An Oshkosh Retrospective
The Concorde 1985
December 1, 2020
With thousands of other EAA members and guests, I waited for the arrival. Minolta XG-7, 300 mm lens, skylight filter, Fuji color film all checked. Late afternoon. July 1985.
It was unusually and somewhat ominously quiet for Wittman Field. Announcement followed announcement all day, reporting so many miles out, over such and such check point. The winds had died. There was a bit of late day haze.
I was at the north end of Three-Six, about 500 feet from the runway. The line of cameras and spectators extended past the Brown Arch, past the communications center, past the Red Barn, past the orderly rows of classics and antiques, past the Hangar Café, to the very end of the display and aircraft parking area. We watched and listened. As evening approached and the light yellowed, long lenses swung to the south. Sunburned arms raised and pointed. Landing lights appeared. Then came the roar of the four Rolls Royce Olympus afterburning turbojets.
High angle of attack, nose tipped down for visibility, spindly gear extended like a wickedly elegant bird of prey ready to strike, she descended toward the south end of Three-Six. I was too far away to see the eight bogies of the mains touch down. As it happened, it didn't matter.
With a roar that made the ground shudder and struck your chest like a bomb blast, the afterburners lit up and the slender nose rose. She thundered past us in a planned touch and go – cameras clicking frantically up and down the flight line. The white belly of G-BOAG was tinted gold by the low western sun as she banked gracefully to starboard toward Lake Winnebago. The Concorde had arrived.
G-BOAG began life at the BAC Filton Bristol plant in 1977. Originally registered G-BFKW on 27 January 1978 to British Aerospace, with manufacturing serial number 214, she spent her early years as a source of spare parts for operational Concordes. Returned to service in 1984 as G-BOAG, or "Alpha Golf," she created history by flying in the 1985 Royal International Air Tattoo appearing with the RAF's Red Arrows. Now, here she was at Oshkosh. From this point on, she flew the Atlantic until the decision was made to retire the Concorde fleet. After making a 2003 North American and United Kingdom Farewell Tour, G-BOAG flew the Atlantic one last time on 3 November 2003, before making a record-breaking last flight across Canada at supersonic speeds to her new home at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. During her career, G-BOAG logged 16,239 hours and 27 minutes of flight, making 5633 landings, and 5006 supersonic flights.
Ironically, Boeing, based in Seattle, had been one of four American aircraft companies with plans for a supersonic transport. Boeing's proposal had been the 2707, Lockheed's the L-2000, Douglas called theirs the 2229, and North American's was given the designation NAC-60. None of these were produced.
The Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 first flew on 31 December 1968. Dubbed "Concordskii" by Western journalists, it failed to reach commercial service and faded from the scene after 17 were manufactured. Faster than the Concorde at Mach 2.35, it never met design goals, was beset by accidents, including the June 1973 crash at the Paris Air Show, and needed massive subsidies just to fly cargo routes.
The Concorde's French prototype, F-WTSS, first flew on 2 March 1969. British Airways and Air France did not begin Concorde service until January 1976. Capable of cruising at Mach 2 at 51,000 feet, the Concorde was an engineering masterpiece, but an economic failure requiring government subsidies to fly. Only 20 were built.
The first passenger jet to go supersonic was not a Tu-144 or a Concorde. That honor went to a stock passenger plane destined for use by Canadian Pacific Airlines. On 21 August 1961, a Douglas DC-8-43, bearing temporary registration N9604Z, complete with Canadian Pacific colors and emblazoned with the name Empress of Montreal, departed Long Beach for Edwards Air Force Base. William Magruder, Douglas's Chief Test Pilot, planned to climb N9604Z to 52,000 feet, itself a record, and using a half "G" pushover, dive past Mach 1.0. The design Mach number of the DC-8 was Mach 0.95.
Magruder pushed over at 52,000 feet. At Mach 0.96, N9604Z encountered some buffeting, but once over Mach 0.96, the flight smoothed out. At 41,088 feet, the DC-8-43 reached Mach 1.012 (668 mph at that altitude). It maintained supersonic flight for 16 seconds, recovering at 35,000 feet after a stall caused by an "overloaded" stabilizer. Magruder made the recovery by putting the nose down.
As CF-CPG, this DC-8-43 served Canadian Pacific, later CP Air, for 19 years, logging 70,567 hours in 24,268 transcontinental and trans-Atlantic flights. Unfortunately, this record-breaking ship, the first airliner to break the sound barrier, was scrapped in May 1981.
G-BOAG was not the only Concorde to appear at Oshkosh. Always a crowd pleaser, other British Airways SSTs appeared in 1988, 1990, 1994, and 1998. In addition to G-BOAG, G-BOAA, G-BOAE, and G-BOAF made visits to EAA, G-BOAA twice. The elegant Concorde, which first appeared at Oshkosh in 1985, stands alone as the world's only operational supersonic airliner.