Concorde: rubbish

So, the #1 design icon is Concorde. Even though it isn’t actually very well designed at all. Based upon a nuclear bomber, with wings from the 1950s, an engine from the 1960s, it was designed for a 1970s worldview of air travel. The insides were cramped and could only carry 100 passengers. It was as noisy as hell. It was by far the least efficient aircraft in the sky. It cost over ?1bn to make (at 1970s prices), and it cost nearly as much to travel on it. Oh yeah, and one of them blew up; the explosion was caused by it hitting a stray piece of metal, which caused a tyre to explode, in turn punching a hole in the fuel tanks, which were not sufficiently protected. Putting fragile fuel tanks directly above one of the components most likely to fail catastrophically is not exactly a classic example of good design. As further explained here:

Most accidents are caused by the irresponsible common practice of hanging engines and landing gear onto fuel tank supporting structure in combination with excessively high take-off and landing speeds on overstressed tires. Add a fragile, tubular fuselage and there is a perfect recipe for a fiery disaster.

Alright, it looked nice and pointy, and possibly graceful (though it’s hard to be graceful when you have dirty black smoke continually billowing out of your arse). But then so do those Alessi lemon juicers, and have you ever tried using them? They’re rubbish – they’re fiddly, easily go skidding across the table and hardly get any juice out – you always end up bringing out the trusty plastic one that cost you a quid to finish the job off. The whole point of good design is that its quality also lies in its use and how it is enjoyed, not just its aesthetic; the Concorde was used by barely anyone. While the other two contenders, the Tube map and the Spitfire*, have been thoroughly put through their paces, during its entire lifetime the Concorde flew less passenger miles than the entire Boeing 737 fleet does in a week. Just like the Space Shuttle, despite all the hard work and phenomenal amounts of money put it into it, Concorde was dated by the time it made its debut and was almost entirely useless outside of the artificial niche created specially for it. To call it an icon is giving undue venerating: Concorde was rubbish, and that’s why blessedly, it is no longer with us.

* I’m not sure whether the Spitfire is really a design “icon” either; innovative as it was, only a few of us can recognise it amongst other aircraft of the era. Maybe it was just because we used it to kill Germans, and there’s not much the Great British public like more than that. Even then, the Hurricane and Mosquito were actually more effective and manoevurable fighters than the Spitfire.

6 thoughts on “Concorde: rubbish

  1. At the risk of being drowned out by the sound of my handlebar ‘tache being twiddled, wasn’t the point of the Spitfire that it had breathaking manoeuvrability, hence the justification of its lest efficient design than previous similar aircraft? See, see what happens growing up in the South? All we have to be proud of are bloody aircraft and a big carriageworks…

  2. I’d have voted for the InterCity 125, not necessarily because it was particularly nice-looking (although it had a sort of brutalist, purposeful good-looking quality in much the same way that a Sea King helicopter does, IMHO) but because it’s been a pretty big part of my junior years. With it’s imminent retirement, along with that of the Sea Harrier, I have a sort of feeling that my childhood has died suddenly.

    Plus, in spite of all the waffle about the British railways, it was always pretty punctual (give or take 2 hours or so) and reliable. The restaurant car was always well stocked with Ginsters pasties and Coke…ah, happy days…

  3. The intercity 125 is a classic. It won’t be long before excitable boys won’t be able to think to themselves, “Just how fast is 125mph?” before sticking their head out the window. The instant backcombed hairstyle is a strong childhood memory.

    Seriously, they do incredible miles on GNER to the highlands and on FGW and they are still pretty good. Neither company has short term plans to replace them.

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