MACLEAN’S REPORTS

A few ifs, ands and buts about supersonic jets

Yes, that Concorde 001 is a genuine $2-billion triumph. However . . .

HAL TENNANT February 1 1968
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

A few ifs, ands and buts about supersonic jets

Yes, that Concorde 001 is a genuine $2-billion triumph. However . . .

HAL TENNANT February 1 1968

A few ifs, ands and buts about supersonic jets

Yes, that Concorde 001 is a genuine $2-billion triumph. However . . .

The Concorde is the greatest single advance in the history of transport and marks the beginning of a new age in aviation — the age of the supersonic transport or SST. — from an Air Canada press release announcing the unveiling of Concorde 001 at Toulouse, France, Dec. 11, 1967. AIRLINES and plane-makers can scarce-

ly be blamed for trying very hard to persuade us all that flying faster than sound is a great idea. After all, they have a lot at stake. The Concorde, a joint British-French project, so far has cost two billion dollars and taken eight years to develop and literally hasn't got off the ground even yet. After its maiden flight this spring, the Concorde will undergo three years of in-flight testing before it’s ready for scheduled service.

Air Canada plans to buy four Concordes costing $20 million apiece when they're delivered in 1973 or 1974 and has also spoken for six Boeing supersonic 2707s, which are likely to cost at least $40 million each by delivery time, about 1980. Canadian Pacific Airlines, just as eager for supersonic prestige, has already deposited $600.000 to reserve delivery positions on three Boeing SSTs.

As Air Canada has already pointed out (and can be expected to point out rather frequently over the next five years) traveling in a Concorde at 1400 miles an hour will be just the thing for anybody who’s really in a hurry. From Montreal, London will be only three hours flying time away, and Vancouver little more than two hours. As the press release puts it, “It makes feasible a return trip to Paris in a day, or a ski weekend in the Rockies.”

Some aspects of supersonic travel, however, don’t seem likely to get the same publicity buildup:

□ THE SONIC BOOM, bad enough when it’s caused by relatively light military aircraft, will be far worse from heavy-duty passenger planes. (Sonic boom commonly jolts people and animals on the ground along a 40-mile swath.) In Europe, some aviation writers are suggesting this one hazard alone could be enough to defeat the entire supersonic transport program. But Air Canada’s chief engineer, Jack Dyment, says the boom wouldn’t disturb many people when the first Concordes begin their runs in and out of Canada; they’ll fly mostly over the Atlantic and uninhabited part of northern Quebec. (Nobody at Air Canada, however, has explained why the boom won’t be a big problem on that twohour Montreal-Vancouver run.)

□ FARES, as Air Canada has already conceded, will be higher. (Educated guessers say about 10 percent more than for subsonic flights.) Unlike the subsonic jumbo jets (such as the 490passenger Boeing 747 which Air Canada hopes to put into service by 1971) supersonics like the 122passenger Concorde won’t reduce the cost per passenger but increase it.

□ COMFORT during flight will likely be less than on subsonic aircraft, even though seating is more spacious. Climbs and descents will be steeper, accelerations and decelerations more extreme. Passengers will spend a greater proportion of time strapped into their scats and many will suffer what one critical expert calls “psychological discomfort.” Translation: they’ll be scared.

□ COSMIC RAYS (harmful particles of energy traveling through the upper atmosphere) could be a hazard. However, they’re predictable, and SSTs can avoid them either by flying lower or remaining aground until the danger passes. “No one,” says Dyment, “is going to get radiation in their systems from flying with Air Canada.”

□ AIRPORT facilities will be jammed worse than ever by the mid-’70s, though supersonics won’t be much to blame. Biggest offenders will be the jumbo jets with their huge mobs of passengers. The federal Department of Transport expects airport passenger volume in Canada to double over the next five years, then double again in the next five. No matter how much airports are enlarged or revamped, any kind of air travel seems likely to be less pleasant in future than now.

□ SAFETY, the most vital factor of all, is also the most hotly debated. While critics of SSTs concede that the Concorde’s pre-flight and in-flight tests could hardly be more rigorous and its failsafe devices are seemingly as ingenious as can be, the plane’s safe performance is still only theoretical. Will it actually behave as it should in emergencies, such ar. failure of one or more engines? Will its supersonic speeds demand too much of the human beings who must operate it? Will today’s system of weather forecasting provide adequate warning against hail, ice, wind and other turbulence?

Until such questions are answered by practical tests and experience, critics such as Bo K. O. Lundberg of Sweden’s Aeronautical Research Institute are more than skeptical. Brushing aside statements from such esteemed bodies as the International Civil Aviation Organization, Lundberg has declared: “Assurances that SSTs will be as safe as subsonic aircraft can be nothing but wishful thinking.”

There will be little sensation of speed in the Concorde; in fact unless the pilot announces it you won't even know when you've broken the sound barrier. — Air Canada press release.

HAL TENNANT