Concorde - Why Was It Built

Aircraft production had flourished during World  War II, and in the late 1940s and 1950s many of the technologies  developed for military use were adapted to make passenger aircraft faster and more powerful. In the years following World War II the biggest advantage that Britain had that made her the world’s number one in aviation technology worldwide was undoubtedly the jet engine. First proposed to his superiors by Sir Frank Whittle when he was an RAF Officer Cadet in 1929, the concept of jet propulsion for aircraft was taken further by firms like de Havilland, which produced the Goblin engine in 1942, and Rolls Royce, which produced its best-selling Nene engine in 1944.

Britain’s lead in aviation post-war has been estimated at 5, and possibly 10 years over nations such as America and the Soviet Union and the British aviation industry entered a period of optimism never seen before. Once the war had finished Britain started producing aircraft that was felt at the time would cement our dominant position in aviation for many years to come. The first such civilian aircraft was the Vickers Viscount, which initially flew in July 1948. Once Vickers offered this aircraft for sale the world hammered on Britain’s door to buy the aircraft, so revolutionary was it and Vickers built and sold 445 of these aircraft.

Hot on the heels of the Viscount came the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first pure jet powered passenger aircraft. Unlike the Viscount there were no propellers on this aircraft; it used jet propulsion to speed its way through the skies. The rest of the world greeted the Comet with amazement - this aircraft was truly responsible for ushering in the Jet Age, and once again proved that Britain was still at the forefront of aviation. Not only did Britain lead the world in aviation technology after World War II, but it enjoyed many success stories in military and civilian aircraft as well as engine technology. The British aviation industry was supremely confident in the 1950s, and soon turned its eyes to what it thought would be the next goal - to develop a  supersonic passenger aircraft capable of flying faster than the speed of sound.

Britain certainly had the technology to build such an aircraft - what we did not have was the money. In 1959 it became apparent that the projected development costs for such an aircraft would be £175 Million, or a little over £3½ Billion at 2015 values. Because the British knew that the French were pursuing the same goal with Sud Aviation’s Super Caravelle, in 1962 the two  countries decided to collaborate in the interests of efficiency and  economy.

It is believed that the United Kingdom also had a political motive for joining forces with the French. Shortly after the Suez Crisis, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg formed what would become the European Economic Community and later the European Union, and did not at first allow the UK to join. Britain had initially refused to join the European Economic Community as a founding member, but then changed its policy following the Suez crisis and applied to be a member of the Communities. This was due to economic reasons; Britain was not only surprised at the success of the EEC, but had failed to secure a free trade deal with it. British growth at the time was sluggish as most of its trade was with its former empire when the greatest increases in world trade was between industrialised countries (such as within the EEC). It was seen that going into partnership with the French over this next-generation Supersonic Aircraft could only assist Britain in joining the EEC.

Concorde was built out of the optimism prevalent in the British aviation industry in the 1950s and 1960s.  Concorde was conceived, designed and built because Supersonic Passenger Aircraft were seen as the next logical step in aviation. Given Britain’s technological lead in aviation at the time it seemed very natural that we were the ones to develop it, just as it seemed natural to join forces with France once the cost of such a project became apparent. It was built in the era of the Moon Landings, the development of the material Teflon, Telstar satellite communications, and the world’s first Laser. We built Concorde because we could.