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THE CONCORDE Supersonic Transport and Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 were already classic craft when we at R&T had our 1988 experience with them. Each craft was a fantastic technical achievement and a grand means of getting from one place to another; the memories remain bright.
A prototype Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde SST first flew in 1969; the fleet entered commercial service in 1976. Sixteen production aircraft went to Air France and British Airways Corp., eight apiece, for their Mach 2 (approximately 1350-mph) principal routes linking Paris and London, respectively, with New York and Washington, D.C. (There were other itineraries from time to time.)
Each flight offered First Class service to all 100 passengers. The Concord era ended in 2003, precipitated by the SSTs’ only fatal accident, the Air France take-off disaster in Paris, July 2000.
R&T’s Bill Motta, Jonathan Thompson and I spent time in early 1988 with a BAC Concorde during one of its brief daily layovers at New York’s Kennedy Airport. Recognizing our technical expertise, BAC gave us full run of the aircraft. (All switches were locked to off.)
We spared no expense in this activity. Well, maybe just a little; we bought my Captain’s hat, rickrack for its brim and epaulette material at a Ninth Avenue bargain store for $10.80.
A fascinating fact gleaned during our Concorde visit: An altitude of 37,000 ft. is a transitional one for the SST. Initially, the Concorde’s exterior surfaces cool as ambient temperatures decrease with increased altitude. At Flight Level 370, the Concorde’s increasing speed balances this. By the time it’s cruising at 60,000 ft.—and at Mach 2—air resistance raises its skin temperature to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). A warmth could be felt through the cabin wall.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 made her maiden voyage in 1969, the same year as the SST’s first flight. Her Southampton, England/New York itinerary of 3422 miles accommodated 707 First Class passengers and another 1064 in Tourist at a cruising speed of 29 knots (33 mph). Service continued into 2008, at which time the QE2 traveled to Dubai, there to become a floating luxury hotel. The global recession complicated matters; at one point, rumors had her being sold—for scrap!—to the Chinese. Earlier this year, conflicting plans have the ship relocating to London or to an unspecified Asian locale.
Our QE2 adventure in 1988 involved rather less angst. It did, however, began before dawn on a pilot boat taking the harbor pilot and us out to the approaching ship. In harbor maneuverings, the pilot is the one in charge.
Motta, Thompson and I expected some sort of formal gangway being offered. In fact, we each made a little jump—over open water—from the pilot boat’s gunwale into an open hatch near the waterline of the QE2’s vast hull.
We were then ushered up 13 decks by stairs and elevator to the bridge, where Captain Alan Bennell, his Senior First Officer David Pope and First Officer Peter Moxom explained aspects of the QE2’s complex, computer-assisted operation.
Everything about the QE2 made for impressive numbers. On a typical voyage, she carried 22,000 bottles of wine, 24,000 lb. of fresh vegetables, 22,000 lb. of fresh fruit, 2300 lb. of live lobsters and crabs, 600 lb. of kosher food and 375 lb. of baby food. Her staff included 14 bartenders, 13 croupiers, five exercise specialists, two doctors, a dentist and a disc jockey.
The QE2 and the Concorde are evidently two magnificent craft, and maybe comparisons make no sense. This didn’t stop us, however.
As noted back in R&T, April 1988, “In any case, the decision would seem to be between First Class and First Class.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013