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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Your questions answered by Concorde pilot
Captain John Hutchinson, who flew Concorde for British Airways for 15 years, says that the supersonic jet remains one of the safest aircraft in the skies despite the tragic crash in France, which killed more than 100 people.
The former British Airways Concorde pilot heralds the plane for two reasons.
"One, is that it's a very tough aeroplane, it's built in a very robust manner, and secondly it's got tremendous reserve capacity, by that I mean it's got a huge excess in capacity and power on the engines."
BBC correspondent Duncan Kennedy puts your questions to Captain Hutchinson.
John Hutchinson: It is a matter of routine training. You are endlessly trained in the simulator. You have engine fires in the simulator - your engine fires in take offs and also coming into land. I'm not saying it becomes routine but you get very well disciplined and drilled into performing the correct checklist procedures to deal with the emergency.
Shaun Fuchs, South Africa: Some eyewitnesses reported seeing flames coming from the engines while Concorde was in the process of taking off. Why if this is true did the pilots not abort the take off?
John Hutchinson: Probably by the time they were aware they had got an engine fire, it was after the decision speed during take off. That decision speed is V-1, below that speed for any serious emergency you reject take off and bring the aircraft to a halt on the runway. After that decision speed V-1 you have to take the failure into the air with you, because if you try to stop you could over run on the runway it could be very serious and you risk running into whatever is at the end of the runway.
John Hutchinson: I can't comment on whether the landing gear was up or down. The photographs I have seen with the flame plumming out from of the back, the gear was definitely down, but I'm not sure when this photograph was taken. If it was taken after the plane was just airborne then you would expect the under carriage to be down. I have had no information on whether the aeroplane actually crashed with the under carriage down.
Phil Carter, England: With the very tight scheduling of Concorde flights, could time constraints have been a disastrous contributory factor?
John Hutchinson: No I don't think so. The aeroplanes are quite under utilised compared to a subsonic jet and I don't see that as a factor at all. I would find that highly improbable.
Nick, England: Does Concorde feel like an out of date plane to fly?
John Hutchinson: No! Concorde is the ultimate thoroughbred, responsive, powerful thoroughbred of an aeroplane. I have flown over 70 different types of aeroplane including the 747, VC-10, 707 and a whole lot of military crafts and I can assure you that Concorde stands out in a class of its own. It is a beautiful responsive, rewarding and delightful aeroplane to fly.
John Hutchinson: At the moment, research into a successor into Concorde has gone into the deep freeze. There was a programme running in the United States called the High Speed Research programme, that came to a end about two years ago when NASA decided to devote all its resources and energy into the international space station. But there is work going on in the US and in Europe on future supersonic transport and I'm sure at some stage in fifteen to twenty years from now we will see a replacement for Concorde.
Ken Roe, Ireland: Air France have said that the Concorde fleet are safe to fly until 2007, at which time they will presumably be retired? What is their long term future?
John Hutchinson: I don't think anybody knows what the life of the Concorde is. Because it is the world's only supersonic aeroplane, it is very closely monitored by the civil aviation authority in the UK and by a similar process in France and its continually audited and health checked. The British Airways view is that it has at least ten or fifteen years left.
Colin Tulleth, UK: Much has been said to the effect that the Concorde's have flown less "air hours" than most conventional jets. Surely there remains a question over comparing supersonic hours with subsonic ones.
John Hutchinson: No I don't think so. Curiously almost the reverse is true. As when the plane flies supersonic the structure gets up - up to about 125 degrees Celsius on the nose - and the result of this heating process is that any moisture or condensation in the air frame gets baked out of the air frame and there is absolutely no corrosion in the main aircraft structure at all. Which has led to a complete re-evaluation and extension in to the predicted life of Concorde.
Tamar, USA: How many years flight experience or how many hours does a pilot of a Concorde need/have? How are pilots picked to fly Concorde? Is it the best pilot around? Or does a pilot have to make a request to be a Concorde pilot?
John Hutchinson: All pilots that go onto Concorde are very experienced pilots, they have been around and have flown many aeroplanes. When they go onto Concorde they have to undergo a long arduous course for six months. You really do get ground down by this course there are lots of exams and tests and simulated details. Then you spend three months flying down the route under supervision with a training captain and then eventually after that ordeal you come out as a fully-fledged Concorde pilot. So it's a very tough course and when you've finished really have earned your right to fly Concorde when you come out of it.
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