Hence we’re burdened with aircraft little improved since the 1950s, still plodding the skies at a paltry 550 mph, a snail pace compared to Concorde’s blistering speeds, so fast only young fighter pilots ever knew the thrill of supersonic flight.
Happily, Whisky Magazine’s correspondent did fly Concorde, five times in all; riding the cockpit jump seat during takeoff and landing on one trip.
After interviewing rock band Berlin, I’d boarded British Airways Concorde in Miami, Teri Nun’s sensuous Take My Breath Away from Top Gun playing in my head. I’m betting Tom Cruise, as Lt Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, never actually flew supersonic F-18 Super Hornet fighters, insurance liability etcetera.
I’m headed for London, there to meet up with actor John Goodman, busy filming King Ralph, eagerly looking forward to reliving past adventures with him at his favourite Irish Pub in LA, later at Johnny White's Bar in New Orleans. Offstage, John’s a regular guy, easy to share time with, funny as hell too.
Seated up front in the rather narrow cabin, I’m enjoying a single malt while rummaging through my complimentary flight kit; gold leaf appointment book, leather embossed passport holder, Concorde ball point with gold embossed stationary – very nice.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” The first officer announces “For those of you who have never flown Concorde, you may find the take-off (pause) somewhat sporty!” as four Rolls-Royce Olympus jet engines, generating a massive 152,000 pounds of thrust, launching the javelin shaped Concorde down the runway. Zero to 62-miles-per-hour in six seconds… nosily, shaking like hell and we’re clocking 225 mph in under 5,000 feet… a final lurch, and airborne!
Banking left, the Florida sun casts a delta-shape shadow over spectators by the thousands, who stopped traffic to watch Concorde blast past.
As we level out my heart stops pounding, I ask for another whisky; calms the nerves you know.
The narrow cabin, nine-feet-wide, reminds me more of an executive jet than a commercial airliner. Concorde, however, pampers passengers with unobtrusive yet attentive service.
There’s Segruva caviar served over an ice-chilled bowl, an exotic wine list to accompany sumptuous fine dining and served in the atmosphere of a private club, reminding me of the Savoy Grill or Monaco’s Hotel de Paris, except the flight is noisy. But who cares?
I’m savouring my dram from a crystal glass emblazoned with the letter “C” just as Mach 2 appears on the cabin readout… we’re screaming through the stratosphere at 60,000 feet, eight times faster than a rifle bullet, and hardly a tremor in the glass.
What‘s it like hanging out with John Goodman? He’s a riot, down to earth. We have known each other from past interviews and socialised frequently. I’d covered John’s celebrity studded wedding on a Mississippi riverboat in New Orleans, he reminding me of a congratulatory Johnnie Walker Black Label I’d sent to their Royal Sonesta Hotel bridal suite.
So, I’m in London to chat about his starring role in King Ralph.
Meeting at a studio-arranged Knightsbridge villa, John answers the door; I get a cheery bear hug, and follow him to the lounge. To ease into another hilarious encounter, I produce a bottle of Oban, picked up at Miami duty free.
Did you know John’s a big Shakespeare fan? “I was fascinated with the richness of the language while in school, despite needing help with archaic words, it is so rich, so powerful”. He played football (American) in high school before heading for college and found his calling taking drama courses.
Getting back to Concorde, I flew next aboard Air France Concorde too, enjoying the great honour witnessing take-off and landing from the cockpit jump-seat, reserved for government inspectors, flight instructors etc.
Just as I fastened my seat belt, the head steward poked his head around the bulkhead. “Monsieur Leggett?” he enquired… for a panicky moment I thought I was being thrown off.
Heart pounding I nod.
“Ah, the captain knows you are aboard and invites you to make the take-off in the jump seat, if you like?”
“Hell yes!” Ceremoniously I'm escorted into the snug cockpit, introduced to the captain, co-pilot and flight engineer, surrounded by panels crammed with a mind boggling array of dials, gauges, fuses, switches and levers.
Crew being extremely busy, I unfold the small jump seat, secure my waist and shoulder harness snuggly, pinching myself to be sure I’m not dreaming. I’m in a ready to fly Concorde cockpit! Then back to 70 mph!
A questioning nod from the captain, thumbs up from me and Concorde’s off!
Must be how astronauts feel during blast off… stunning acceleration, Concorde’s awesome thrust forces you back in your seat, entire airplane vibrating, shaking, massive jets unleashing every ounce of pent up power… seconds later the nose lifts... wheels still rumbling down the runway, entire plane shaking like hell… faster…faster then, suddenly, we’re airborne and climbing steeper than I expected, buildings and roadways growing smaller and smaller by the second.
Concorde banks left, still in a steep climb, levelling out before cutting the afterburners and were now at Mach .93.
The pilot raises the nose cone, preparing for supersonic and flight noise subsides.
Cockpit side windows offer superb view as we climb swiftly to Concorde’s cruising altitude, between 50,000 and 60,000 feet.
Leaving populated areas, the captain restarts the post-combustion system. During the transonic phase, air resistance increases sharply and the aircraft needs more thrust.
We feel two slight impulses one second apart the moment we breach the sound barrier, Mach meters located on bulkheads read Mach 1, we’ve passed the sound barrier and still climbing, now so high, we clearly see the Earth’s curvature; looking up, the sky looks almost black.
Returning to my cabin seat, I order a double Glenmorangie, and then settle in for a fabulous ride while bulkhead mounted digital Mach display climbs… 1.8... 1.9 and then the magic 2.0 – 1,554.538 mph - eight times faster than a rifle bullet, and here I sit, savouring a friendly whisky! How cool is this?
Touching the very small cabin window it feels hot, very hot. Concorde’s fuselage expands a full nine inches going this fast, my whisky zooming through the stratosphere, one mile every 2.5 seconds.
While double bang sonic boom is heard far below as if from a lightning strike, passengers notice no sensation.
“I felt more strongly that I had entered a private club. It was a brief glimpse into a life I had not known, polite, considerate, and beautifully detailed.” said a fellow passenger
Concorde flights are now a memory, ever so fondly brought to mind over a cheering glass…