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Why the Concorde is an engineering masterpiece

Why the Concorde is an engineering masterpiece

On March 2, 1969, the legendary Concorde took to the skies for the first time.

It instantly became an icon of design and had a performance that was way ahead of its time.

So, how fast was the Concorde? With a take-off speed of 250 mph (400 km/h) and a cruising speed of 1350 mph (2,175 km/h, roughly twice that of standard passenger jets today), it could fly from London to New York in just under three and a half hours instead of eight hours (which was standard at the time).

The Concorde on its first flight, flying over Paris, 1969. Image credit: Photos Airbus Heritage France

In the past, the LEGO® Icons line has celebrated some of the most impressive wonders from the world of engineering, and we felt it was high time we welcomed the world’s most famous passenger plane into the club.

So, as the LEGO Icons Concorde set prepares for take-off, we talked to Senior Designer Milan Madge about what makes it so unique.

Engineered for speed

“Concorde is a special aircraft for many reasons,” says Milan. Even if you’re not aware of the engineering, you know the sleek, flowing silhouette that is just instantly recognizable. It’s a design icon.”

Despite its unique look, the Concorde’s original design was for function, not form. And the function the original engineers were going for was essentially one thing: speed.

“The powerhouse of the aircraft are four enormous Olympus engines mounted underneath the wings,” continues Milan. “They are captured in the LEGO set with all the different air intakes and exhausts.”

The view of the intake on Concorde 212, taken in 1977. Image credit: Photos Airbus Heritage France

Then, to get to supersonic speed, you need something incredibly streamlined. And, to be able to land such a streamlined aircraft, the droop nose came in.

Recreating an icon

Milan explains that even the droop nose feature was a functional decision.

“The issue is that when you’re coming into land, the pilots can’t see the runway because the nose is so long and the angle of approach is steep. This is where the droop nose came from.”

A Concorde flight test in November 1970 where you can see the droop nose. Image credit: Photos Airbus Heritage France

And, of course, you can’t talk about Concorde without talking about the wings.

The shape is called a Delta wing from the Greek letter Delta (Δ).

“The wing is something we spent a lot of time on,” says Milan. “The whole midsection of the aircraft is built sideways, so the brick studs are not in their usual orientation. That allowed us to create a strong wing, and it also allowed us to get a smooth underside to the LEGO model.”

This is important because this model has a display stand that renders the underside visible.

And almost as exacting as the engineers on the actual Concorde, Milan and the team paid attention to every part of the set, including the stand.

“We wanted the stand to enhance the idea that Concorde was weightless. So we created a thin stand with a subtle curve in it, and a print in a new format that looks like an etched brass plate.”

Integrating the landing gear was another challenge, due to the thinness of the wing.

“We wanted the model to have landing gear, but the landing gear was thicker than the wing.”

Fortunately, Milan’s experience, including designing another engineering wonder, the LEGO NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, came in handy.

“The experience on the Space Shuttle helped a lot. On the Concorde, we wanted to make a gearbox that would allow us to drop and raise the gear simultaneously.”

To do this, Milan and the team had to create a mechanism that stretched almost the full 41.5 inches of the set that would lower the three sets of landing gear at different speeds, all housed in the very narrow fuselage, without getting in the way of the interior.

The LEGO Icons Concorde interior
A glimpse inside the real Concorde. Image credit: Photos Airbus Heritage France

When we asked Milan how they did it, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“With great difficulty!”

We won’t spoil any more, as this build has to be made to be believed. The sheer size of it, measuring 41.5 in. (105 cm) long and 17 in. (43 cm) wide, says it all. In fact, it’s so technical that we had to add the LEGO Icons Concorde to our list of the most challenging builds for adults…

Speeding into your LEGO® collection

Milan and his team went through dozens of iterations of the model, often with the help and support of the Airbus Heritage team who have access to all the Concorde archives.

Together, they’ve crafted a precise model that includes the tiltable droop nose, functioning landing gear, retractable tail bumper wheel and delta wings with movable elevons or hinged upper and lower rudders.

Whether you’re a fan of the Concorde or just love good design, this supersonic new set is a must.

©Airbus Operations SAS 2023 

AIRBUS and CONCORDE are registered trademarks of Airbus. They shall not be used without Airbus’ prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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