Concorde Special - The test pilot - John Cochrane

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As deputy chief test pilot (Concorde) at BAC from 1968, and later assistant director of flight operations at BAe, until he left the company in 1980, John Cochrane was at the sharp end of the Concorde programme from the start. He first became involved with the programme in 1966, when he was appointed project test pilot.

With our origins on the Vickers' side of BAC, chief test pilot Brian Trubshaw and I had just come off a reasonably current civil aeroplane - the VC10 - when we joined the Concorde programme. When we went down to the former Bristol works at Filton where the UK component of Concorde's design had originated, we took a look at the plan for the prototype and thought that this thing will never see the light of day as a civil aircraft because it was an outmoded concept. It had, for example, a solid heat shield for the flightdeck visor - it was nonsense. BAC (and former Vickers) chief executive Sir George Edwards had no compunction at all - he said to Brian quite simply: "Get yourself and Cochrane down there and sort it out." That was my introduction to Concorde.

The misguided original approach to Concorde's design resulted in a huge impact on the programme, because we knew we couldn't tear up the original plans and throw them away and so we had to go to another development aircraft, which gave rise to the pre-production aircraft - Concorde 101 and 102.

Until the first flights of the prototypes in 1969, much of my time was spent on the simulator in Toulouse. This was not a net contributor to the programme, it was a bit of a deficit in some respects. It misled us over a number of things, resulting in very significant delays to the development programme because we modified the prototypes in order to overcome defects disclosed by the simulator, many of which were largely imaginary.

As we got a little bit into the flight test programme, it became perfectly evident that there were one or two simulator characteristics that just weren't reflected in the actual aeroplane. For example, the simulator predicted catastrophic results from excessive sideslip resulting from wrong corrective pilot action in the double engine-fail mode at Mach 2. The risk of losing the fin made it hard to argue against the necessity for the modification, so the prototypes were grounded to incorporate very extensive modifications for automatic rudder application in the event of double engine failure at Mach 2 before the aeroplanes could actually fly to that speed.

In the final event, as we got the aircraft up to Mach 2, it became clear that its response to a double engine failure was nothing like as bad as was predicted by the simulator. If you switched the auto-stabilisation facilities off you found the aeroplane was very easy to handle at Mach 2.

I was co-pilot on 002's maiden flight - a month after the French 001 flew - and this was the first time I'd flown on the aircraft. While Trubshaw was down in Toulouse taking a trip on 001 with Turcat, I was banging out the engine runs on 002 at Filton.

My main memory of the first flight from Filton to Fairford was how uncomfortable it was, as we were decked out in safety equipment - hard hats, parachutes and the like. The major drama was on the way into Fairford when we nearly blew it as both radio altimeters failed. These were very necessary pieces of equipment because of Concorde's large pilot-eye-to-wheel height of about 42ft (13m) - when we touched down I thought we were still at about 200ft.

Once the pre-production aeroplanes were available, we began testing aircraft that were more representative of the Concorde the airlines would fly, with the glazed visor and modified, digital intake control system. In my view, these were the real Concorde development aircraft.

When testing the intake control system on 101 we carried out horrendous manoeuvres to prove it could endure a jet upset and the engines wouldn't surge. That involved doing push-overs at speeds well in excess at Mach 2; push-overs to zero g, combined with sideslips of up to 5° held for periods of about 20 to 30s, and then trying to milk the aeroplane out of the horrific dive that we were in.

Nobody had ever certificated a civil supersonic aeroplane, so we wrote the rules as we went along, and exposed the aircraft to abuse-testing of the most extreme sort in order to prove to the authorities that the aircraft could withstand situations far beyond that which any airline pilot could find himself.