Article written by Graham Cahill
Over the course of 2 days I had the pleasure of visiting three Concorde airframes and viewing an extra one from a distance, here is the detail of the visit.
The visit was originally arranged by our friends at DAS to go and see F-WTSA, because numbers were low from DAS I was asked to boost them up a little so I invited Brooklands, Manchester and other members of Heritage Concorde. The visit was to run over two days (15th and 16th October 2015). I looked at flight times and decided I was going to fly out early on the 14th and back to the UK early on the 17th meaning I was in no hurry to leave while visiting the various airframes.
Left from Liverpool and flew by Easyjet to Charles De Gaulle, arrived approximately 3pm met up with Robyn from Manchester (G-BOAC) at the airport and shared a taxi to my hotel at Le-Bourget.
Robyn was staying at a different hotel so he dropped me off and carried on to his hotel.
6pm a text arrives from DAS to say they have arrived and do I want to join them for a meal and some drinks.... The answer is yes. We go to a somewhat interesting public bar for a drink before going to a restaurant for a Moroccan meal. It gives us the opportunity to discuss various things about AXDN without distraction from the usual things encountered on visits to Duxford.
We go back to the hotel looking forward to the next day, I receive several texts from Brooklands, Manchester and the remaining Heritage Concorde members to say they have arrived.
15th October 8.30 am
Breakfast is good and we all sit around one table and discuss Concorde things, we are collected at 10.30 by the kind volunteers of the F-WTSA Athis-Mons museum, we arrive after a 1 hour car journey to see F-WTSA in all his glory, after introductions we go to the aircraft and get a guided tour.
Paris Visit - Heritage Concorde
F-WTSA is the brother of G-AXDN so the 4th Concorde to be constructed, this important airframe is as close to the production standard as any of the previous airframes were, he was fitted with the smoke free Olympus engines used in the Production aircraft and had the longer tail cone, in addition he had the new thrust reverse buckets. Unlike the other Prototype and pre-production aircraft F-WTSA was not immediately retired to a museum, Air France stripped most of the interior out of the aircraft and mocked up the interior of a production aircraft inside, the cockpit was completely stripped of instruments and one entire section of equipment racking was removed (the LHS).
It is sad to see such an important aircraft in this modified state but the various volunteer groups that have looked after the aircraft in the past have restored what they can and this is evident when you see him.
Externally the aircraft looks OK he has been outside since retirement, he could do with a clean and he has some paint peeling to the underside, where paint has failed he has been treated with anti corrosion paint then painted in white in those places. The landing gear and gear bays have been completely painted in anti corrosion paint. I saw no serious corrosion or holes in the fuselage (and I was looking closely). Axles are on axle stands that are firmly fixed to the ground tyres are in used condition but no worse than I have seen elsewhere.
One visor panel is shattered but museum volunteers do have a replacement production panel, we will share any information with Orly about replacement of the panel because we have already done the job on G-BOAC back in 2011.
There is water ingress to the outer wing joints, this is a common problem and Brooklands museum will share information on what to use on the joints to prevent water from penetrating the joints, some sort of waterproof malliable sealent is required. At the moment the outer wing joint covers are removed for the protection work to be carried out, these will be replaced and sealed once the work is complete. Ideally the underside and wings of the aircraft would be re painted in the future.
Other than these small issues I saw no other problems externally. Despite being outside it is apparent that the aircraft condition is reasonable.
We continue the tour to the interior, the volunteers are keen to show off their aircraft, a sense of pride is in the air. On walking up the stairs I am greeted with the interior, clearly a lot of work is required here, as mentioned above the entire interior was stripped by Air France once F-WTSA had done his job, not much remains of the original fittings the odd bit is recognisable, the first thing I see is the interphone system still in place, not much else is left. I am constantly comparing this aircraft with AXDN at Duxford. The Left hand side equipment racking is completely missing, it's strange to not have to walk through the tunnel to reach the cockpit but there is pleanty of room on entering the aircraft.
