Magazine article The Spectator

'Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner', by Jonathan Glancey - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner', by Jonathan Glancey - Review

Article excerpt

Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner Jonathan Glancey

Atlantic, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9781782391074

The Concorde experience, a fleeting indulgence in luxurious grandiosity, began each day with circumvention of the hugger-mugger of the hoi polloi at Heathrow. In the tranquillity of the exclusive Concorde departure lounge, insulated against the vulgar cacophony of the rest of the terminal building, elite passengers, only 100 at a time, while awaiting the call to the aircraft, were able to sip gratis buck's fizz and make gratis unlimited international telephone calls.

On my three Concorde trips, one from London to New York and two to Washington, I was impressed by the rich variety and subliminal sameness of my travelling companions, the modish accoutrements of haute couture and the blasé cool of genuine or simulated cosmopolitanism. There was a fragrance of affluence and celebrity, hints of high ranks in diplomacy, industry and commerce and entertainment, a vision of red carpets and substantial tax deductions. When we entered the intimate confinement of the narrow, tubular fuselage, I noticed that the legroom between the seats was a good deal more extensive than what I was accustomed to. Aboard Concorde one could confidently expect beguiling ego-massage.

Leaving London at 1100 GMT, this apotheosis of Speedbirds arrived in New York in three hours and 20 minutes, at 0920 EST. There was just enough time en route for a luncheon of James Bond gourmandism, providing, for example, caviar, terrapin, pheasant, Grand Marnier soufflé, fruits and cheeses and all sorts of vintage wines or, to avoid the stress of decision-making, champagne all the way. When the Machmeter on the bulkhead indicated Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, faster than a rifle bullet, a few of the cognoscenti happened to look up from their coffee and liqueurs with sufficient interest to applaud.

As my first Concorde trip was before the fear of terrorists, I was permitted to visit the flight deck. At 58,000 feet, well above any turbulence, I could see the curvature of the Earth. The captain, with a kind smile, demonstrated his instantaneous satellite-navigation system, so much more convenient than the dead-reckoning, sextant, drift-recorder and, with luck, the occasional radio beacon I had relied on to navigate American-built, 220 mph twin-engined Marauders and Baltimores from the Bahamas to Egypt and Dakotas on to India during the second world war. …

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