[This post was triggered by a particular picture that I planned to include in this post. I found though that the license to show it was too expensive. It can be viewed at the link below or via any search engine under the terms ‘image Concorde accident’. See note at the end of the post]
The Lad knows of few photographs (of Concorde aflame at takeoff) that show so clearly the threat that hangs over engineers as they seek to do their job. There is a harsh graininess in the image that is common to the records of tragedies.
At their maximum take-off thrust, several times greater than at any other time in the flight, there is a shouting roaring from the engines . From this surge stems the great lift forces from the wings that impell one hundred tons or more thousands of feet vertically into the air in seconds. The nose is pointing up: concentrating on its race into the blue. That leap has happened a thousand times before. This time it is different: there is a plume of flames larger than the craft itself streaming back from the fuel tank. These flames melt the control surfaces that are part of the wing and the aircraft, within two minutes, turns horrifyingly onto its back and flies into the ground as fast as it rose from it. Those servant forces that make the aircraft fly are now the masters. They reduce the elegant Concorde into fiery wreckage. More than a hundred passengers and several people on the ground had their lives taken.
Who would have predicted a loose part from the previous take-off on the runway; the tire hitting it and exploding; the flying tyre fragments puncturing the fuel tank and the fire destroying the machine and its passengers? Think of the hapless mechanic and his boss who were deemed responsible for the loose part not being fitted correctly. That could be any of us.
The engineer’s job is, as The Lad has said before, is to harness natural forces for the benefit of other human beings. He mostly has success in the task that he sets himself and persuades vast forces to do his bidding: at any time those forces can bite back and do evil commensurate with the good. Like the tiger, a pet for many years, becoming an angered animal suddenly exploding back to its animal nature and destroying its ‘owner’.
As an engineer, she has to ask herself at all times, “Can I stand up in a Court and justify all my technical choices?”
Running the risk of demeaning a serious topic The Lad has to note a couple of points. The first is about, once more, the bad ways of a reporter. The reference in one report to a titanium part that burst the Concorde tyre was apparently too mundane so it was given an entirely imaginary, journalistic boost as ‘ the stray strip of super-hard titanium’. Titanium is used in aero-engineering for its high strength and light weight and not for hardness.
The second point is that the Press Association found itself unable to offer to The Lad a one off use of the image without a ‘reasonable intro offer’ fee of nearly £60 [for a year]. As I said above it can be found, and apparently legally viewed, using any search engine.