An interesting insight to Concorde and the life of one of her pilots… a must read for any committed Concorde fan
21 September 2022
If you call a book ‘Concorde’ with the strapline ‘The Awe-Inspiring True Story of the World’s Greatest Aeroplane. From Inside the Cockpit’, it’s got to be very good. So it’s a touch surprising that Concorde doesn’t really get much of a mention until page 63 – but after that, it’s Concorde all the way.
The book is actually the autobiography of former Concorde Chief Pilot Mike Bannister, from the age of 17 when he started PPL training with the benefit of a Special Flying Award from the RAF, right up to giving evidence during the aftermath of the crash of Concorde AF4590, which effectively ended the aircraft’s commercial life.
Although Mike had the RAF award, he had also applied to BOAC (later BA) back in the days when airline pilot training was paid for by the company and the government.
And BOAC came through with an offer first, so that’s how his first major career choice was taken. This was the late 1960s with the instructors mostly former air force pilots who’d flown bombers in WWII. One, ‘Chopper Knights’, had even been a member of 617 Squadron, the ‘Dambusters’. His mission was to get trainee pilots up to speed with instrument flying. Another was Geoff Morrell whose ‘party piece’ was to fly low over the Cliffs of Moher then ‘beat up’ a local pub at about 150ft – all this in a VC10.
Mike qualified on the VC10 as a ‘lowly P3 second officer’, and to make the jump to P2 and become a co-pilot, he also had to train as the navigator – a separate job in the cockpit in those days. During these early days of his career, he came to realise that the wartime generation had a different attitude to risk, which would have to change for future commercial flying.
That realisation came as another important career choice loomed – whether to train for the new Concorde fleet. These days you’d think it would be a no-brainer – and it was for Mike – but as he explains, not for everyone, as a junior Concorde pilot was paid less than some other career paths and its future less certain.
Training for Concorde was intense. Co-pilots had to be able to do the flight engineer’s job should he fall ill. The aircraft also flew differently thanks to that delta wing and high angle of attack on landing which in turn required the ‘droop snoot’. And at the age of 28, Mike went to fly circuits – touch-and-goes – on Concorde for real.
“As soon as she began to roll, I wondered if I’d swapped our plane for a sports car,” writes Mike.
“The Olympus 593s were so powerful that, even at engine idle – at our Brize-focused light weight – Concorde leapt out of the blocks and kept accelerating. You took your foot off the brakes and, bloody hell, she went…
“For a moment, my senses were flooded. I refocused as Keith called our speed: ‘one hundred knots, power check, V1, rotate…
“I pulled back on the stick – 18.5° pitch-up, I suddenly realised, was a long way. On a conventional aircraft, you’d pitch up less than 10°. As I pulled back, I felt the g’s come on again – this time in a way the sim couldn’t begin to mimic.
“And that power! The 18.5° climb-out was predicated on our losing one engine. With four engines, we were going up like a rocket.”
This is both a detailed, serious book about Concorde, and a thoroughly readable autobiography of Mike’s career as a pilot. It covers all aspects of Concorde from technical to political – Concorde wasn’t universally liked – and then that crash at Paris Le Bourget and the long process of getting to the real cause of the accident.
It’s also illustrated with period photos and has a detailed ‘Deeper Insights’ glossary of terms at the end. Concorde the book is a stonking good read that’s a must for any Concorde fan’s bookshelf.