Kirstin Wolfe, News Editor
Setting records in commercial aviation with cruise flight speeds of Mach 2, the British and French collaboration that was the Concorde “behaved and flew magnificently,” according to former British Airways Captain John Hutchison. At the last Aviation History Speaker Series event of the fall semester, Hutchison wowed Prescott community members and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students alike with stories of flying the Concorde for fifteen years. Sharing information about the history, design, and flight characteristics of the Concorde, Hutchison held the audience captive for almost two hours.
Hutchison began with the history of the Concorde’s collaborative design and noted that Britain and France worked together because it was not sensible for both countries to compete on the frontier of supersonic flight. British Airways and Air France operated the 100 passenger commercial airliner for transatlantic flights. Diving right in with facts and figures, Hutchison explained why the Concorde was such a remarkable feat of technology for its time.
The Concorde claimed many firsts in aviation, including operating as the first civilian fly-by-wire aircraft, assisted by its technologically advanced flight deck. Hutchison described the flight deck as having “without a doubt the most complex flight engineer panel” to monitor all the sophisticated equipment on the aircraft. The flight deck was separated in logical sections and even included a radiation meter because of its service ceiling of 60,000 feet.
One of the biggest challenges for supersonic flight was “compressibility and everything that stems from compressibility,” Hutchison remarked. The structure of the Concorde actually stretched a few inches during cruise flight at twice the speed of sound and passengers never noticed a thing. Hutchison described flying the Concorde as “effortless” and that it could be flown with a thumb and forefinger when properly trimmed. Monitoring and adjusting the engines was more complicated than actually controlling the aircraft because the engines needed constant tweaking.
The most remarkable part of flying the Concorde was not having a sensation of supersonic speed. Flying above thunderstorms and the jet stream, Hutchison remarked that one “had an uncanny feeling that you were hanging suspended in space” because there was nothing to compare the speed of the aircraft against. Hutchison even noted that the curvature of the Earth could be seen at the high altitudes the Concorde flew.
With an adjustable nose and delta wing design, the Concorde had lovely curves and exceptional handling characteristics. Pilots could lower the angle of the nose to see taxiways and runways while on the ground or approaching to land; this gave the Concorde its distinct “drooped nose” characteristic. During flight, the nose would be raised completely and also had a heat shield that could be raised. Hutchison noted that the aircraft would not lose lift at high angles of attack but increase lift “until the center of gravity or center of lift got too far off.” At a fourteen-degree angle of attack, safeguards would employ to prevent loss of control. Hutchison elaborated on numerous other flight and design characteristics throughout the evening, but also talked about the operations of the Concorde.
Despite anti-Concorde lobbying of flights from Britain to the United States, a trial period was allowed into Washington in 1976. American spectators would go to the airport simply to watch the Concorde land or takeoff because the aircraft was so extraordinary to watch in-flight. The first clearance of a Concorde into New York was at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in November 1977.
As a captain for British Airways who flew the Concorde, Hutchison had more than just technical information and facts to share. Hutchison included personal stories and anecdotes throughout his presentation that kept the audience riveted and waiting for more. Still holding the world record for fastest flight between Tahiti and Honolulu, Hawaii, Captain John Hutchison was a guest the city of Prescott will not soon forget.