Air France Flight 4590 Becomes Concorde’s Only Fatal Accident

This week marks a sad anniversary when the famed Concorde experienced a tragic accident that helped seal its fate forever in aviation’s history books. Over its nearly three-decade run, the Concorde carried passengers around the world at more than twice the speed of sound.

A multinational collaboration

There have been no other aircraft like the Concorde. Its history, design, and the milestones it claimed to make it a narrative that’s hard to duplicate. The name Concorde reflected a treaty between the British and French governments which shared the costs and risks of the plane’s production.


Other countries were involved in its development, but these two European nations were the main stakeholders. Britain was to construct 60% of the engine and 40% of the airframe and France to build 40% of the engine and 60% of the airframe.

Ultimately, both sides underestimated the complexities involved in this massive project, and the Concorde stretched out long past its due date and chewed up far too much money during the process. Still, the aircraft made its first successful flight in 1969 and completed the first scheduled commercial supersonic flight in 1976. Although several airlines expressed initial interest in the aircraft, it was eventually only operated by British Airways and Air France.

The supersonic specs

One of the major performance headlines of the Concorde was its average cruise speed of Mach 2. It also had a maximum cruise altitude of 60,000 feet. For reference, subsonic commercial jets typically fly between 31,000 and 38,000 feet, so nearly half the altitude of the Concorde. What we often don’t hear about are its handling qualities.

The delta wing produced a considerable ground effect, and as the runway approached, it could be sensed as a cushioning feeling as long as the descent was moderate. The pilots’ eye height was similar to that in the 747, which is about 35 feet above the runway surface at touchdown.

With a steady approach speed over the last part of the descent, the autothrottles were disengaged at about 50 feet wheel height above the runway, and the power smoothly reduced at about 20 feet with the nose held steady in pitch to counteract nose down and trim forces .Any relaxation of back pressure on the controls would allow the aircraft to land immediately … and sternly.

Care also had to be taken to avoid over-rotating the nose as a tail wheel strike could result. If this is accompanied by a small bank angle, this could result in contact with the runway by the thrust reverser buckets as they are deployed after touchdown The lack of a large side fuselage area and the short wingspan helped produce very good crosswind performance with effective use of roll input into the wind for takeoff in strong crosswinds.

The tragic day

The Concorde had an impressive safety record until Tuesday, July 25, 2000. That was the day Air France flight 4590 was scheduled to depart Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Paris for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

At 4:44:55 pm local time, the Concorde was on its takeoff roll when the first officer called out V1, or decision speed. Suddenly, the plane began to veer left, and the flight engineer urged the captain to abort the takeoff. However, the Concorde had already exceeded its V1 speed, meaning the takeoff had to be continued or risk overrunning the runway at a very high speed.

At the same time, Gilles Longelin (the tower controller who gave the flight its takeoff clearance) noticed flames coming from one of the aircraft’s engines and advised the crew: “4590, you have flames behind you.” At the same time, Longelin activated the air traffic control emergency response alert system as the aircraft attempted to climb while being overtaken by flames.

A quick decision was made to land at Paris LeBourget airport, but the fire spread too quickly. The crew attempts to turn the limping jet failed, and it crashed into a cornfield five kilometers from the runway, and a few meters from a hotel. It spread on impact. The entire scenario played out in just over two minutes.

Onboard were 100 passengers and 9 crew members, but the total victim count was 115 since a handful of guests at the nearby hotel were killed as a result of the impact and ensuing fire.

The Concorde fleet is forever grounded

The accident investigation revealed that Air France 4590’s right front tire on the left main landing gear was destroyed after having run over a strip of metal debris shed by a Continental Airlines DC-10-30, which departed on the runway just five minutes prior. investigators concluded the destruction of the tire likely resulted in large pieces of rubber being thrown against the underside of the left wing and the rupturing part of a fuel tank. As a result, a severe fire broke out under the left wing, and around the same time, engines 1 and 2 suffered a loss of thrust as the fire engulfed the aircraft.

The end of an era was drawing near. Although the Paris accident was cited as the reason for withdrawing the remaining Concordes from service, the main reason was a lack of patronage. Passengers felt wary of flying in a Concorde after the accident, and both airlines felt unsure about continuing to operate such an economically draining aircraft. The costs to fly the jet were high, and sales of the expensive luxury tickets declined. It was time to retire the Concorde.

In 2003, the same year the US Centennial of Flight Commission celebrated the 100th anniversary of the historic Wright Brothers flight, the Concorde flew its last passenger trip. The mighty supersonic jet’s Olympus engines’ roar would now be a silent memory for passengers and aviation aficionados alike.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.