The history of the Concorde began in 1962 when the British and French governments agreed to develop an SST (supersonic transport aircraft). The conceptualization and manufacturing of the plane was done through a joint effort between Aerospatiale and British Aerospace. The Concorde took its first flight in 1969 and only 20 Concordes were ever made.
The consensus among Avgeeks is clear: the Concorde is considered to be one of the most beautiful airliners ever. It was built for an average cruising speed of Mach 2.02 (1,330 mph), more than double the speed of conventional aircraft. Its swept back delta wing, needle-like fuselage, vertical tail and moveable nose provided exceptional performance.
But, oh that nose!
But what about that crooked nose? Why did the Concorde’s nose tilt down on approaches? It looked rather odd. When the Concorde was being photographed (which was often) or was sitting at the gate, the nose was always intentionally put in the more attractive “up” position.
Aesthetics aside, there are a couple of logical reasons for the nose tilt. The main reason is that it was impossible for the flight crew to see the runway in the nose-up position. The Concorde had a high angle of attack because its delta wing produced lift at low speeds. The nose was put in the lowest position when the aircraft was coming in for a landing to reduce drag and achieve the best aerodynamic efficiency.
A moving visor retracted into the nose before it was lowered. The visor was constructed of special glass that was heat resistant and used as a protection for the windscreens when the plane was supersonic speeds. During flight, the nose and window would be up which gave the plane its aerodyamic shape. When the nose was raised to its default position (horizontal), the visor would raise up before the cockpit windscreen to provide streamlined aerodynamics.
Check out this video tour of the inside of the Concorde at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire, complete with a nose-lowering demonstration: (click on the video…there is no preview image)
There were actually four different nose positions:
The Concorde’s nose actually had four different positions. Each was used in various stages of flight: take-off, supersonic cruises, taxi and landing.
1.) Nose down at a 5-degree angle with visor retracted into nose: This position was sometimes used for take-off and taxi.
2.) Nose and visor both in fully retracted up position: This was used in two cases, when the Concorde was at supersonic cruise speed or parked on the runway.
2.) Nose up but visor retracted into droop nose: Again, there are two instances when the nose was in this position, either when the plane was doing a subsonic fly past or was having its windscreens cleaned.
4.) Nose down at a 12.5-degree angle, with visor retracted into nose: This was the most common position used for landing and taxi but the nose was quickly raised to the 5-degree angle before taxiing to the tarmac to avoid damage to the aircraft.
Another fun fact: The governments of the United States and Soviet Union had also considered building an SST. In fact in the U.S., Boeing even was contracted to build a prototype. The program was tossed out however when a federal report in 1971 found that building the plane was not economically feasible. We’ll have more on that later…