With a window-rattling roar the Concorde 002, the second prototype of the world's first supersonic airliner, swept into Beirut early last summer to wind up a 46,000-mile, 11-nation tour that included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon.
The tour was to display the Concorde's highly publicized potential, but in the Middle East so far only Iran has reacted. Despite a price tag of close to $43 million per plane, the Shah of Iran has ordered three for the country's growing air fleet.
Nevertheless the tour was not at all unsuccessful. Wherever it went, the "droop snoot," as the Concorde has been dubbed, was a sensation. This was partly because the Concorde has the most startling shape of any plane ever to touch down at Mediterranean and Gulf air terminals, a shape that calls up echoes of the extinct pterodactyl, yet suggests futuristic fantasies. But it was also because many people wanted to see if Mach-2 speeds—nearly 1,400 miles an hour—really could shatter windows in a whole community. They didn't, as it turned out, but supporters were not entirely happy either. With only first-generation engines in place—and those worn by testing and demonstrations—the Concorde during its Middle East demonstrations was not quite as unobtrusive as backers would have preferred. But second-generation engines, they promise, should remedy that problem within the next two years.
The Concorde is the result of a joint effort by the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale France. Its long, tubular fuselage measures a modest 184 feet, six inches long. Its interior accommodates up to 128 passengers. When fully developed, four Olympus turbojet engines should deliver 80 tons of thrust, enough, some authorities say, to carry it from Paris to New York without refueling. Supposedly the new engines will also reduce pollution emissions, the second factor which has stimulated much debate concerning this new entry in the continuing development of air travel.
During its visit to Bahrain, the "droop snoot" raced from Bahrain to India in an hour and 40 minutes. In Saudi Arabia, where His Royal Highness Amir Turki ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz, Vice-Minister of Defense and Aviation, headed a party of officials invited for a demonstration, it flew to north-central Arabia, then shot
southwest toward Taif before returning to the Dhahran air terminal. In Beirut, last stop in the Middle East, 14 officials, including the British and French ambassadors, boarded the Concorde for a one-hour demonstration flight to Crete and back.