british aviation

10

     In 1953, Col. Scott Crossfield would don a flight suit, parachute and helmet, then be secured to an ejection seat inside the cramped cockpit of a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. After weeks of planning and preparation, a four chamber rocket engine would thrust Crossfield into the history books, making him the first human being to exceed twice the speed of sound. During that golden age of flight test, few could dream that we would one day sip Champagne and watch movies aboard a double sonic airliner. Concorde would make that dream a reality.

     The joint Aérospatiale / British Aircraft Corporation Concorde flew at Mach 2, allowing passengers to enjoy opulence and comfort as they traveled from New York to London in 3.5 hours, not the 8 hours of a conventional airliner. Concorde flew for more than three decades as the first supersonic transport. It truly made the world a smaller place.

     One of only 20 built, tail number F-BVFA was the first ship delivered to Air France. She would roll up 17,820 flight hours over the course of 6,966 flights, culminating in one last landing at Washington Dulles International Airport for permanent display at Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, as the first Concorde to be permanently displayed in the United States.

The Armstrong Whitworth AW.52 prototype was a twin-jet research aircraft for a proposed flying wing airliner under development by the company. First flying on 13 November 1947 the thing was operating well beyond the known frontiers of industry knowledge, in an era of rapid progress. 

On 30 May 1949 the aircraft was diving at 320 mph (515 kph) when a violent pitch oscillation developed. With control surfaces unresponsive the test pilot ejected, marking the first ‘live’ emergency use of a Martin-Baker ejection seat. Amusingly, the force of the seat leaving the cockpit punched the plane out of the oscillation and it brought itself down in a field with little damage. The initial cause of the event was thought to be elevon flutter. Armstrong Whitworth abandoned the design to build a more conventional airliner.

This is the only picture ever taken of Concorde flying at Mach 2 at 2,172 km/h (1,350 mph). This unique picture was taken in April 1985 by Adrian Meredith from a Tornado fighter jet, which only rendezvoused with Concorde for just 4 minutes over the Irish Sea. The RAF Tornado rapidly running out of fuel, and was struggling to keep up with Concorde.

The Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet that operated until 2003. It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04, with seating for 92 to 128 passengers. First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years.

The Armstrong Whitworth AW.681, also designated the Whitworth Gloster 681 or Hawker Siddeley HS.681 - due to industry mergers - was a pretty unique transport design from Britain’s 1960s aviation industry. Fulfilling a similar short takeoff and landing specification as Lockheed’s C-130, Armstrong Whitworth produced a solid contender in the AW.681, featuring vectored thrust nozzles, boundary layer control, blown flaps, leading edges and ailerons.

Then they took things a little further, trading the four Rolls-Royce RB.142 Medway engines for four Bristol Siddeley Pegasus turbofans, to obtain VTOL capability. These were the engines which went on to power the Harrier. It would have been an interesting sight. Thanks to the swept shoulder-mounted wings and high T-tail, it would have also resembled today’s C-17 and A400M.

The entire project was scrapped in 1964 when the moment’s Labour Government announced a defence spending review, opting instead to buy the American Lockheed C-130. As a result the company closed it’s Coventry factory, making 5000 workers redundant.