Ground tests on an Air France Concorde are scheduled to start Thursday at Istres, near Marseilles, after French aviation authorities earlier gave the jet clearance to fly to the testing ground.
Air France said the two weeks of testing, to be carried out by European aerospace group EADS, would consist of simulating fuel leaks from the underside of Concorde, using a colored liquid to see the direction of the flows.
"The observations will allow us to analyze the efficiency of the planned modifications," Air France's chief operating officer Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told a news conference.
Air France refused to be drawn on when the plane might be ready to take on passengers again. "It is much too soon to say if flights will resume or when they might resume. It is for the authorities to decide," Gourgeon said.
However, in a sign that Air France believed it might soon get the go-ahead, Gourgeon said the carrier was reactivating its Concorde ground and air crews in preparation for full service.
The flight to Istres, AF 370V, is schedule to leave CDG at 12:30 Local time 11:30 GMT and arrive in the South of France an hour later.
Air France Concorde , F-BVFB, took off with a deafening roar Thursday and flew to southern France to begin tests aimed at returning the supersonic flee to commercial service.
The aircraft took to the air more than a half-hour after its scheduled departure time and arrived 50 minutes later at a military base in Istres, near Marseille, where the tests will take place. The plane, piloted by an Air France team, carried no passengers and flew at subsonic speed.
A half-dozen fire trucks and at least one ambulance stood by at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport before the plane took off and disappeared into a sky thick with fog.
The flight came almost six months after another Air France Concorde, spewing flames, plunged into a hotel minutes after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle. The July 25 crash killed all 109 people on board and four on the ground.
Dozens of Concorde enthusiasts lined a fence near the runway. While readying the aircraft for takeoff, the pilot, Edgard Chillaud, leaned from the cockpit window holding a video camera and waved to the onlookers, who had plastered a banner reading ``Concorde, We Love You,'' against the runway fence.
British Airways said this week that if tests were successful the supersonic jets might return to the skies by this spring. However, Air France President Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said Wednesday that it was still too early to set a time frame.
Investigators believe the crash occurred after a metal strip lying on the runway gashed one of the Concorde's tires, sending rubber debris hurtling toward fuel tanks and triggering a fuel leak and fire. France's civil aviation authority, which authorized Thursday's brief flight, set conditions for the takeoff that included a ``detailed inspection of the runway and taxi areas.''
In Istres, where the aircraft landed after the 50 minute flight, technicians from the plane's manufacturer, EADS Airbus, are to conduct 15 days of high-speed ground tests on the aircraft that simulate fuel leaks. The tests are intended to help the plane's owner and manufacturer better understand the chain of events that led to last year's crash.
The Test being conducted on an Air France Concorde at the of military base of Istres since January 18 are now complete, sources at the base said Thursday. " All followed its normal course ", indicated a spokesman of the Flight test centre (CEV) of Istres. A test official in Istres said the plane had been subjected to "between one and three tests a day" and "all the tests went off without a hitch".
The tests involved simulating fuel leaks from the wings as the plane travelled at high speed down the tarmac at Istres, which boasts the longest runway in Europe, five kilometres (3.2 miles) long. The aim, according to the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS) carrying out the tests, is to show that a small-scale leak is not likely to lead to another disaster.
The July crash is believed to have been caused by debris from a burst tyre rupturing a fuel tank in the left wing during take-off.
The French tests are the counterpart to air trials planned in the spring by British Airways on a Concorde modified with fuel tanks reinforced by a layer of Kevlar, the material used in flak jackets. Results of both programmes are to be pooled and then put to authorities in France and Britain who will then decide if the Concorde can fly again -- something the French government has said it expects to see later this year.
The results of these tests could be decisive for the future of supersonic fleet, six months after the catastrophe of Gonesse which had cost the life to 113 people. The rolling tests, carried out on the track of 5 kilometers, one of the longest as Europe according to the army, were used to locate the path taken by fuel leakages at the time of the takeoff of the plane. Coloured water leakages, hundred times lower in flow rate than that of accident, were caused in order to determine, with precision, the way in which the fuel is escaped tank and ignited before the crash.
The Aircraft had been fitted with hundreds of sensors and the cabin interior was void of the usual seating to accommodate the flight test equipment. If the results are satisfactory and prove positive in determining the results of the accidetn enquiry, this will open up the door the the British Airways flight test programme , which is expected to start in April.
The picture shows yellow coloured water streaming from under the wing and into the engine intake.
Concorde, F-BVFB, which was used for the fuel tank leak test at Istres returned to Roissy Airport, Pairs, on Saturday 3rd Feb 2001 at 15:10GMT. `takeoff from the military air base at Istres occured around 14:30GMT.
The crew for the return flight was comprised of five people: