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British Airways - Project Rocket
In 1999 British Airways realised that not only were their fleet of seven Concordes very profitable, but that they had over a decade of airworthiness still ahead of them. But the interior look of these astonishing aircraft was starting to age, unlike the exterior, which still looked like something from the future. So British Airways went ahead and commissioned the London based agency “Factory design” to improve the passenger cabin of there seven Concordes, and with it the experience of flying in the Worlds only commercial supersonic passenger aircraft. This passenger cabin upgrade became known as “Project Rocket”, the main reason for this was that within British Airways, Concorde had become known as the “Rocket”.
British Airways considered this to be the final upgrade for their Concorde Fleet, an upgrade that would have to last until the end of Concorde passenger operations, which at the time was viewed to be around 2012-2015. The brief that BA gave “Factory Design” was that this upgrade should have the British Airways theme running through the design.
Working with Terence Conran, Factory design quickly established passenger profiles and behavioral patterns for Concorde’s loyal customers, as well as recognising the importance of ‘once-in-a-life-timers’ who would save for years to fly Concorde.
To elevate the experience of flying British Airways Concorde, “Factory design” undertook the innovative redesign of a contemporary aircraft interior, which included new galleys, lavatories (which they renamed bathrooms), and of course new seating, which would elevate the overall ambience of the cabin interior. There was also to be a newly designed Mach meter and passenger information display, surrounded by new leather to match the new seats. The newly renamed Bathrooms were to be based on the feel of a very up-market hotel, instead of the normal aircraft feel typical of all aircraft toilets.
A final touch to the passenger cabin upgrade was to be a wave of blue light. This would run along the passenger cabin ceiling from the front to the rear in a matter of a few seconds, as the aircraft went through the sound barrier. When you think about this blue light wave, it becomes quite funny really, as the engineers that designed and built Concorde, worked so hard to design it to go through the sound barrier unnoticed by the passengers. The old announcements made by the crew during the flight was as follows “Ladies and Gentlemen we have just gone through the sound barrier Mack one, no bumps, no bangs, Concorde”, and now in the 21st century Concorde was to have a blue light wave to inform the passengers of this event.
The brand ambition was established simply as ‘to bring the elegance of the outside of the aircraft inside’ and it would of looked amazing.
So what happened to the British Airways “Project Rocket” passenger cabin upgrades?
Due to the grounding of both the BA and Air France Concorde Fleets following the Paris crash on 25th July 2000, British Airways brought forward the “Project Rocket” upgrades.
BA removed all the old carpets and replaced them with the new ones, all the dado panels on the wall linings were repainted in a dark blue, then the new “Project Rocket” seats were fitted to the aircraft, starting with Concorde G-BOAF, which is now based at Filton, Bristol.
The seats and carpets became the only part of the redesign to actually be fitted to the aircraft. This was in some part mainly due to the rapid return to service during 2001, as BA had expected the post Paris crash modifications to take a while longer than they actually did. Following this return to service, the plan was developed to complete the upgrades during the upcoming aircraft “D” checks, which would also consist of the re-life extension refits of the aircraft which would allow the airframes to fly onto 2012/2015.
The new seating and carpets were only fitted to five of the fleet of seven BA Concordes, these aircraft were G-BOAC, G-BOAD, G-BOAE, G-BOAF and G-BOAG, the plan was to fit the upgrades along with the post Paris modifications to Concorde G-BOAB and return her to flight status, but during this time up until 2003, it was intended to keep Alpha Bravo grounded and used her as a test bed for the rest of “Project Rocket”, the toilets and galleys. Had the whole Concorde fleet not been grounded in 2003, Concorde G-BOAB would have been the first Concorde to fly with the whole complete “Project Rocket” upgrade. As for G-BOAA, there were never any plans to restore Concorde G-BOAA to flight status; this aircraft was to be used a source of spares for the rest of the fleet, so she would never have received the “Project Rocket” upgrades.
BA needed to return Concorde G-BOAB to flight status, but there wasn’t an urgent need for this aircraft to return to the day to day commercial operations following the post Paris crash return to flight.
So they the chose to use the aircraft to test fit the difficult parts of the “Project Rocket” upgrades the new vacuum new toilets now known as bathrooms, the new galleys, the new cabin info displays and the amazing blue light wave.
The New Seats
The “Project Rocket” seats were constructed in carbon fibre, titanium, aluminium and covered in ink-blue Connolly leather and fabric, with a cradle mechanism, footrest and contoured headrest that were designed to give more comfort and support to the Concorde passengers. The design was inspired by the classic Charles & Ray Eames chairs, and used new technology and materials. The introduction of single monocoque carbon fibre seat backs and bases that meant that the seat reclined around a single pivot point, created a lighter seat that was 20% lighter. BA hoped this would lead to almost £1 million a year in fuel saving efficiencies. The new seats were manufactured by Britax-Contour Aircraft Interior Systems, and these seats cost a staggering £14,000 a pair, with 50 pairs per aircraft, that’s a total cost of £700,000 for each of the five Concordes.
The new toilets or Bathrooms and part of the new galleys were fitted to Concorde G-BOAB. British Airways actually tested the new vacuum toilets with dog food, and ‘the suckers’ worked as required. These would have been the first vacuum toilets fitted to Concorde, the olds ones that remained in the aircraft until 2003 had a quite a few problems, and tended to create smells.
The New Toilets / Bathrooms
Blue Wave Lighting
Although the Marketing and the usual ‘Emperors New Clothes’ brigade thought that this was be wonderful, most of the engineers at BA, thought that this was really quite a silly idea and would end up being a total annoyance to most of the regular Concorde passengers. The idea was that at Mach 1 a battery of blue lights would wash a single pulse from the rear to the front of the cabin. At Mach 2 you would get a double whammy blue light show to help ruin your concentration.
New Mach Meter and Cabin info displays
ABOVE: The New “Project Rocket” Passenger Cabin Info display
These new display ‘improvements’ to be embodied in ‘project rocket’ were in fact pretty unreadable, and not as good as the ones that they were meant to replace. They like the previous ones were manufactured by Marilake Instruments.
The End for “Project Rocket”
During the late summer /autumn of 2002, the difficult parts of “Project Rocket” proved to be a tough task, the new galleys were overweight, the toilet installations, always tricky with such limited space, was even more problematic than thought.
The whole ‘Project Rocket’ had also been de-railed by the Paris crash, and the following grounding of both fleets, then of course with the return to flight work packages/ modifications. In the end, the engineering manpower was needed from G-BOAB for the day to day operations, the “Project Rocket” manufacturers clearly had some more work to do, so in late 2002, all work on the upgrade fittings to G-BOAB was suspended, leaving the interior of this aircraft in a mess.
The rest of the upgrades were never fitted to the fleet due to the end of Concorde operations in October 2003.