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This is a question Conspicuous Consumption

Have you ever been photographed sat on a balcony eating a croissant; or wallowed in luxury just for the sake of it? What's the most ostentatious thing you ever seen or done?

(, Thu 28 Jul 2011, 13:18)
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A lost world
I've always been a massive aeroplane nut. I grew up in Somerset, not far from near HMS Heron, the headquarters of naval aviation. The annual air show there was a regular family treat. This was during the cold war so there was a sense that there was some real menace behind the crowd-pleasing stunts. My favourite plane at the show wasn't military though, it was the Concorde. For a piece of machinery she was genuinely beautiful: an aerial E-Type, an aluminium swan. As an aeroplane she was the very definition of power. The pilots would make a low pass over the show crowd, wheels down, flaps out and nose up to increase the drag and help her fly slowly. The engines - four Rolls Royce Olympus 593s with afterburners - put out such an incredible amount of noise that my hearing completely overloaded. All I could hear was a deafening crackle, like God frying the atmosphere.

I had a little model Concorde of course, and posters, and I wrote to BA and they sent me all kinds of promotional guff. As I grew older I realised just how unlikely it was I'd ever fly on her. She'd fly over our house sometimes; you could hear her on a quiet day from our garden from 30,000' away. Here was machine and romance and lifestyle bought in a perfectly unattainable white bird, forever out of reach but still ours, still British; something to take pride in.

Then one day in 2003 I was reading the BBC news website in my office in Manhattan. I saw the story: BA to cease Concorde flights. 9/11, the Paris crash and the lousy economy had finally done for her. I read on and discovered that they were issuing a very, very limited run of discounted tickets to ensure that her final few flights were full and she could go out in style. So I rang up and bought one. My ship had come in that month: a distant Aunt had died and left me a couple of grand and I'd just received a decent tax refund from George W. Bush. I had been planning to save the money but it was just enough for a one way flight. I had no kids, no significant other of any importance, no debts and no reason not to fulfil a childhood dream.

I was hugely excited leading up to my flight. I'd planned my trip so that I'd fly to London in economy on Friday and take the Concorde back on the Monday. I'd see friends and family over the weekend. Due to the jet stream the flight was about 45 minutes longer going West and I wanted my money's worth. The flight was at 6pm but I turned up to Heathrow at lunchtime. I checked in at the special Concorde desk in T4 that I'd caught glimpses of on previous trips through the airport; it was behind a big wooden wall and it was another world for me. Through security (same, but no queue) and into the dedicated Concorde lounge. The lounge was the gate itself, so once I was there I was set until boarding.

The lounge itself was a luxury hotel, minus the bedroom. I enjoyed a back massage from a chubby, bubbly blonde in the spa downstairs, had a shower in a huge blue room with about fifty water jets and got my clothes pressed. Once done with that, I headed back upstairs in time to see the aircraft pull up to the jetbridge and the arriving passengers walk out through our lounge. I dined on lobster and vintage champagne - a 1985 Pommery Cuvée Louise, for anyone that cares - and when I told the lounge attendant how much I was enjoying the bubbly she insisted on opening another, even rarer bottle to try. I met some interesting people there; some BA staff taking advantage of the same tickets I was on, a French bigwig from Louis Vuitton who thought that English men were the most stylish in Europe and a university professor whose specialty completely escapes me.

Time was passing and it was nearly time to board. The captain came out to meet each passenger, shake their hands and have a chat with them. Apparently they did this on every single flight. Ours was completely full, but all that meant was that the captain came out twenty minutes earlier. He knew some of the regular passengers by name. Not me, of course, but he was happy to answer my inane and slightly tipsy questions. At this point I noticed that everyone around me had dressed for the occasion. I hadn't; I was 22 and really not all that clued up. I'd turned up in (nice) jeans and a T-shirt - one of the few I owned that didn't have holes but hardly comparing to the suits that every other man was wearing.

