ICAO Level 6 Vocabulary: Civilian Supersonic Aircraft

What are Civilian Supersonic Aircraft?

Probably you’ll think of a dart-shaped supersonic jet airliner manufactured by Sud Aviation (later Aérospatiale, a predecessor of Airbus Industries) and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) used mainly by British Airways and Air France carriers named Concorde. It was unique and prestigious thanks to its maximum speed, which was 2.4 Mach and the possibility to smash through the sound barrier as a non-military airliner. Unfortunately, Concorde in its full glory belongs now to the past. A tragic Air France 4590 Concorde plane crash, which took place on 25th July 2000, changed the situation of a high-climbing queen of the sky forever. Check a short documentary about the Concorde below.

What’s more, Concorde wasn’t the only supersonic jet to carry passengers. The Tupolev Tu-144 was the second commercial supersonic jet and its prototype was presented publicly two months before a Concorde took off to the skies for the first time. Unfortunately, two fatal accidents grounded the Tupolev passenger fleet.

Synonyms for a ‘Supersonic Aircraft’

First of all, let me share some synonyms what to say instead of a ‘supersonic aircraft’:

– An aircraft that flies faster than the speed of sound exceeding Mach number 1,

– A jet breaking the sound barrier,

– A supersonic transport aircraft (SST) or SST,

– Faster-than-sound commercial aircraft,

– A Concorde’s successor (future supersonic aircraft),

– An aircraft that breaks through the sound barrier,

– The commercial supersonic jet,

– Concorde’s imminent rival (about a Tu-144).

Tupolev Tu-144 CCCP 77107 in Kazan, Russia

Tupolev Tu-144 CCCP 77107 in Kazan, Russia

Subsonic, Transonic, Supersonic, Hypersonic

– A high-speed subsonic flight,

– A transonic flight = transonic flight as speeds in the range of Mach 0.72 to 1.0 (965–1,235 km/h (600–767 mph) at sea level) (source: Wikipedia),

– A supersonic aircraft = a supersonic jet = supersonic travel = “is a rate of travel of an object that exceeds the speed of sound (Mach 1). For objects traveling in dry air of a temperature of 20 °C (68 °F) at sea level, this speed is approximately 344 m/s, 1,125 ft/s, 768 mph, 667 knots, or 1,235 km/h.” (source: Wikipedia)

– A hypersonic aircraft is the one that flies at speeds above Mach 5.

The interior of British Airways Concorde in Manchester Aviation Viewing Park

The interior of British Airways Concorde in Manchester Aviation Viewing Park

The distinctive parts of the Concorde

Overall Construction

– Predominantly used for the military and experimental purposes,

– Aircraft guzzled four times as much fuel per passenger as a standard airline,

– It entered service for civil use as airliners / to enter commercial service,

– To take off and land at low speed,

– Concorde never had an onboard APU installed,

– A “time-travelling” machine as Concorde was faster than the Earth’s rotation,

– The machine didn’t have flaps, speed brakes/ ground spoilers; no joints and wedts,

– Concorde has a high angle of attack on takeoff and landing.

Civilian supersonic aircraft Concorde

Wings and Engines

– Turbojet engines with afterburners (the latter known also as “the reheaters”) or the engines were equipped with the reheater system that gave the engines 20% power boost/ thrust when lit,

– The afterburners were adapted from military jets,

– Rolls-Royce Olympus 593 turbojet engines,

– Delta wings = triangle-shaped wings / the opposite of swept wings without additional stabilizing surfaces,

– The delta wing allowed Concorde to land and take off at low speed and to remain a supersonic aircraft,

– A tailstrike bumper at the rear of the tail,

– Concorde was equipped with brake fans to dissipate heat.

Concorde afterburners / reheaters gave 20% thrust boost

The Droop-Nose (Nose Cone) and Visor

The droop-nose configuration is a distinctive feature of some supersonic aircraft, most notably both Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144,

– A retractable visor.

4 Different Positions of the Droop Nose Options

1) Nose 5 degree (fully up position) – visor down (for takeoffs and landings),

2) Nose up – visor down (for a subsonic cruise),

3) Nose up – visor up (for a supersonic cruise),

4) Nose 12.5 degrees (fully down position) and visor down (for approach).

Guns'n'roses Concorde

Nose 5 degrees and visor down configuration in Guns N’Roses “Paradise City” video

Cruising, Approach and On the Ground

– Request transsonic climb and acceleration clearance,

– Shut down reheaters/ afterburners at Mach 1.75 at approximately 43000 feet,

– Climb to 5000 feet where a Condorde could reach Mach 2 unaided,

– A standard Concorde’s cruising level was between FL500 and FL590,

– A requirement to fly at subsonic speed 55 NM prior reaching the coastline,

– The approach speed was reduced to 190 knots and increase the angle of attack with the nose at 12.5 degrees being fully-down and giving a full view onto a runway,

– The high angle of attack on takeoff and landing /to maintain a high angle of attack = at high angle of attack.

Members of Guns N'Roses embarking Concorde jet

Members of Guns N’Roses embarking Concorde jet – “I want you please take me home” 😉

Vapor cone

– To produce vapor/ vapour cone as a result of the shock wave,

– A cone of water vapour,

– A supersonic expansion fan, technically known as Prandtl–Meyer expansion fan,

– Prandtl–Meyer expansion fan is formed when the sound barrier is broken.

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet with a double vapour cone


– The speed of sound,

– Carry passengers at twice the speed of sound,

– Set a new journey speed record,

– Complete its journey in less than 3,5 hours,

– Travel across the Atlantic,

– Most of the flight time was spent in supercruise (tu supercruise = to fly at sustained speed over Mach 1 without relying on afterburners),

Reach the noise abatement altitude,

– To witness the phenomenon,

– Abruptly exceed the speed of sound,

– Fly at twice the speed of sound,

Smash through the sound barrier = to beat the sound barrier on the edges of space,

– A one-and-only experience,

– At transonic speed,

Make a sonic boom,

– The shockwave that emanates from a supersonic aircraft,

– Restrict Concorde flying over land to subsonic speeds = overland supersonic flights are banned in the US and Europe

– On the approach, the droop nose tilted down at 5 degrees.

Concorde cockpit

Your Concorde Experience

Now it’s time for me to listen to your voice. Did you have any Concorde experiences? I’d love to hear your memories from childhood or adolescence. Or maybe you had this uniquely special opportunity to pilot Concorde? Let me know if you have had! I remember when my Dad shared his impressions when he was allowed to visit Concorde that has flown to Warsaw in the late ’80s. Oh, by the way, he took a picture of British Airways Concorde standing on the apron at John F. Kennedy airport dated back to May 2002. Technically it’s doesn’t match any standards of a professional photo but the sentimental value for me is worthless. Please let me know if this article helped you expand your Concorde-related vocabulary and don’t forget to let me know about your personal Concorde memories 🙂

Concorde picture taken by Jerzy Barski

A Concorde picture was taken by Jerzy Barski

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