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The Concorde crash

Until July 25, 2000, the supersonic Concorde was aviation’s star in safety as well as speed. Before its first flight, its engineers tested it longer-for 5,000 hours-than any other plane in history; in 26 years and tens of millions of kilometers of transatlantic flights, the Concorde fleet had suffered not a single fatality. But for all its superb structural, aerodynamic and propulsion design, the Concorde bore a fatal combination of lower-tech flaws-proving the adage that it’s the little things that’ll get you. Its high takeoff speeds wore hard on its tires, which would often blow out despite being changed five times as often as those on an ordinary jet. And the fuel tanks in its wings were not strongly reinforced against impact, a precaution standard in newer planes.

It took just one more little mishap to make a disaster: a titanium “wear strip” fell off a Continental DC-10 in the path of an Air France Concorde leaving Paris. When the Concorde’s tire hit the strip, a chunk of rubber tore off and smashed into the wing, punching a 600-square-centimeter hole in its skin and causing fuel to leak and ignite. The resulting crash killed all 109 people aboard the flight, as well as four on the ground. Air France and British Airways subsequently installed new tires tested to repel titanium strips at speeds up to 403 kilometers an hour, as well as undercarriage reinforcements and bulletproof tank liners to prevent similar fuel leaks. One arguably foreseeable accident source had, belatedly, been eliminated.

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