Friday, September 10, 2010

10th Sep 2002 – Lets go Supersonic!

Ok I’m still bloging about anniversaries, there will be some up-to-date blogs coming soon but today happens to be the 31st anniversary of me coming into this world but also an anniversary of an almost as important event 8 years ago, Flying on Concorde!!

Below is the detailed report I wrote about the flight back in 2002 along with some Supersonic photos!

Concorde Trip Report – BA002, JFK-LHR, G-BOAF – Tues 10th September 2002
Prologue - Late May 2002
I had always prided myself on flying to places as cheaply as possible and have flown to Italy & France with Ryanair for £1+Tax flights, but all that was about to chance as in late May 2002, I Came across an amazing deal of flying BA Club World out to New York & retuning by Concorde for £1700

Over the past few years I had started to get interested in planes and aviation and loved flying & Concorde was the ultimate way to fly! £1700 however was still a lot of money to me especially as I was out of work at the time. But was less than a third of the normal price and after searching a few of the limited available dates and finding that my Birthday, 10th September 2002 was one of the available dates for travelling home on Concorde, I just had to go for it!

To finance the deal I took out a Credit card with a 6 month 0% interest Balance transfer. The card company with the best deal just happened to be BA’s biggest enemy – Richard Branson’s Virgin. Thanks Richard for financing my BA Concorde flight!

The Summer months seemed to take forever, but eventually September came and on Friday 6th September I flew out to New York in BA Club World.

Tuesday 10th September – my 23rd Birthday

After a fantastic 4 days in New York I woke up around 5:30 EST (10:30 BST) at my JFK hotel.

Despite having a brilliant time in New York, I had never felt so excited about going home from a holiday! 

I arrived at JFK Airport Terminal 7 around 6:45, walking into the terminal I could only see the BA check in desks for the Subsonic (slow, wont be home in time for dinner) Boeing 747 flight to LHR, due to depart 30 minuets after Concorde.
So I asked the BA rep “where was the Concorde check in” I could hardly believe that that I was asking for the Concorde Check in!

He directed me to the Concorde check in area totally separate from the other check in areas. Fter a short wait was at the check in desk. Having got my ticket so cheap for Concorde, I was getting paranoid and almost expecting them to say, Sorry sir but there’s been a mistake, your only booked on the 747 flight!

My worries turned out to be nothing as I was handed by boarding pass for seat 9D on flight BA002.
I was slightly disappointed that it was a Standard BA Boarding pass, not a special Concorde one, I assume they must have run out of the special Concorde boarding passes.

It was then straight through Security & into the Concorde Lounge. As soon as I walked into the Concorde Lounge, I was pleased to see our Concorde parked up directly through the glass, this was a nice surprise as I had heard that due to the security threat level Concorde no longer parked in front of the Concorde lounge.

I went straight to the window to get a closer look & to try and see which of the 5 operational BA Concorde’s I would be flying on. Looking at the nose gear flaps gave me my answer, as the letters AF were clearly visible.

My Flight would be on Concorde 216, G-BOAF the last Concorde ever to be built.

I was delighted to get this Concorde as it was built & made it’s first flight in 1979 the year that I was born & it was the Concorde on all my Posters at home as it was the first Concorde to be painted in BA’s Chatham Dockyard scheme & therefore was photographed a lot in some fantastic Air to Air shots. G-BOAF was also the first Concorde to be modified with the Safety modifications following the Air France accident and led the way in getting Concorde’s to fly again.

After taking a few photos of my Concorde I sat down and ordered a Bacon Baguette for Breakfast at the complementary bar.

After I had a good look around the Concorde lounge and trying but failing to spot any celebrities, I sat down by the TV showing a New York City Breakfast Show. I remember thinking that in just over 4 hours time I would be in London for dinner.

About 8AM they announced the British Airways Supersonic flight BA002 to London Heathrow would be boarding shortly, Our Captain would be Derek Woodley & our Senior First Officer Jonathan Napier. At 8:05 passengers in the rear cabin, rows 11 – 26 were invited to board first. My seat being 9D I had to wait a little longer to board.

Soon the call came for all the remaining Concorde passengers to proceed to the gate, for your supersonic flight to London walking down the walkway I paused right in front of the famous nose to take a few more photos. Several people were being stopped for extra random security checks, but I proceeded down the jet bridge towards Concorde.

Arriving at the cabin door, I asked the stewardess if she could take a photo of me boarding  kindly did. And she welcomed me to Concorde!

Some people talk Concorde down saying it’s very cramped, I did have to duck when entering through the cabin door but once inside I didn’t find it at all cramped, especially as I was used to flying in a packed economy class, however compared to Business or First class it would appear cramped but on Concorde you don’t need all the space of Business or First Class anyway as you are only on board for 3 & a half hours compared to over 7 on a 747.

I took my window seat in row 9D, the last but 1 row in the front cabin, the leather seat was very comfortable, legroom was 37 inches enough room to stretch my legs a little, and the seat was slightly wider than economy class seating.
Looking out my window I was surprised just how small they were, I knew Concorde’s windows were small compared to other aircraft, but they were much smaller than what I was expecting, my hand could cover the entire window.