The plane itself was very small inside. The seats were very comfortable, but very close together; a bit more legroom than economy class and a fair bit more width, but not the giant armchair you might have expected. The roof was lower than a 737, the windows were no bigger than my passport and the aisle was very narrow. There were only 25 rows of four seats (two each side of the aisle) in the whole aircraft, just one class (of course) and two cabins. I was in the back cabin over the wing. We were looked after by a small army of pretty, middle-aged attendants. They were keen on having as much fun as we all were and created a lot of the party atmosphere on the plane.

The captain announced push-back with what I learned was the usual announcement: "We're number one for takeoff, as usual. Those of you who haven't experienced a Concorde take-off before are in for a treat. We go twice as fast on the ground as anything else that flies and we accelerate twice as quickly. Enjoy the flight!" The engines started. Deafening! The roar inside the cabin was indescribable; unlike the ususal high-bypass ratio turbofans on passenger jets the Olympus engines are pure turbojets. There is no 'collar' of low-speed air surrounding the high-speed, hot exhaust from the compressor; it's this that makes modern jets comparatively quiet. We pushed back quickly and bounced down the taxiway straight to the runway. No delay, no waiting for Easyjet 123 to Malaga to clear the runway - that three mile strip of concrete was there just for us.

The captain lined the plane up and opened the taps. He wasn't kidding about the acceleration: it's not like a normal plane. It's severe - you're really pushed back in your seat - and it's relentless. We thundered down the runway at over 200mph, climbed and we were *still* accelerating. The rate of climb was incredible too: a readout on the cabin bulkhead listed our speed and altitude, and the numbers were flying by at an unreal rate. It's a while ago now, but I distinctly remember hitting 30,000 feet in less than five minutes! On a normal plane that 'bing' that sounds about 10 minutes after takeoff, when the cabin crew get up? That's 10,000 feet. We were three times higher than that before most airliners have finished turning to point in the right direction. This was deeply impressive stuff to a plane nerd like me.

A few minutes later we're over the Bristol Channel and the captain comes back on. "Well, we're making excellent progress and now we've cleared the south of England we can go supersonic. You'll feel two pushes as I turn the afterburners on in pairs. Keep an eye on the speed readout in the cabin, and I'll talk to you again in New York. Enjoy the service."

Another mighty shove in the back as, some way behind and below me, pumps dumped thousands of gallons of raw aviation fuel into the engines' exhausts. The fuel instantly ignited, creating a huge rocket and sending a jet of flame out from behind each engine. Fighter jets use afterburners to take off from aircraft carriers, or chase down enemy planes; here I was sipping (gulping) more champange and eating smoked salmon on toast (service started at 10,000 feet as usual - about a minute after takeoff - and continued right up until landing) while riding something who's power and climb rate are exceeded only by the space shuttle.

I ate and drank up through 60,000', twice the height of a normal flight, where the sky was black overhead and I could see the curvature of the earth by scanning the horizon with my eyes. The windows got extremely hot as the fuel - used for cooling the plane - was burned off. I chatted with my fellow passengers, sadly not managing to grab an autograph from Ray Liotta who was sitting five rows *behind* me. The good times continued. The attendants told me it was always like this; calmer when there were fewer passengers, but always a party. I was surprised - I'd expected a quiet, rarified, even stuffy atmosphere, like a gentleman's club or fancy hotel lobby, but it wasn't. It was all about fun. The captain's announcements, the laughing, smiling attendants, the jokes, the lake of vintage champagne and six courses of fine food, the buzz - it had more in common with an Club Med charter flight than first class travel. Utterly brilliant and worth every last penny.
(, Mon 1 Aug 2011, 22:52, 31 replies)
cool story bro :-)
my uncle used to fly Vulcan bombers- between the two I'd prefer to have a go in Concorde but I'd be happy with a trip in a V-bomber as well. Excellent technical doobries about high bypass fans instead of pure turbos, this is apparently the same with what was the royal flight VC10- the air traffic controllers said you could always tell when Her Maj or Tony Blair was coming out of Heathrow by the sheer noise.
(, Mon 1 Aug 2011, 23:15, closed)
Interesting on the VC10.
I just discovered that the VC10 holds the record for the fastest subsonic Atlantic crossing between London and New York. Only Concorde was faster. Amazing stuff for a first-generation jet airliner.

