Concorde’s end came not with a whimper but a tragic bang.
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Continental is the ideal scapegoat. Besides the offense, in French eyes, of being foreign, a small titanium strip fallen from a Continental plane taking off before the Concorde was found on the runway. This, French investigators — often loyal former employees of Air France — conveniently concluded, slashed the Concorde’s tire and caused the accident. Case closed, with victims’ families already paid generous financial settlements and sworn to silence.
That overlooks a few awkward things pointed out by Continental’s lawyers and a dogged investigative reporter for a French TV channel. Like the plane being overloaded with baggage. Like a wheel spacer that, due to an Air France maintenance error, was missing from the left main gear, leaving it skewed. (Air France itself, whose careless maintenance was noted even by French investigators, is bumptiously suing Continental in the trial. Malicious gossips wonder why it’s not a defendant instead.) Like testimony by a number of reliable eyewitnesses, including airport firemen and the veteran captain of Jacques Chirac’s taxiing plane, that the Concorde caught fire several hundred yards before it could have struck the titanium strip.
But the most damning argument against Concorde is its record of near disasters. “French civil aviation authorities should have stopped Concorde service years ago,” argues Olivier Metzner, Continental’s lead lawyer. “They wanted to protect the image of France it projected.” If the Paris disaster was Concorde’s first and only fatal crash, facts emerging in the current trial make clear that many passengers are lucky to be alive today: from 1976 to 2000 they unwittingly survived no fewer than 57 tire-related incidents. Thirty-two blowouts damaged the aircraft’s structure, engines, or hydraulics, and six resulted in penetration of one or more fuel tanks.
The worst, uncannily like the Paris crash, occurred in Washington on June 14, 1979. Air France Flight 054 to Paris blew two tires on its left main gear on takeoff from Dulles airport, hurling rubber and wheel rim debris at the left wing and engines. After a frantic passenger practically forced a crew member to look through his window at a 12-square-foot hole in the wing, the flight crew barely managed a landing at Dulles with Jet A-1 fuel spewing from a dozen holes in fuel tanks, engine damage, severed electrical cables, and loss of two out of three hydraulic systems.
The near-catastrophes continued. James B. King, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, wrote to his French counterpart on November 9, 1981, expressing his “serious concern” about “the repetitive nature of these incidents.” Besides the tire problems, Concordes occasionally lost parts of their elevators and rudders in flight. In 1998 the Federal Aviation Agency, noting “an unsafe condition” might exist on the Olympus engines that could result in shutdown or fire, ordered special inspections. As the resulting study warned presciently, “A major technical event would probably end Concorde operation.”
That event occurred 10 years ago this July. It ended not only the Concorde myth and the lives of more than 100 trusting people, but France’s brief, costly moment of supersonic grandeur.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online