My Ride on the Concorde
A museum curator goes along for one last transatlantic voyage.
- By Robert van der Linden
- Air & Space magazine, March 2004
(Page 2 of 3)
At noon the doors were closed, the four Olympus engines fired up, and the aircraft pushed back from the gate. Captain Jean-Francois Michel, head of Air France’s Concorde division, First Officer Gérard Duval, and Flight Engineer Jean-Yves Dronne were in the cockpit. As we taxied by the terminal, I looked out my tiny window and noticed hundreds of airport workers along the ramp, waving and filming our departure.
After getting takeoff clearance, Michel lit the afterburners for 30 seconds, and the Concorde responded by accelerating down the runway to 225 mph; after rolling less than 5,000 feet, we were airborne. As we climbed , the Concorde continued to accelerate, and after 19 minutes, we reached the French coast. We were at 25,500 feet, traveling at Mach .75, when the fuel transfer process began. (Because the Concorde’s aerodynamic center shifts as it transitions to supersonic speeds, high-speed pumps redistribute the fuel to compensate.) Once the fuel transfer was completed, Michel again ignited the afterburners and we continued to accelerate, leaving the English Channel behind.
With my eyes glued to the Mach meter on the forward cabin bulkhead, I watched as our speed increased, anticipating some kind of bump that would signify we had gone supersonic. I was pleasantly disappointed.
Thirty-five minutes after takeoff, we were 272 miles from Paris. At this point, the afterburners were shut down and cabin service begun. While there were only 60 passengers, we were tended to by seven flight attendants. As one would expect, the service was superb. Catherine Pellerin, a Concorde cabin crew instructor, was responsible for my section. I was sitting next to P. Girandet, a delightful elderly gentleman who I later discovered was the president of Air France when the Concorde entered service in 1976. He was polite but demanding of Pellerin, who responded with great attention and a caring smile for her former boss.
While dinner was being prepared, Pellerin brought caviar and champagne. Girandet explained to me in broken English that it was just unthinkable to serve champagne with caviar. What did I know? I’m a middle-class civil servant from the suburbs. Apparently, caviar should only be accompanied by vodka. I’ll remember that next time.
Next came an hors d’oeuvre, a choice between medallions of rock lobster with crab sauce or fois gras with chutney and carrot jelly. I chose the lobster, which was accompanied by a white wine.
Between courses I looked up and saw that we had reached Mach 2—1,350 mph, faster than Earth rotates. Our altitude varied between 52,000 and 59,000 feet, far above the rest of the air traffic. I noticed that my window was quite warm, and I could feel heat radiating from the fuselage, whose aluminum skin had heated to over 248 degrees Fahrenheit. The sky above us was a stunning dark purple. I tried to see the curvature of Earth, but to my dismay the entire Atlantic was clouded over.
My disappointment was soon forgotten with the arrival of pan-seared veal medallions, Maxime potatoes, and a rich Bordeaux. My place setting consisted of fine china, engraved glassware, and silverware—except for the knife, which, for security reasons, was plastic.