By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
(Years later, it came out that the French had sent a Mirage fighter into the air over the TU-144’s flight path without telling the Soviet pilot. Imagine his surprise when, during his ascent, he spotted an airplane right over his head. He took drastic evasive action, placing too much stress on the aircraft, which forced it to break apart. The Free World cheated. Shocking, no?)
As for the American SST project, the steep rise in fuel prices killed it before it ever got off the ground. Environmental problems, particularly sonic booms — the thunderclaps that result when speeding objects bust the sound barrier — were a deal killer. The Concorde doesn’t fly land routes.
Until July 25, the Concorde had never crashed. In reality, the accident had no more significance than any other plane crash. But it appeared to place a gory exclamation point on the end of an era. The irony is, that era never really came to pass. The only reason the crash seemed like “the death of an icon” is that the thing the icon represents, supersonic transport, had proved already to be a complete flop.
Most Concordes in the air today are projected for decommission by 2007. The entire British Airways fleet has cracks in the wings; one plane had to be grounded when the cracks were found to be expanding. After the July 25 crash, Air France temporarily grounded its five remaining Concordes. The Japanese have developed a new “hypersonic” engine, which theoretically could propel a plane at not two but five times the speed of sound, nearly 4,000 mph, closing the New York–to–Tokyo gap in about three hours. But are there plans to build such an aircraft? No. And no other supersonic-transport projects are under way anywhere in the world.
The Concorde flies so few flights compared to other commercial aircraft — only about 80,000 takeoffs in its entire 24-year career — that its safety record can’t be judged accurately. A million takeoffs is usually considered the point where safety stats begin to mean something. If the Concorde and supersonic travel had been the ubiquitous marvels that their early supporters envisioned, there would have been, in all probability, several crashes by now.
That’s the paradox not only of the Concorde, but of all technology. The better it succeeds, the more often it is used; the more it is used, the more often it fails. The faster and farther we speed into the future, the more violently we collide with our limitations. The lesson to take away from the Concorde crash is not that our future dreams are dead, but that we must accommodate the precarious balance between the possibility of progress and the likelihood of disaster.