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Scottish Region Visit to the Museum of Flight at East Fortune and Tour of Concorde "Alpha Alpha" on Tuesday 15 May 2007

The Scottish Region's 2006 - 2007 season drew to a close with a visit to the Museum of Flight at East Fortune airfield, and a tour of Concorde. The visit began with a detailed presentation by Alastair Dodds, Principal Curator of Transport, on Concorde and the logistics required to move the aircraft from Heathrow to East Fortune.

Concorde was the result of an Anglo-French project to develop a supersonic airliner and the prototype first flew in 1969. Commercial service commenced in 1976 and in British Airways service the aircraft was profitable. However, the aircraft itself was not a commercial success as it was only sold in very small numbers to British Airways and Air France.

Following the tragic Paris crash of Concorde F-BTSC on 25 July 2000, the decision was taken to ground all Concordes on 16 August 2000 pending the investigation. The investigation found that the crash was caused by a piece of rubber from one of the aircraft's tyres had punctured a fuel tank, the leaking fuel igniting, and a loss of power in two engines meant that control of the aircraft was lost. It was found that the piece of rubber from the tyre had been torn off when the tyre hit a piece of metal at high speed on the runway. This piece of metal had come off another aircraft.

This led to recommendations for a number of modifications to the remaining aircraft, including modified tyres and kevlar linings in the fuel tanks. Whilst the aircraft were undergoing modification, British Airways took the opportunity to install a new Conran designed interior. Modified aircraft returned to service on 7 November 2001, but both British Airways and Air France announced that Concorde would be retired in late 2003 due to increasingly uneconomic operation. British Airways only modified 5 of their aircraft, the remaining two were left in their original condition, one being G-BOAA.

The National Museums of Scotland was one of 70 organisations that submitted bids for the 7 British Airways aircraft. Meanwhile one of the Air France Concordes was delivered to the Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany by being flown to the nearest airport, then being moved by both river and road to the museum.

On 30 October 2003 British Airways announced that the National Museums of Scotland had been allocated G-BOAA or "Alpha-Alpha". Concorde G-BOAA first flew on 5 November 1975 and was delivered to British Airways on 14 January 1976. It was the first Concorde delivered to British Airways. It flew the inaugural British Airways Concorde service to Bahrain on 21 January 1976 and between then and 12 August 2000 when it made its last flight, it notched up 22,768 hours and 56 minutes flying time, making 8,064 landings.

It was stored at British Airway's Heathrow engineering base and a number of components had been removed as spares for other aircraft and the engines had been removed. As the aircraft could not be flown to East Fortune, it would have to be removed by road. However, the idea, drawing on the example of the Air France Concorde being moved by river, it was decided to move G-BOAA by road from Heathrow to Isleworth, load it on a barge to travel to Torness on the East Coast, then by road again to East Fortune.

This presented Alastair Dodds with a series of challenges. Concorde is 202 feet 4 inches (61.6 metres) in length with a wingspan of 83 feet 10 inches (25.6 metres). It also weighs 78 tonnes. To reduce weight a number of components could be removed, for example removing the tail fin and rudder reduced the weight by 1.3 tonnes, the engines accounted for another 12 tonnes and the undercarriage 7.7 tonnes. The outer wings could be removed by undoing a series of bolts. Each outer wing was secured by 340 bolts. This saved another 3.2 tonnes and reduced the width of the aircraft.

However, the aircraft was still too wide to move by road, so the decision was made to cut the wings off and after careful study, a suitable "cut line" was identified. In addition to reducing the width of the aircraft to one that could be moved, another 6 tonnes weight was saved, resulting in a transport weight of around 42 tonnes. This specialist work was carried out by Air Salvage International, a company specialising in dismantling aircraft and other related activities.

Specialist transport contractors Wynn's were appointed, along with subsidiary Robert Wynn & Sons Ltd. to advise on the transportation. Abnormal Load Engineering undertook the actual movement of the aircraft. This required special cradles to be constructed to support the aircraft once the undercarriage had been removed and these were mounted on a special self-propelled transporter. On Saturday 3 April 2004, G-BOAA left Heathrow by road for Isleworth. There were some anxious moments as the clearances were very tight and various items of street furniture had to be temporarily removed. On arrival at Isleworth, the aircraft was loaded onto a special self propelled pontoon, the "Terra Marique" for it's journey down the River Thames. The journey down the Thames began on 12th April 2004, with a pause for photographs outside the Houses of Parliament and the following day the journey up the cost to Torness Power Station began.

The final 14 mile stage of the journey from Torness Power Station began on 18th April 2004 with Concorde travelling along A1 and across farmland on a specially laid track to the Museum at East Fortune. The Army built the 1.7 km of track using around 2,500 individual panels. This track crossed two streams and a minor road and was completed in only 3 days. Concorde arrived at East Fortune on the 19th April 2004, the project having taken 6 months to complete. The next task was to re-assemble the aircraft and create the display.

Hangar 4 that houses Concorde, had to be modified to accommodate the height of the tail fin, but as the hanger is a listed building, permission had to be granted by Historic Scotland. The various components removed from the aircraft were delivered direct by road and re-assembly was undertaken by the same specialists who had dismantled the aircraft. When the wings were re-attached the cut made at the dismantling stage was almost invisible and once the aircraft had been painted, these virtually disappeared altogether. The interior was refitted and the exhibition was created.

Following the presentation, members were able to take the guided tour on board the aircraft and were free to wander around the exhibition. Alastair Dodds was on hand to answer questions about the aircraft and members took the opportunity to ask him many technical questions.

The Scottish Region would like to thank Alastair Dodds, Principal Curator of Transport for hosting the event and his detailed presentation and to the staff of the museum for their assistance. Details of the museum can be found on the National Museums Scotland website, www.nms.ac.uk

Report by John Fender.

 

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