Concorde would be less comfortable but the Vulcan is a hell of a machine. There's still one flying now: www.vulcantothesky.org/ but funding one is not easy. They were another highlight of those air shows; I remember their display takeoff routine - full power, then haul back and point straight upwards, 90 degrees to the ground, before the end of the runway. Did your uncle have anything to do with the 'black buck' raid on the Falklands? I think they used the entire fleet for that.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 14:37, closed)
thanks for sharing
Great story, from a fellow aviation saddo. Glad you enjoyed a wonderful experience.
(, Mon 1 Aug 2011, 23:50, closed)
Laydeez n Gennelmen...
I do believe we have a winner!

Fantastic story, very well told, sir. Please, have a *click* from me.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 0:25, closed)
That brought a (small) tear to the eye.
I am envious. I wish I'd had a chance to do that.

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 0:35, closed)

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 14:03, closed)
As above
With all the advances in technology it's sad to think it takes longer to cross the Atlantic now than it did nearly 35 years ago.

Something in my eye.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 14:58, closed)
And I'm terrified of flying
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 2:05, closed)
Very good

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 2:16, closed)
I almost didn't read this one.
But I'm glad I did. I'm incredibly jealous!
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 3:52, closed)
Great story..
This justifies the existence of this weeks question.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 9:13, closed)
I like this muchly.

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 9:15, closed)
So your story is you went on a plane?
Nah only kidding, damn good entry fella. Duly clicked.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 9:31, closed)
I was waiting for one of these :)
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:46, closed)
I can only agree.
It's depressing when we give up something we once could do on the grounds of expediency and bean-counting.

When Concorde flew, there was no plane that could catch her (given a little head start) - she was simply too fast.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 9:58, closed)
Great story, enjoyed reading it
almost as much as you enjoyed typing it.

I'm no aviation nut but concorde really was one plane I would have loved to have been a passenger on. At least I now know more of what it could've been like, particularly the build up before you even got on the plane.

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 9:58, closed)
Excellent story
And don't worry, it's successor should be ready in a mere 38 years or so

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 10:18, closed)
Great story
And very well told, thanks. Unfortunately my only experience of Concorde is seeing it take off from Heathrow, as I was sitting in the elevated canteen across from the runway. Absolutely deafening, and we had a cacophony of car alarms going off for a while afterwards.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 10:32, closed)
My only experience.
Was when I was outside in the garden, and heard a low rumble that went on for a long while indeed. I knew this was the day of the last flights, so wondered.
It turns out it was as it was flying up the east coast of Scotland, maybe 50 miles away.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 13:44, closed)

Bravo, bravo.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 10:59, closed)
The things that dreams are made of...
Top story - thanks for sharing.

I used to look up in the evenings to catch Concorde flying overhead as a kid and try to hear the sonic boom as it passed.

Words cannot explain the loss to humanity that the de-commissioning of those Aircraft caused. They were built in the 60's by men with beards and spanners with names like Geoff and Roger, yet over 40 years later we still have nothing that can come close to comparing to it. Yes - we have a plane that can take 500 people half-way round the World for a fraction of the price, but Concorde was different - it flew faster than SOUND for crying out loud - it beat the practicalities of science - humanity challenging the boundaries of what is possible.

Concorde marked a high-water mark in civilization - mankind standing up and saying "Look what we can do". To have taken a step back from that pinnacle for what was, in essence, a nonsensical bureaucratic decision about a plane that retained one of the best safety records in history as well as being (alongside the Lockheed SR-71) one of the greatest technological marvels in history was and is nothing short of a travesty.

I am insanely jealous of you, yet delighted that somebody who clearly enjoyed it for all the right reasons was given the chance to participate.

