Concorde Special - The airframe engineer - Pierre Gautier

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As deputy to Louis Giusta, Sud-Aviation's chief executive, Pierre Gautier was made responsible in 1962 for setting up the structures to develop Concorde's airframe. In 1970 he became the French airframe programme director having overseen the manufacture of the Concorde prototypes from 1965 to 1970.

If it were not for the friendly and confident co-operation between the four teams for airframes and engines, Concorde would not have been successfully achieved. In that respect, I would like to pay homage to Sir George Edwards, the chief executive of BAC, who was paramount in ensuring the success of Concorde and the integration of the two teams. Louis Giusta also helped Sir George in this task.

The first important decision to make was whether this supersonic aircraft would be designed for medium- or long-haul flights. Following their experience with the Caravelle, the French favoured medium-haul, while the UK preferred longer range. But, with supersonic flight overland outlawed, the French position quickly proved untenable, so we agreed to focus on the long-haul version.

In a lighter vein came the issue of naming the aircraft. An international students' contest was held and a British youngster suggested "Concord". But the French said the word had French roots and should thus be spelt with an "e". We finally decided that if the UK gave way on the spelling, their aircraft could be the first to fly, but in the end the French Concorde flew first anyway because the UK one was behind schedule.

Then there was the secret contest between Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144, the Russians being hindered by lack of a suitable material for the airframe. When a Russian delegation was visiting the Concorde plant, I noticed our guests stamping their feet, so I told the security people to check the Russians' shoes when they left. Sure enough their crepe-soled shoes had shavings of our material stuck to them.

One perception that I would like to correct is that the USA did not co-operate with us. While this was true concerning the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which barred us from landing at New York Kennedy Airport, we had genuine co-operation from the FAA which changed the landing regulations at the airport, thus allowing Concorde to land.

It is a major disappointment to me that Concorde never had a successor. Aerospatiale and British Aerospace, together with McDonnell Douglas, did begin a "Super Concorde" study while Snecma, Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney started to look at a new engine. It was a difficult and expensive programme, which would have taken 25 to 30 years to come to fruition. But if France and Britain want to maintain their technology they must be prepared to give it funds. Undertaking a project like Concorde without planning a follow-on is unfortunately senseless.