Cold War Era

Here’s why a photo of a Concorde flying at Mach 2 doesn’t exist

Concorde

The studies for the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner started in 1954, and France and the UK signed a treaty establishing the development project on Nov. 29,1962. Construction of the six prototypes began in February 1965, and the first flight took off from Toulouse on Mar. 2, 1969.

Powered by four Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 turbojets with variable engine intake ramps, and afterburner for take-off and acceleration to supersonic speed, the Concorde had a speed of Mach 2.04 at an altitude of 60,000 ft.

Not a single photo of Concorde flying at Mach 2

But, as far as is known not a single photo of Concorde flying at Mach 2 exists..

‘Concorde seems cute and familiar because it was used for transportation and designed in the 60s, but it was an absolute beast. Supercruising at Mach 2.0 for hours to traverse the Atlantic, it could effectively outrun a nuclear blast and catch up with the sun,’ says Andrei Kucharavy, an aviation expert, on Quora.

‘While operational, it was effectively impossible to intercept to all the jet fighters of its generation barring a stripped Electric Lightning pushed to the limit – including F-15, F-16 or F-104. Just to take the only known supersonic picture of Concorde [HERE you find the full story of the only known supersonic photo of Concorde], a completely stripped RAF Tornado had to be pushed to its limit to be able to rendez-vous with a super-cruising Concorde. And yet in the end Concorde had to slow down to Mach 1.5 to allow for a good picture to be taken.

‘Think about this picture. A state-of-the-art fighter jet, specialized interceptor, stripped to the bones and pushed to its maximum is rapidly running out of fuel, operational altitude and range. In the meantime, about a 100 people inside the aircraft it was trying to rendez-vous with are being served champagne, as it slowly climbed to its operational altitude and accelerated towards its cruising speed that it would maintain for the next couple of hours.

Sustaining the level flight with Concorde at Mach 2

‘Even the F-22, developed almost 50 years after the Concorde and the reigning undisputed air supremacy fighter can only supercruise at Mach 1.8 and its top speed – Mach 2.2 – is the same as for a Tornado. If Concorde was still flying, it is unlikely it would be able to photograph it at Mach 2.0. Even if the Soviets back at the time were willing to lend the Mig-25/Mig-31, it is not entirely clear if it would be able to sustain the level flight with Concorde at Mach 2.0 for long enough to have a picture taken.’

Could the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaisance aircraft have gotten a picture of it easily, as it cruised at up to Mach 3?

Kucharavy explains;

‘Realistically, Mach 2.0 at 60 000 feet is well within the operational envelope of an SR-71, but it’s more the logistics of a double refueling that would have been a problem. SR-71 take-off logistics were quite something. Right after the take-off it had a couple of minutes to get to 25 000 ft and find a tanker and then had at most 2.400 NM to get do the round trip. Significantly shorter if it performed an excursion into the supersonic range and used its afterburners. I believe for a NY-London traverse an SR-71 had to refuel once in the middle, but for the rest of it sustained close to the Mach 3.2. So a parallel flight with Concorde was not out of question, but definitely would have been quite a mission to organize.’

Photo credit: Adrian Meredith / Crown Copyright

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Why didn't they just take a photo of a Concord doing Mach 2 from another Concord? That seems like an easy solution.

  • ...impossible to escort, yes. Impossible to intercept? No.
    Intercepting it would have been simple. You don't have to be faster than an aircraft to intercept it, you just have to plan ahead.

    As for a two refueling hop for the SR-71 being complicated, not really.
    The modified KC-135s that refueled the SR-71 could loiter on station for at least 6-8 hours. The only thing the mission planners would find strange was that they would only need two refueling stops. Oh, wait, no it just needs one on take off. The SR-71 has a range of 3,250 miles between refuelings.

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