MIAMI — Forty years ago, the experience of air travel reached new levels of luxury and speed. The Concorde, the supersonic jet, entered into commercial service with Air France and British Airways, starting a career that lasted 27 years.
January 21, 1976: The Beginning on an Era
Initially, as the Concorde was denied landing rights into the US due to environmental concerns and noise abatement protests, Air France opted to start service from Paris to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar, while British Airways inaugurated the Concorde service from London to Bahrain, both flights took place on January 21, 1976.
Despite the protests, the Concorde finally made its way into the United States and on May 24, 1976, both carriers began their first scheduled service to Washington D.C. The ban to New York continued until November 1977, when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to overturn a lower court’s ruling rejecting efforts by the Port Authority and a campaign led by politician Carol Berman to continue the ban. First flight to JFK Airport took place on November 22.
According to British Airways a typical London to New York crossing would take a little less than three and a half hours as opposed to about eight hours for a subsonic flight. The record for the fastest supersonic flight across the Atlantic by a civil aircraft is hold by Captain Leslie Scott and his crew, who on February 7, 1996, set the record at 2:52:59.
Between 1979 and 1980, Braniff operated thru-plane service from Dallas/Ft. Worth to London and Paris using the Concordes belonging to Air France and British Airways. The aircraft would fly subsonic from DFW to Washington Dulles before continuing onto Europe at Mach 2. The service, largely a publicity gimmick, was discontinued in mid 1980 as Braniff’s fortunes began to crumble. The Concorde was never painted in Braniff colors, though it was operated by company cabin crews. Singapore Airlines also operated a similar service in conjunction with British Airways for a short time as well.
Nevertheless, only 20 Concordes were built after the British and French governments joined together to develop the plane in the 1960s. The airline industry began to experience economic woes, partly due to the cost of fuel, and the appeal of the Concorde began to fade. A tragic crash in 2000 and the turbulent post 9/11 environment prompted to both operatores to retire the aircraft.
On 24 October 2003, British Airways withdrew the Concorde, bringing to a close the world’s only supersonic passenger service. The final scheduled commercial flight was BA002 from JFK operated by G-BOAG. BA’s fleet of seven aircraft were subsequently dispersed for preservation at Barbados (AE), Edinburgh (AA), Filton (AF), Manchester (AC), New York (AD) and Seattle (AG) with one (AB) remaining at Heathrow. It is estimated that more than one million people have visited them over the past 12 years.
Facts and Stats
- The Concorde was a joint program undertaken by the British and French governments. It was designed and built jointly by the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale, and successfully completed her first supersonic flight on October 1, 1969;
- Concordes flew up to 11 miles high at the edge of space in the layers between the stratosphere and the ionosphere where the curvature of the earth could be seen;
- Due to the intense heat of the airframe, Concorde could stretch anywhere from six to 10 inches during flight. Every surface, even the windows, was warm to the touch by the end of the flight;
- As well as passengers, Concorde was sometimes used to transport human organs, diamonds and currency. Interestingly, plates to print The Economist weekly magazine in the United States, were also transported via Concorde, before that information could be transmitted via satellite.
- The menu on British Airways’ first commercial flight included: Champagne Dom Perignon 1969, caviar and lobster canapes, grilled fillet steak, palm heart salad with Roquefort dressing and fresh strawberries with double cream. Customers were also offered Havana cigars;
- James Callaghan was the first British premier to go supersonic when he went to see President Carter in Washington, to negotiate landing rights for the aircraft in the US.
A Personal Tribute
Ahead of the 40th anniversary of Concorde’s first commercial flight, Captain Leslie Scott, former pilot of the world’s most iconic passenger jet, visited the New York-based British Airways Concorde (Alpha Delta – pictured) at Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum with some former colleagues.
Following his walk-around, Captain Scott said: “I was delighted to visit Concorde again and share stories with the guys, all of whom I worked with at JFK. The Intrepid Museum is maintaining her really well, she’s looking good, even after 40 years! I’m really pleased customers still visit her and discover what a remarkable aircraft Concorde is”.
While the retirement of Concorde was a sad day for all aviation enthusiasts, the aircraft has left a lasting legacy. Not only can she still be visited, and admired, but the many advances that first allowed Concorde to fly have since found their way onto today’s aircraft. Concorde pioneered the use the use of composite materials, which now are the standard in modern airliners such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350, and its high-pressure hydraulics, have been adapted for use in the world’s largest passenger aircraft: the Airbus A380.