Last week we were fortunate enough to catch up with Doug Newton, a flight test engineer on the Concorde development programme. Graciously, he allowed us to delve into the mindset of what it was like to live, work and experience the magnificence of flying on the fastest aircraft to grace the skies. From inception to decommission, the Concorde was truly a homage to what was then perceived as the future of flight and we wanted to ask Doug the good, the bad and the not so elegant experiences he encountered working on this supersonic aircraft. Here’s what he had to say…
What was your role/responsibility on the Concorde Airline? How long did you do this for?
I left the RAF in 1968 and John Cockon – a DP chief test pilot on Concorde at the time – was looking for an armament tradesman. John and I had met during our time within the Forces, so I went for an interview and got accepted to work on the Concorde development programme.
I was first employed in the safety equipment section, which involved dealing with parachutes and aircraft clothing. Shortly afterwards, I began working with mainly flight recorders on the Concorde 001 prototype and the Concorde 002. I also fitted lateral thrust units to both the 002 and 101 – later the AXDN – which were fired off into the air to disturb control services and cause flutter.
I was also responsible for manning Concorde 101’s emergency repel unit at the time, which contained monomethyl hydrazine – a rocket fuel. I have a profound memory of myself and my colleagues having to fire off the unit in mid air at one stage because the engine control tables went through a bulkhead. To get it off we had to strip off the earthing wire so that the voltage was so high it passed through the same wiring loom.
**Side note: to put this into perspective for those non-engineers out there, a drop of hydrazine can burn a hole through your hand, so this was a fairly complex procedure to do whilst mid flight!
What’s your most memorable experience on the Concorde? (Good & Bad)
Flying from Singapore back to Bahrain was a particularly memorable experience on the Concorde; not necessarily for the best of reasons. During runway response checks on the GBBD 202, the runway was in such dire condition that when I sat down on the back of the aircraft, I just remember the fly deck rotating round and round like a wagging finger. In fact, the bumps on the runway were so bad, that shortly after we left, the government resurfaced the runway which is now why the main civil airway is in Changi airport.
I distinctly remember on the final take off – which was a record breaking flight by the way – I was asked to sit on the flight deck and all I could hear was a bang. “Keep going, keep going” shouted Peter Baker, the captain at the time, as my headset fell off due to the rotation of the airplane caused by a tail well strike. What had happened was the tail had hit the runway and the flight ended up rotating too far, subsequently damaging the exhaust engine! That was definitely a memorable experience. Nonetheless, the flight was a success!
What was it like to fly on the Concorde?
Looking back now, you don’t realise how much of a pioneering aircraft the Concorde truly was. This even extends beyond the engineering of the airliner itself, but also the family dynamic and bond those of us working on the Concorde maintained throughout our careers. We were all extremely close and had immense satisfaction in what we were doing. My team in particular were extremely proud of our achievements.
A particular highlight of mine and my team’s career was during a flight from Bahrain to Singapore, where we took off an hour after the 747, yet got back to Singapore 2 hours before it did. The 747 captain asked if we were the same Concorde plane. My response, “You don’t need a wrist watch you need a calendar”.
The Concorde has had such a profound effect on my life that I even have memorabilia all over the house. I am also a Coordinator of the Concorde Flight Test Association which has now sadly gone quiet. It was such a special aircraft that everyone who has flown on it can appreciate its magnificence.
Did you ever see the curvature of the earth on the Concorde?
Yes! Of course.
Where did you go on the Concorde? How long did it take you?
I have flown to an extensive list of places on the Concorde. For example, places like Johannesburg, which took on average 9 hours to get to. I have also flown all around the Middle East – which took about 3 and half hours. This really puts into perspective how fast the airliner was when your standard commercial flight now takes around 16h and 20m (including stops) from London to Johannesburg.
What do you think led to the demise of the Concorde?
The crash in Paris didn’t help – but should never have happened. The French decided they didn’t want to carry on because of an engine problem back from the States but they forgot to turn off the fuel bell and realised they had to go down somewhere quickly. I believe this was a real catalyst for the decommissioning of the aircraft.
Also, after 28 years of service, the Concorde contained what we now deem as old technology. This meant the Concorde was due inspections, which was a large expense that the government did not want to pay.
Were there any challenges as a result of developing the aircraft in conjunction with the French (i.e., language barriers?)
There were generally no complications. Although we measured in inches they measured in metrics there were no particular challenges, as aforementioned, we were one big family!
Why was Concorde G-AXDN (101) such a special aircraft?
The Concorde G-AXDN was a piece of art, a “mechanical swan” is probably the best way to describe it.
On a more technical level, the concorde G-AXDN was a complex engineering system that was ahead of its time. Indeed, the engine did most of the air intake work. A Rolls Royce engine can only take air into itself at 500 mph, whereas the Concorde flies at 1400 mile an hour, so you have to slow the air down. This was done in about 12 ft difference, utilising the intake doors, rams and ramps to balance the shock waves to 500mph. Each engine had to be catered for, which was a highly complicated system. If it all went wrong, the intake system failed which caused surges – spitting air back out again, which wasn’t particularly nice. To rectify this, it was a case of getting on computers and experts doing their work on it.
So as you can imagine, it was a multiplex system that required careful and meticulous engineering!
Have you got any stories about the remarkable people who made the Concorde story one of a kind?
Claim to fame: I have flown in formation with Douglas Bader and Raymon Baxter – a fairfoot to casablanca. My main task was to look after Douglous Bader who said to me, “if I fall base over apex, bloody well leave me alone”. After the flight, I shook him by the hand and he thanked me for my work. I have also had the privilege of flying with Princess Margaret and various kings and queens.
When I was in the Middle East, the Concorde flew various sheikhs as well. A noticeable thing happened during one of my flights. Firstly, the aircraft steps were too short so I created a wooden extension so that the Sheikhs could seamlessly dismount the plane. However, when I opened the aircraft door, I knocked the extension off. For our flight homebound, I also tripped over one of the sheikhs attire and caught him, next minute his security had a knife against my throat – a very memorable experience to say the least!
On a lighter note, during one of my many times flying on the Concorde, one of the pilot’s stressed to us all that we would by flying Princess Anne. He stipulated that we must address her as her majesty, proceeded with ‘mam’. The captain then proceeds to go up to Princess Anne and greet her with a very formal ‘Hello your majesty’, she responds, “hey up Dock how’s it hanging today?”.
Concorde G-AXDN Cufflinks£169.99
CONCORDE G-AXDN CUFFLINKS
Have your own piece of aviation history…
With an absence from the skies forever, you can now own an iconic piece of aviation memorabilia which represents the heyday of supersonic flying.
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Whether you are part of the Concorde G AXDN’s history, or just an admirer of the fastest commercial flight to grace the skies, our Concorde G-AXDN cufflinks are the perfect sentimental gift that will last a lifetime.