This week in 1964

Flying high: Concorde was the beneficiary of some pioneering aerodynamic work which looked at ideas that are only now being developed


Having endured my first-ever transatlantic flight last month on a clean-tech press trip to Canada, I took to thinking why we don’t have a faster means of doing this in 2012.

Of course we did, and it was an engineering marvel, albeit an outrageously expensive one, in Concorde.

Browsing the June 1964 archives of The Engineer, I coincidently stumbled across some of the pioneering aerodynamic work done on the aircraft at RAE Bedford.

This, in itself, required innovative new techniques and testing equipment, including an 8ft (2.4m) supersonic wind tunnel; a low-speed wind tunnel (for landing and taking off); a special transonic tunnel for testing nozzles; and computer flight simulators.

‘One fundamental problem concerns the shape of wing that can be used efficiently at these speeds,’ the article said.

‘The “Concorde” plan form is basically what is known as a “slender wing”, the characteristics being that the angle of sweepback of the wing leading edge is chosen to be larger than the inclination of the front shock wave, indeed any shock wave. It follows that slender wing aerodynamics can be carried into the range of high supersonic speeds only by making the wing shape increasingly long, in the direction of flight, and narrow, in the spanwise direction. This process results ultimately in a shape that is difficult, if not impossible, to handle at low speeds, particularly during a landing approach.’

But, of course, it did prove possible. Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965: 001, built by Aerospatiale at Toulouse, and 002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol.

Interestingly, the 1964 article also refers to work being done at Bedford at that time on even higher speeds up to Mach 6 (4,000mph), complete with ‘wave rider’ models that look very similar to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) recent hypersonic technology vehicles.