This study of the Anglo-French supersonic transport (SST) Concorde focuses on its relationship with the United States. Kenneth Owen outlines early attempts to recruit American participation in the ambitious and very expensive effort to build a passenger airliner that could cruise at speeds of Mach 2. The author also discusses aborted American plans to build a competing SST during the 1960s; the attempts by American diplomatic and intelligence agencies to monitor, and even derail, the Concorde; and, the politics of winning U.S. airworthiness and "ear-worthiness" certification during the 1970s. .
The Concorde is a spectacular and reliable aircraft, but makes "economic nonsense" (p. 5). As Owen notes, its history presents "an outstanding example of how not to develop and build a supersonic airliner-or any other high-technology product" (p. 171). The billions of French francs and British pounds poured into the Concorde were commercially futile. Owen shows, however, that the dreams of thousands of SST airliners circling the globe figured only tangentially in the Concorde's momentum. British "pride," French "resolve," and coping with "U.S. competition" were the main impulses. Technological striving among large and influential constituencies of designers, engineers, and manufacturers also propelled the Concorde along. The supersonic future of civil aeronautics seemed inevitable once subsonic jetliners emerged in the late 1950s. SST also seemed a benign, non-military "technology engine," with wide civilian applications and spinoffs. Owen shares the assumptions and hopes for a "supersonic successor to the magnificent flying machine that is Concorde" (p. xi). The latter third of his book traces efforts by government and industry in America, Europe, and Japan during the 1980s and 1990s to produce an environmentally friendly and economically successful SST, and to probe the relative outcomes of multi-billion dollar investment in developing either very fast SSTs, or very large (upwards of 800 passengers) subsonic airliners.