I walk to the cockpit, it is great to see any Concorde cockpit, especially one that is pre production, it seems like home, the more I look the more I see missing instruments, some have been replaced with dummies others are photo's some are just completely missing. I am told that when the aircraft arrived just one instrument remained in the cockpit and it is a testiment to all the groups that have looked after WTSA that the cockpit looks as good as it does today, it's a mammoth task to replace so many missing parts and what has been replaced has been done reasonably well. I am keen to help this group of voluteers with the task so I will take extremely detailed pictures of the Cockpit on AXDN next time we visit to help with the restoration of WTSA.
Once I have taken many images of the cockpit I move back to the fwd cabin, the cabin has been fitted with false toilets, luggage bins and has some seats fitted. The seats are not Concorde original specification but they are similar to ones fitted to G-AXDN, the original Brown presidential leather interior from this aircraft was removed and fitted to 201 upon retirement of WTSA.
I take a close look at the windows and I am told that water is ingressing in between the outer and inner panes on some window units, some of the windows are stained with a water line but are empty, the volunteers are aware of the problem and will come up with a permanent solution soon, for the meantime the windows are drained as the problem occurs.
On the face of it the Fwd cabin is in good condition, the floor is carpeted and the original wall panels still exist, these have been painted in the past, originally this Fwd cabin would have been full of test equipment and I find it sad that nothing remains now.
You can see from the photo's the aircraft actually looks quite good but only the wall panels are original.
On to the rear cabin, again this is carpeted but does not have seats fitted, there are display boards that show the history of Concorde and of each airframe, it is my opinion that something more could be made of this cabin, however the display is clean and informative. Originally luxurious leather seats lined this cabin, luggage bins would have been beige leather and tables between fwd and rear facing seats in some rows.
We take this opportunity to take a group photo, this image is of all the visitors that went on the trip.
10 visitors, 3 from Heritage Concorde, 2 from DAS, 3 from Brooklands Museum and 2 from Manchester
It's lunch time so we retire to the new museum building for something to eat, the mayor of the town is attending, I have to say the buffet was delicious, all local food and wine to boot.
We are introduced to the mayor of the town and she presents a speech to us, Brooklands Museum have brought 14 cockpit instruments for use in the restoration of F-WTSA, they are presented by James Cullingham who makes a short speech. The instruments are tightly wrapped in bubble wrap for the journey over, It's like Christmas! Before long there is bubble wrap everywhere, French volunteers are getting emotional such is the passion for the aircraft, the instruments are gratefully recieved and are held close for quite some time.
Above; Bubble wrapped instruments loaned by Brooklands museum, it's like Christmas for the volunteers
Right; Brooklands the Mayor and the Concorde volunteers.
Above you can see the instruments that are much needed for the restoration of this important aircraft
Left; Smiling faces with hands clutching instruments.
The food is eaten and we raise a glass to the future of the new museum and to good relations between all groups.
The chairman of Duxford Aviation Society (David Garside) has produced a speech in French for the occasion, David is not fluent in French but he has done a brilliant job compiling it, needless to say we are not thrown out so it must have been good!
Having had our lunch it's back to the aircraft, the volunteers allow us onto the wing of WTSA, we take some photo's and before we know it instruments are appearing inside the aircraft to be fitted. The brooklands guys are helping Athes-Mons volunteers to fit some of the instruments, for the time being they are fitted where they will go, the panels will need completely stripping out and re doing in the correct order once detailed photo's are obtained for Duxford of the layout on G-AXDN.
We spend the rest of the afternoon discussing various subjects all about Concorde, and the time passes quickly, it's not long before it's time to go. We have a coffee and leave for the hotel. It has been a fantastic day we have made some good friends and so far the visit has been a complete success.
I hope all the groups involved with the visit will continue to help each other in a very positive and mutually beneficial way.
We are driven back to the hotel by the kind museum volunteers. I would like to personally thank them for their hospitality on the day, it has been excellent!
We go out for an evening meal, it's Chinese this time. All tired we go back to the hotel for a good nights rest, what will the next day be like?
16th October 8.30 am
It's breakfast time again, I have red sausage and rubber scrambled egg on toast, we have all gathered around one table and discuss yesterdays visit, many ideas are discussed to help our new found friends at Athes-Mons.
Following breakfast we all commune in the lobby of the hotel and make our way to the museum which is a very short walk up the road.