Despite this with your eyes located in the right position you could still see out of the windows easily. I also had 2 windows from my seat, one directly to my right, and one I could look through if I leant forward a little.

Capt. Derek Woodley welcomes us aboard and describes how Concorde is different from other aircraft, and what to expect during takeoff.
He tells us that we would be taking off from Runway 31L the most common runway for Concorde departures from JFK. To meet the local noise restrictions, just seconds after takeoff we would make a hard banked left hand turn over Causeway Bay, shortly after the afterburners would be shut off causing 2 nudges and a very noticeable decrease in power. The afterburners would be re-ignited once out over the Atlantic to take us through Mach 1. They would continue burning until we reached about Mach 1.65 when they would be turned off, as we would have built up enough momentum to accelerate to Mach 2 without them.

Right on time at 8:30 we pushed back from the gate and taxied out towards Runway 31L, it was a very nice clear day in New York, and in the distance I could make out the Empire State Building, amazing that in just over 3 hours after seeing it, I would be looking down on the Houses of Parliament 3,500 miles away!

We arrived at the holding point of Runway 31L, no other aircraft were using this runway so after a brief pause, the noise rose sharply and we begin to accelerate towards our 250mph takeoff speed, 70mph faster than standard aircraft. The acceleration was very impressive, We were soon up to 250mph  and I was airborne on Concorde! We climbed very steeply at first, The almost immediate bank to the left after takeoff was very impressive, looking out of my window all I could see was the sky, but looking across the cabin to the left I could just see out of the opposite windows looking almost directly down towards Causeway Bay.

Shortly after I could certainly feel the afterburners being turned off, there was a sudden drop in power and our angle of climb and it seemed like being stuck in gear!

We were soon out over the Atlantic Ocean and the Afterburners we re-ignited to take us through the Sound Barrier. Just 15 minuets after takeoff and at 29,000ft we went through the Sound barrier and became Supersonic. However if I hadn’t been carefully following our progress on the Marilakes displays I would have never known. Some people report they feel slight nudges as they went through the Sound barrier, but I couldn’t recall such nudges.

During the next 15 minuets our speed doubled from Mach 1 to Mach 2 and our altitude increased to 49,000ft. Half an hour after takeoff from New York we were heading towards London at twice the speed of sound, faster then a riffle bullet and as Air France did not have any Concorde flights on Tuesdays, & the Concorde flight BA001 had landed in New York it meant we were now higher than anyone in the world the only people higher than us would have been the 3 Astronauts that were on the International Space Station but that isn’t in the world!

With about 85 Passengers on board, 9 crew & the 3 astronauts I could say that on my 23rd Birthday, 10th September 2002 between approx 2PM & 4:30 PM BST I was One of the top 100 highest people above the earth!

During the acceleration between Mach 1 & 2 Champagne & Canapés were served & menus handed out. The champagne was Cattier, Clos du Moulin, a limited edition champagne, limited to just 9157 numbered bottles. (Note still some available to buy here for £51 per bottle), It wasn’t long before we were up to our full cruising speed of Mach 2 or 1340 mph. We climbed beyond 50,000ft and the curvature of the Earth was by now clearly visible, and the sky was a dark inky blue, with a thin sky blue strip visible below. It was very clear below with not too many clouds making the curvature very visible.

By now the outside temperature was - 68 deg.C, however due to the friction caused by flying at Supersonic speeds, the temperature of the nose was around 120 deg C with the rest of the fuselage also being very warm. Feeling the insides of my windows they were quite warm and the aircraft was now around 9 inches (22cm) longer than before due to it stretching in supersonic flight!

As soon as my glass of champagne was empty, it was topped up by a stewardess, shortly afterwards main meal service began with the stewardess’s handing out the well presented meal trays followed by the appetiser being served, Greek Yoghurt with fresh berries and granola.

The main course followed I chose the boring option, English Breakfast, other options included, lobster & quails eggs salad, Lasagne & Truffled chicken breast. The food is served on white bone china designed by Conran, the cutlery was wrapped in a napkin secured with a nice stainless steel napkin ring, but the cutlery itself was plastic due to security since September 11th 2001.

Then had a nice tart for desert & Cheese & Biscuits and this was followed by a cup of tea & some very nice Belgium chocolates.

After the final course was cleared away I was delighted to see Concorde Gift packs being given out, as I had heard they were not always handed out anymore, this made up for not getting a proper Concorde boarding Pass. The pack included a nice Stainless Steel Concorde pen, Stationary and the Concorde Supersonic Certificate. We were told we would be able to go into the Cockpit after landing to get the Captain to sign it.

I got out of my seat and went to explore the Supersonic toilet, which was very cramped, no joining the 12 mile high club here!

After my supersonic toilet breakI then took a walk into the rear cabin and found a pair of empty seats to sit in for 10 minuets or so to get the view from over the unique delta wing. I was surprised how well you could see out over the wing, as due to the small wingspan you still got a good view out below.

