Cruise destination travel guide - Barbados - Barbados Concorde Experience - Review
|Beyondships Cruise Destinations||
The Concorde was one of the great technological achievements of the second half of the 20th century. An airliner built to travel at twice the speed of sound, Concorde was borne out of a spirit of confidence in the march of scientific progress.
After World War II, several countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union began to work towards building a supersonic transport (“SST”). During the first half of the century, aircraft had become faster and faster, reducing the amount of time it took to get from place to place. An SST seemed to be only the next logical step.
In the 1960s, Britain and France decided to pool their resources and work together towards creating an SST. The result was the Concorde, designed and built jointly by the French company Aerospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation. Although the Soviets also eventually built an SST, Concorde was techolgically superior and much more commercially successful.
As hard as it is to believe today, there was a time when airline travel was considered glamorous. And nothing was as glamorous as flying the Concorde. If you traveled on Conorde, you could expect to be seated with statesmen, rock stars, business leaders and other members of the rich and famous. Passengers drank real champagne and dined on gourmet meals off tableware created especially for Concorde.
Since Concorde was a relatively small aircraft, the cabin was not very large. However, the leather clad seats placed in pairs along the center aisle would be considered spacious on many commercial aircraft today.
The flight itself was awe-inspiring. Concorde would climb to 60,000 feet, placing her miles above other airliners. From there, passengers could see the curvature of the Earth, a view normally limited to astronauts.
A display in the cabin showed the aircraft's speed. At supersonic speed, the Concorde gained on the Sun so that on flights from London to New York, the Sun would appear to rise in the west. It made its runs in approximately half the time of other contemporary airliners.
Because of the high speed, the airplane would stretch while in flight. Pilots tell tales of gaps forming between bulkheads and equipment that had been flush against the bulkhead at take off.
It was always a thrill to see Concorde in flight. I saw her once taking off over Windsor Castle and once coming in for landing low over Buckingham Palace. But the most memorable time was during a transatalantic crossing on Queen Elizabeth 2. The bridge announced that Concorde would shortly be passing over. From the decks, you could just see a dot in the sky. However, as she went over, there was a crack like a shot gun shell - - the sonic boom caused by Concorde's Mach 2 speed.
That sound essentially doomed the Concorde project. Before the aircraft even entered service, concern over noise pollution caused the United States to place restricts on Concorde. Essentially, this meant that Concorde would only be able to fly at supersonic speed over the water and not be able to make supersonic flights across the continental United States. Since the aircraft would be of limited usefulness, almost all of the major airlines cancelled their orders for Concorde.
The only airlines to purchase Concorde were British Airways and Air France who received large subsidies from their respective governments to do so. Seven were given to each airline. These remained in service for 27 years starting in 1976, flying primarily transatlantic routes and occasional charters.
Only one Concorde crashed while in service. On July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde was taking off from Paris' Charles DeGaulle airport when a piece of metal that had fallen off another airliner punctured one of the tires. Rubber from the tire hit the fuel tank causing a fire. The airplane was able to get into the air but the fire caused the aircraft to crash. Everyone onboard was killed.
The crash marked the end for Concorde. Even though modifications were made to protect against such an event occurring again, demand never recovered. Consequently, both Air France and British Airways retired their Concorde fleets in 2003. Several of the aircraft are on display at museums around the world.
At first glance, Barbados my seem like an unlikely place to find a Concorde. However, the island has real ties to Concode. In 1977, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, flew home from a state visit to Barbados on a chartered Concorde. Not long afterwards, British Airways began a weekly service between London and Barbados.
The Barbados Concorde Experience opened in 2007 and is located near Grantley Adams International Airport in the southern part of Barbados. It is housed its own building with a life-size painting of Concorde over the door.
Inside is G-BOAE, known as “Alpha Echo,” which flew from March 17, 1977 until November 17, 2003. She was one of the last Concordes built. The aircraft is still owned by British Airways but is on loan to Barbados.
Alpha Echo is dramatically lit and makes an immediate impression as you walk in the door. She is sleek and gleaming. Although the analog technology inside may be out of date, the shape of the airframe is graceful and still seems futuristic.
Our visit to the Barbados Concorde experience was part of shore excursion that combined Concorde with a lunch at the Crane Resort. Inasmuch as this was a special occasion, each of the participants was given a glass of sparkling wine before assembling at a small theater facing the starboard side of the aircraft. Here, one of the museum's guides gave a brief introductory talk about Concorde. This was followed by a short multi-media presentation in which images from Concorde's history were projected onto the side of the aircraft with sound and light effects for added emphasis.
Following the multi-media presentation, we were escorted to the Departure Lounge. This area seeks to recreate the atmosphere of the Concorde Lounge at London's Heathrow airport and within its glass top tables are artifacts from Concorde.
The guide next took us into the aircraft. We ascended a mobile staircase and entered via the tail door. Looking to the right as we climbed, you could see the elegant curvature of Concorde's wings and you could look up into her powerful engines.
Inside the cabin was dimly lit. The seats were black leather while the walls of the cabin were a light grey.
We sat down in the section of seats just before the midship bulkhead. There we watched a film on the television screens embedded in the bulkhead telling what it was like to fly on Concorde.
After the film, we proceeded forward through the small kitchen and bathroom area into the forward cabin and from there into the cockpit. The cockpit was a cramped mass of dials and gauges. It was only here that Concorde's equipemnt looked like something from the past.
We exited via the forward door on the port side of the aircraft. Descending the mobile stairs, we were like late 20th century celebrities arriving after a transatlantic flight.
At the base of the stairs were museum employees with trays of hot orderves. These helped to extend the feeling of luxuary that is part of Concorde.
We now had free time to explore the museum. Some of the participants looked at the various exhibits about supersonic flight placed along the walls of the museum. Alternatively, you could walk underneath the aircraft, inspect her landing gear, look at her jet intakes and observe her wings just as the crews which maintained these aircraft once did.
Overall, the Barbados Concorde Experience was a very worthwhile excursion. We were able to see this technological marvel close up in an attractive setting. In addition, it evoked the spirit of a time not long past in which people were confident that they could achieve a better future.
For more about cruising to Barbados:
Click here for a video of Norwegian Jewel sailing from Barbados
Click here for information on Barbados' cruise port
Click here for a slideshow of cruise ships in Barbados
Click here for our pages on Barbados attractions
Click here for our Barbados Links page
Click here for a video of Norwegian Jewel sailing from Barbados