We meet Laurent Dupessey (restoration engineer) at the main entrance, Brooklands want to take some measurements off BTSD for the sim so they are whisked off straight to the aircraft, we plan to meet up again at 1.30 so we spend the rest of the time in the museum. It's the story of aviation from the first flying craft right through to space exploration. Fantastic!
Dotted around the museum are various flight simulator displays which can be used by visitors (quite a good idea!) some of the displays are interactive and involve visitors, again this makes it more interesting. The museum is based in the old Le-Bourget terminal building which is art deco style, an excellent backdrop for these sort of displays.
We have lunch then it's off to the Concorde hall for the exciting bit, two Concorde in one Hall!
F-BTSD (production) is the only semi live Concorde in the world, on retirement he was decomissioned like the other aircraft but the hydraulic systems were left in an operating state, Yellow and Blue systems were not required so are not maintained but Green system is fully maintained, this means the nose and flight surfaces are operational for demonstration purposes. It's a credit to the team that look after him that we have at least one semi live Concorde in the world today.
F-WTSS is the first Concorde prototype and is preserved in the hall, this aircraft was the first Concorde to fly and is the brother to G-BSST in Yeovilton UK.
We spend some time meeting the team we get on great, we have a walk around the two aircraft and then it's off to the live Concorde Cockpit of BTSD, I am the first in to the cockpit and it's fantastic to see so many systems working, I sit in the Supernumerary seat behind the Pilots seat and take the view in. WOW!
Engineer Alex Jolivet runs the nose through one full cycle while I am in the Cockpit, something I have seen many times before on G-AXDN. Somehow it is slightly different being in a truly live cockpit though. I notice the speed of the visor is similar to G-AXDN but the 5 Degree up selection is faster, this is something we are aware of on
G-AXDN and we will solve the issue in the coming months.
F-BTSD has more systems alive than is possible with G-AXDN, only the fuel and two hydraulic systems are deactivated on F-BTSD.
We really must try harder on
Alex takes the camera off me and takes this fantastic shot of the engineers panel (right), Two other engineers are using the lights test buttons to illuminate the whole panel, this is possible to do on G-AXDN but in a semi live cockpit it's still a sight to see. I really must get this same shot at Duxford.
There is now a queue of 10 other people forming at the entrance of the cockpit, it seems I have hogged the best position so I leave and walk though the cabin of the aircraft. Some of the seats have been removed for displays but the rear cabin seems complete. I exit and take position for the nose and flight surfaces move.
Here you can see the video of the nose move along with some footage of the flightdeck and control surfaces.
Once the nose move is complete the aircraft is powered down, the flight surfaces drop as seen in most other museums, it's a sad sight to see but reassuring to know at least one of the aircraft will be maintained in a semi live state.
The time has flown so we take a second group photo, I have not met the Le Bouget team before, we speak almost on a daily basis but to meet this group is fantastic they are very like us and we have a lot in common, most of all this great aircraft.
The photo above was taken by James Cullingham of Brooklands museum.
We have some time left so we walk back through both aircraft, F-WTSS is in good shape and clearly is looked after well.
It is the end of our visit and people say their goodbye's I am staying in the hotel for one more night so go back have dinner and a good sleep, I catch my aircraft at 10am from Charles De Gaulle and return to Liverpool.
What a visit!
Orly (Athes-Mons) F-WTSA is worth a visit, you will get a warm and personal welcome from an enthusiastic group of volunteers who clearly love their aircraft, the entrance fee of three euros is good value for money and as the museum develops it can only get better.
Athes-Mons will need to develop other income from visitors, perhaps by selling locally produced food (which is delicious) and drinks to visitors. Perhaps in the future a local community area could be constructed for viewing aircraft at the local Orly airport similar to Manchester. The addition of somewhere outside to sit and eat could be good for the summer months.
You will definitely get a warm and enthusiastic welcome here
F-BTSD and F-WTSS this museum is set up for visitors, both aircraft are open to the public for a fee of 8 euros, the museum is free entry. You will see both a Prototype and a Production aircraft here, both are in excellent condition. The personal attention will not be as present as at Orly but it is well worth the visit.