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Pan Am – evaluation of Concorde



By Capt. Paul Roitsch. Understandably Pan Am was involved with the Concorde from its beginning in 1963. And, in that year, the company began a competition for a pilot to be chosen for that project…

This was unknown to most employees due to the extreme secrecy with which the program was to be conducted.

Captain Scott Flower, Chief-Pilot Technical, who had done most of the original evaluation work and design discussions with the Concorde manufacturers, was due to retire before the airplane was likely to be presented for company evaluation. He, therefore, determined to select a pilot who would fly the airplane and who would be trained in advance by the company.

Although Paul Roitsch was selected for this competition, it would be some six years before he would become the first commercial airline pilot to fly the Concorde. Before that November 1969 flight, he would be tested in a number of crucibles-somewhat mysteriously. Following are the reflections of Captain Paul Roitsch of his circuitous professional life leading to his involvement in the ultimate evaluation of the Concorde.


Supersonic Flight


My initial introduction to this process was a request from the Chief Pilot-Pacific, Don Kinkel, to meet with him in San Francisco. At the interview, Captain Kinkel told me that there were management jobs to be filled in New York and asked if I would be interested. My answer was yes. At the time I was a 707 Second Officer (Navigator) and welcomed any opportunities for advancement. I was told to go home (Stockton, Calif.) and await further word. It seems that each Chief Pilot around the system had nominated several people for consideration.

After several months, Captain Kinkel called again to tell me I had been taken off schedule and was to appear at the Hyatt Hotel in Burlingame and ask for Captain Flower. I was interviewed by Captain Flower for 15 minutes. Again, some months went by. Captain Kinkel called in December of 1963, to inform me that I was to fly to Kennedy and report the next morning to meet with Captain Sam Miller. On this trip, I also met Pan Am’s Chief Engineer, John Borger, Engineering Vice President Sanford Kauffmann and others on the Operations and Engineering staff.

“After returning back to Stockton in February 1964, I received a call from Sam Folsom, Captain Miller’s assistant, and was told to take an airline transport pilot rating on the 707, take an advanced course in differential and integral calculus at a local university, sell our home and be ready to report in June of that year (1964) to the Navy test pilot school at Patuxent River, Maryland. This took some doing but I made it to the test pilot school on time, driving cross country with my wife, two small children, and the family pets.

All of these calls and notification mystified me and were not then explained. In retrospect, I tied the secrecy to Pan Am’s involvement with a classified relationship with the Concorde program. No matter, I continued my studies, graduated in February 1965 and was flattered when Captains Miller and Flower attended the graduation ceremony and the dinner.

After some post-graduation leave, I reported back to Kennedy as Assistant Chief Pilot-Technical to begin and complete the 727 aircraft operating manual. Thereafter, I was assigned to the Fan Jet Falcon project in Bordeaux in May 1965. There, I flew the initial specification conformity flights, several performance flights-and then started flying acceptance flights. In December 1965, after turning further acceptance flying over to an assistant, I returned to Boeing Field to begin the 727 project work, acceptance flying at Boeing with delivery of the new airplane to Miami, with the last delivery in November of 1967.

I was still responsible for the 727 operation but flew the 707 regularly until 1969. Then I returned to Seattle, to begin training on the 747. But before that was finished, I was taken out to report to Toulouse in connection with the evaluation of the Concorde. When that was completed, I returned to Roswell, N.M., to conclude 747 training.”

Mais Pas Aujourd’ hui


A year before the first Concorde was offered for flight evaluation, Chief Pilot-Technical Scott Flower and Project Engineer Bill Hibbs reported the findings of the Airline Supersonic Committee of March 4, 1968 to the Chief Engineer, reducing the minutes of that committee to verse. Only parts of this extended tongue-in-cheek exercise of poetic license follow:


The above mentioned meeting was held in Toulouse
Where we dined on green oysters and liver of goose.
Our friends in BAC/SUD may find hard to swallow
Our view of the Concorde, which is to follow:

As Concorde develops-one thing seems funny
There’s less and less range for more and more money.
But BAC/SUD replies, in words meant for fools,
“You analyze Concorde under incorrect rules.”

For the payload is better if you leave out the food
And omit other things, such as -to be crude-
The toilets which now, of course, won’t be used
And no passenger entertainment to keep them amused.

And passenger seats made of plastic and string
(So they literally have their behind in a sling)
Will reduce the weight, if the thing doesn’t bend
To which we replied “God help our rear end.”

We listened for days and attempted to write
A report on the meeting but we’re not that bright.
So we summarize here with a tear and a sigh
The words that they offered as standard reply;
“The problem you raise just cannot be
For Concorde is practically maintenance free.
We’ll do a short paper on this and you’ll see
You’ll get it next year, mais pas aujourd’ hui.”


The Ultimate High


Between March 1968 and November of 1969, reservations about the Concorde were resolved, before Captain Roitsch and Flight Engineer John Anderson arrived in Toulouse for Flight Evaluation of the Concorde. Both had been at ground school in England in early 1969.

Paul Roitsch reports: “John Anderson and I were given approximately two more days of ground school and at least two simulator rides on the Concorde. On November 8, 1969, accompanied by Sud Aviation test pilot Jean Franchi, John and I flew the first airline evaluation flight during the one-hundredth hour of operation of the first prototype (Concorde 001). For two hours and five minutes, we took the 1,400-mph Concorde to an altitude of 43,000 feet and to a speed of Mach 1.219 (802 mph). I didn’t want to bring it back.

Thereafter, John and I flew the airplane in 1971, three more times evaluating performance, flying qualities and failure modes and reached a top speed of Mach 2.6. “Ultimately, all of the U.S. airlines canceled their orders for the Concorde for economic as well as environmental reasons. John Anderson and I were tremendously disappointed.”

This story originally appeared in Spring 2000 of The Clipper, the newsletter of The Pan Am Historical Foundation.

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