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Like A Bullet: How The Nose Of The Concorde Worked

Eighteen years after its last flight, Concorde continues to fascinate people. With its power to fly twice the speed of sound, it even allowed passengers to experience two sunsets in one day on its evening Heathrow departures towards JFK.

Among the key features of Concorde was its long pointed nose. Photo: Getty Images

To achieve such speeds, Concorde had to be designed differently from other jetliners. Its streamlined body with triangular-shaped wings and long pointed nose made it incredibly aerodynamic, allowing it to break the sound barrier. The nose itself was quite an interesting piece of engineering, designed to change positions during different phases of flight. Let’s find out more.

Why so long?

Concorde was 62 meters long, of which its needle-like nose itself was 7.5 meters in length. While its 185-tonne MTOW may have seemed less compared to 333 tonnes for the Boeing 747-100, carrying that much weight at supersonic speeds meant it had to be highly aerodynamic.

To achieve this, Concorde needed, among other design features, a very long pointed nose that could slice through the air to reduce drag. However, the shape of the nose that helped the aircraft achieve incredible speed also obstructed the pilot and co-pilot’s views. As such, the engineers had to design a movable nose that adjusted during different phases of the flight.

Concorde Getty
While Concorde’s pointed nose helped make the plane highly aerodynamic for supersonic speed, it also obstructed the pilots’ views during landing. Photo: Getty Images

Droop nose

The nose pointing straight away from the cockpit posed no problem at cruising altitude. It was only during landing, takeoff, and taxiing that it minimized the pilot’s views. Concorde had a very high angle of attack during landing, which meant that a fixed streamlined nose wouldn’t allow the pilots to see the runway. The engineers fixed this problem by designing a drooping nose that could be adjusted during different stages of the flight.

The nose– fitted with a visor – was hinged to the forward end of the pressure shell. During taxi, a hinged forward position of the nose by 5 degrees allowed pilots a forward view similar to other jetliners. This position was maintained during takeoff and initial climb, following which the nose was raised again, giving back the airplane its sleek aerodynamic form. The visor attached to the nose protected the windshield panels from kinetic heat during high speeds.

However, it was during landing that one could see the true extent to which the nose could be moved. Concorde landed with the nose lowered by 12.5 degrees to give the pilot an uninterrupted view of the runway. The droop angle was reduced to 5 degrees soon after landing to avoid potential damage close to the ground.

Air France Concorde
The airplane’s nose could be adjusted to various positions depending on the stage of the flight. Photo: Getty Images

The different angles of Concorde’s nose could be divided into four positions depending on the stage of the flight:

Visor and nose up – used during most of the flight and when parkedVisor down, nose up – for pushbackVisor down, nose intermediate (5 degrees) – taxi, takeoff, and initial climb or approachVisor down, nose down (12.5 degrees) – final approach/landing

Of course, all credit for this remarkable feat of engineering goes to Marshall of Cambridge (Engineering) Ltd. Working on behalf of the British Aircraft Corporation, they worked on the nose design through the 1960s and delivered it just after 1967 for Concorde’s first flight a couple of years later.

Did you ever get a chance to see Concorde during landing? Which feature of the iconic aircraft stood out for you? Do share your comments.

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