with the exception of an Austrian, two Danes and an American.

The Concorde begins its race at 300 kilometers per hour to break away from the track, when it encounters a metal strip, precisely titanium, 50 centimeters long, detached from the thrust reverser of the number 3 engine of a DC-10 of the American Continental Airlines, which took off a few minutes earlier on the same runway. The debris pierces a wheel of the trolley. The debris damages the compartment that houses the tanks, in the rear left section, which catch fire as the filler that supplies fuel to the engines – about 75 liters per second – is damaged along with some electrical cables that will produce the fatal spark. Just a minute has passed since the take-off okay, when the tower radio communicates to the aircraft that it is experiencing a loss of power to engines 1 and 2, that there is something wrong.

Concorde zero … 4590, you have flames (incomprehensible), you have flames behind you“, they shout from the tower. On board Marty and Marcot perceive the loss of power that materializes in a loss of attitude, which leads them to the right. Only then does the flight engineer see the light coming on indicating an engine failure number 2. The procedure for the loss of power at take-off is initiated, and the fire-fighting procedure is activated. The landing gear does not re-enter and they cannot know the extent of the damage. The tower again communicates the presence of “flames” behind the aircraft that has regains a 75% thrust from engine number 1. The trolley does not want to re-enter, and engine number 2 is turned off by the flight engineer, who believes he can isolate the problem to be evaluated later. speed and altitude problems that can lead to stalling, and the Ground Proximity Warning System starts repeating with a recorded and mechanical voice: “Whoop whoop pull up” – “Whoop whoop pull up“. There are problems, and a few moments to decide what to do.

By now it is “too late” to return to the runway as the control tower asks, which has mobilized the fire-fighting team. “Le Bourget, Le Bourget“they say on board. They want to try to land at Paris-Le Bourget airport. They want to try but they will not succeed. black box stop his story here. It does not report any more words. Just a last moment of background noise, warning lights and human effort to keep the supersonic aircraft horizontal without the thrust of the engines. The Concorde F-Btsc crashes into a small hotel near Le Bourget, theHotel Hotelissimo, 9.5 kilometers as the crow flies from the runway at Charles de Gaulle. The 100 passengers, 9 crew members, and four guests of the hotel will lose their lives, which is completely wiped out. Six other people on the ground are injured.

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According to official investigations, conducted by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la sécurité de aviation civile (Bea), the accident was caused by the aforementioned titanium metal strip, lost by a DC-10 that took off from the same runway just four minutes earlier. A second analysis, conducted independently, will include other factors that would have contributed to the occurrence of the accident: the Concorde would have resulted “slightly overloaded, with an unbalanced distribution of fuel in the tanks“.

The catastrophic accident will mark the beginning of the end for the Concorde, considered at the time “the safest aircraft in the world“. The entire fleet of supersonic aircraft will be kept on the ground until July 2001, when British Airways will resume service and discontinue it permanently in 2003. The cause is in the excessive costs that supersonic aircraft had always had to bear, while the airlines began to deal with the collapse of passengers in the post attacks of theSept. 11, the advent of low-cost airlines, and the production of carriers with more sustainable performance. The Concorde era was truly over.