We started decelerating while I was sitting here and I suddenly realised that I hadn’t had my photos taken yet by the famous mach displays. By the time I got my photo taken we were down to Mach 1.47 and 54,000ft but at least we were still Supersonic.
Deceleration was actually much more noticeable than acceleration, we also dropped in altitude very fast until just off the English coastline when at 29,000ft we became subsonic once more. For a while we were still faster than any other passenger aircraft at a speed of Mach 0.96 as we flew towards London.

As we got nearer to London we begin to slow down more, and started to get a bit of turbulence as we descended through the clouds, we would approach Heathrow from the East so we would be flying over London on our approach. I soon spotted the Millennium Dome, and we had some more fantastic views over central London including the Millennium Dome, London eye & Houses of parliament.

I could feel that the approach was unlike any other aircraft I had been on, the front of the plane was significantly pitched up all the way along the approach path, while on a standard aircraft the nose is only pitched up in the final seconds. This is because Concorde has no flaps so gets its stability at low speed from its delta wings.

We approached runway 27R, All other aircraft were landing on 27L that evening, but Concorde had to use the North runway as the South runways was having re-surfacing work done and was not suitable for Concorde movements so the departing traffic on runway 27R was temporarily halted as we made our final approach.

The landing was very impressive, the reverse thrust was very powerful & noisy & we had pulled off the runway just 30 seconds after touchdown.

We taxied towards terminal 4, and had to wait a few minuets to cross the South Runway as this was in use with all other aircraft landing, while we were waiting Captain Derek Woodley announced some facts and figures about our journey.

Our flying time from takeoff at JFK to touchdown at LHR was 3 hours & 24 Minutes, in which we had flown 3700 miles giving us an average speed of 1088 MPH.
Our top speed was 1340 MPH and out maximum altitude was 56,800ft

We crossed the runway and docked with our gate at Terminal 4 at 5:23pm 2 minuets early & 3 and a half hours ahead of the BA 747 flight that departed New York just 30 minuets after us!

I joined the small queue to visit the Cockpit, I was surprised how cramped it was in the Cockpit and amazed by the number of dials & switches. I introduced myself to Captain Derek Woodley and First Officer Jonathan Napier who signed my Concorde Story Book & my flight Certificate. After a quick chat I had left the cockpit to let some other passengers have their turn. I took a couple of photos of the cockpit, before leaving the Aircraft. I looked back at G-BOAF hardly believing that she had just flown me from New York to London in just 3 hours & 24 minuets. The speed continued as my suitcase was waiting for me at the baggage claim & I was straight through Customs and into the Terminal 4 arrival hall within 10 minutes of leaving the aircraft!

For me the Concorde Experience was worth every penny of the £1700 I spent and my 23rd Birthday will always be a day I’ll look back on as one of the best days of my life & will Probably always be the most incredible Birthday I’ll ever have!

Epilogue - 2003

On April 10th 2003, 7 Months to the day after my flight on Concorde British Airways & Air France announced that Concorde would be retired. The last BA Concorde flights would be in late October. There had been much speculation in the media the previous weeks that Concorde’s days could be numbered, but I was shocked to hear that Concorde would be retiring so soon. I was glad more than ever that I had took my opportunity to fly on this great aircraft, as many people who have wanted to will never get the chance.

Following the retirement announcement I decided I wanted to see as many Concorde takeoffs & landings as possible before the end of October. Living 130 miles away from Heathrow I couldn’t go there as often as I’d have liked but at least 10 times in the following months I made an 8 hour roundtrip Coach journey to Heathrow and got to see many spectacular Concorde takeoffs and landings.

A few months later it was announced that during Concorde’s last week in service it would make a farewell tour of Britain. Once the dates were announced I decided to follow it around on the first 3 days of the tour, to Birmingham, Belfast & Manchester, I then flew to Heathrow for the final 2 days on Concorde in Commercial Service.

The final Commercial Concorde flight was On 24th October 2003 and I was at Heathrow to watch the final 3 Concorde’s land at Heathrow airport, one after the other on runway 27R the same runway that I landed on Concorde on 13 months earlier.

My Concorde, G-BOAF making her first flight in over 3 weeks was the 2nd of the 3 to land, after making a special flight over the Bay of Biscay with BA Staff, Celebrities & people who had worked on Concorde.

G-BOAG operating the final commercial Concorde flight, BA002 from New York was the last to land. Chief Concorde pilot Mike Banister was at the controls while my First Officer Jonathan Napier was alongside him making him the last ever First Officer on a commercial Concorde flight.

Then on 26th November was the Final BA Concorde retirement flight. My Concorde G-BOAF had the honour of being the final Concorde to grace the skies anywhere in the world, as she retied to Filton where she was built 25 years earlier. I was there to watch her make a flypast, before making the historic final ever Concorde landing.

Some more souviners from my flight the, menu, boarding pass, baggage tag & coaster.

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