DVIDS -  Credit US Dept of Defense

Cold War

Concorde: The Cold War Supersonic Race

Exploring the Cold War race between Britain, France, America and the Soviet Union to build the most advanced aircraft

DVIDS -  Credit US Dept of Defense

Concorde was the first supersonic passenger airline to fly more than twice the speed of sound but another aircraft almost got there first.

During the Cold War, geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and America and its allies was rife.

That tension included the race to be the first to manufacture an aircraft like no other - it was the Cold War race for supersonic air travel.

Both the East and West were in a race to design new weapons and aircraft, which ultimately lead to what we now know as the Space Race.

What Was The Space Race?

The Space Race was an unofficial competition between the Soviet Union and United States to see who could achieve new ideas in spaceflight first.

It was thought that supersonic aircrafts would be the future of air travel.

Britain and France competed against the Soviet Union, and the United States, to be the first to succeed.

Former Concorde Chief Engineer John Britton explained how the engine worked on the Concorde, by using an air intake system that slows the air down so the engine would only see subsonic air.

The Soviet Union created the rival to the Concorde, the Tupolev TU-144, nicknamed Concordski, however it has all but disappeared from memory.

The TU-144 did, in fact, launch three months before the Concorde.

However, it was not a success - it was unreliable, prone to failures and the passenger cabin was noisy and uncomfortable.

In 1973, at a Paris Air show, the Concordski crashed, killing the six people onboard and eight people on the ground. After that it disappeared from public view and was relegated to flying one route in the Soviet Union with hardly any passengers.

Credit NASA

Britain and France, however, were never competing against the Soviet Union - their competition was with America.

America was the industry leader at the time, with the majority of airlines buying US jet engines.

The US was not going to let the Concorde be the best supersonic transport.

The US wanted their Boeing 2707 aircraft to be better than the Concorde could ever be.

However, this was a very complex task and would need expensive titanium. The project was delayed by years and quickly went over budget. John Britton said:

“They (US) spent more on their aircraft than Britain and France did, and they never got a prototype in the air.”

Eventually, the Boeing 2707 project was defunded by the US Senate in 1971. Britain and France were the winners of the supersonic race, but the Concorde only flew for 30 years.

Airlines did not buy the new aircraft, as by the time it was ready the world had changed. The future of aviation was no longer supersonic.