Oh, and if you want another example of ostentatious-ness, I do know a chappie who bought one of them – it’s kept, mothballed, at his museum in Germany. Despite his willingness to finance everything necessary, it’s still not able to be certified for flight, but he loves it none-the-less.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 11:15, closed)
sounds like you enjoyed every minute of it.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 11:58, closed)
did you tell the pilot it was your birthday
so you could come up and see the cockpit?
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:03, closed)
the his pit
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:07, closed)
No need to lie about birthdays though. Anyone who wanted could visit the cockpit after the flight. I did, I got my picture taken and had a nice chat with the crew as well. At the time I was learning to fly too, it was an even better experience for knowing what (a few) of the knobs and levers actually did.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:45, closed)
Thanks for sharing that
My parents loved Concorde and would dash outside to watch it when it passed overhead. My siblings and I planned to get them a flight round the Bay of Biscay for their fiftieth wedding anniversary but unfortunately my mother died a couple of years beforehand.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:25, closed)
Very eloquently told - nice one!
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:44, closed)
Glad everyone here liked it
I really wasn't sure how this would come across. Even in a question about 'conspicuous consumption,' people are getting slated for having consumed conspicuously. Funny world.

She really was everyone's plane though, despite being available to almost no-one. I haven't met or read about anyone who's pleased they grounded her. Not even the greenest of greens cheered, at least not in public.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 12:55, closed)
I'm so jealous...
I always wanted to fly on Concorde :(

(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 14:21, closed)
well written and a bloody good read.
you have my undivided envy.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 14:58, closed)
I enjoyed reading this tremendously.
As was the case with the Saturn V rocket, Concorde and now the Space Shuttle, we haven't been able to replace these amazing technological achievements with even more amazing technological achievements. We used to be able to send people to the moon, take them across the Atlantic in 3.5 hours and send them into space with tonnes of equipment to build a space station. We can't do that anymore and I find that terribly sad.

Thanks for taking the time to describe your fantastic experience so that we can share it vicariously.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 15:48, closed)
Great read.
I'd skipped to the last few paragraphs having seen the wall of text initially. But the end of the story was so well written I went back to the top and started again. Sounds amazing. Click!
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 16:27, closed)
Great story, wonderfully told, almost felt like I experienced it with you...
But I didn't.

You smug bastard
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 16:36, closed)
You complete and utter bastard!
I loved to watch Concorde as a kid and hear the car alarms sounding. I wish I'd managed to fly on it.
I recall being on a Tristar and the pilot telling us all that it was the second fastest accelerating passenger jet, and it felt like it, so Concorde must have been great.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 18:47, closed)
good post
Living in the south west we could hear it go supersonic, a distant 'ber-boom'.

I miss that, it reminds me of summer evenings at the beach.
(, Tue 2 Aug 2011, 20:27, closed)
Aviation nut eh?
Learner pilot eh?

Flaps go up or down, they do not go out.

(, Wed 3 Aug 2011, 1:11, closed)
Well they "extend" or "retract" really
But what they definitely don't do is go 'down' two words after the gear has just done the same thing :)

That is, of course, if Concorde even had flaps. She doesn't (oo er) but the elevons perform an equivalent job at low speeds.

Oh dear. Did I mention the Champagne?
(, Wed 3 Aug 2011, 2:11, closed)
Well-written, and making me jealous!
I always loved Concorde - I grew up (and still live) in South-West London, where we would see her fly over our house four times a day. I loved the sight and the sound.

I remember when the retirement was announced - and I also went to look for tickets. Unfortunately I was only 23 at the time, and not earning an enormous amount. I figured that it'd cost me about four months' salary just to buy one round trip (including one subsonic leg), and I decided that I could not justify it. If only Concorde had just kept on flying a few more years, until I had a bit more money then I would have gone for it. Unfortunately now I'll never have the chance, and therefore I'll always wonder if I should have just spent the money in 2003 anyway!

I did, however, have a front-row seat when the last three Concordes landed. I work at Heathrow, and knowing the time of their arrival, I scheduled my break to be able to go to an airside window in Terminal 3 with a great view of the Northern runway. There was a big bunch of airport workers who had the same idea all crowded around the window, cheering as the last one landed.

But I'd far rather have flown on her - you lucky thing!
(, Wed 3 Aug 2011, 21:12, closed)

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