MIAMI – Road trips are great. There’s nothing like jumping into the car, getting out of town, and seeing the wonders of the world – leaving your cares and worries behind and having experiences that will make for great stories to tell when you get back home.
In this chaotic, messed-up start of 2021, wouldn’t it be awesome to combine the joys of road tripping, indeed an American tradition, with seeing some of aviation’s greatest achievements?
Most fans of commercial aircraft would agree that one of the high points of aviation history was the advent of Concorde. From its first flight in March 1969 to its sad demise in 2003, the mere opportunity to simply lay eyes on one of the supersonic beauties was cause for excitement.
I remember flying into JFK many years ago on a discount TWA ticket and seeing a British Airways (BA) Concorde parked at its gate less than a fifty yards away. Half of the roll of film I had bought to shoot the marvels of NYC was consumed by through-the-dirty-DC-9-window shots of the delta-winged jet. Even in the gritty, gray, dingy environment of that airport’s tarmac, Concorde was as beautiful as any magazine cover girl.
But what about today? Seventeen years after its decommissioning, where can one seek out the beauty of Concorde? Well, that’s where the road trip comes in.
Though Concorde was a British-French joint effort with most hulls currently housed in Europe, those of us in North America are still in luck. There are three examples of the type displayed on this side of the Atlantic, although for most folks it will be a long trip. But the longer the drive, the more stories we’ll have to tell when we get back home, right?
So, let’s pack our bags, gas up the car, and hit the road!
Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, New York City
The first example we’ll visit is housed at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, not far from where the bird operated at JFK. The museum is located on the Hudson River close to the Lincoln Tunnel and only a mile plus upstream from where Sully got his Airbus wet.
On display is serial number 210, BA registration number G-BOAD that entered service just after the Bicentennial on July 9, 1976 and was decommissioned on June 27, 2003 after 23,397 flying hours. In 1996, it made the fastest trans-Atlantic crossing of any Concorde by flying across the pond in only 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds.
In addition to Concorde, you can see what other folks might consider to be the prime attractions of the site: the aircraft carrier Intrepid which served in World War II and Vietnam; the prototype space shuttle Enterprise; and the once top-secret submarine Growler, the only guided missile submarine that is open to the public.
Our girl sits outside on Pier 56 and can be accessed via daily guided tours. (Temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.)
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly
Next, we travel down I-95 a few hours to the mecca of aviation in the United States, if not the world: The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, located at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC.
Displayed is serial number 205, Air France registration number F-BVFA which flew from October 27, 1975 through June 3, 2003. This plane was used by Braniff International Airways for its subsonic Concorde service from DFW to IAD from January 1979 to May 1980 when it was sold back to Air France. It recorded 17,824 hours of supersonic flight.
The sheer number of artifacts displayed at this site is mind-boggling. From the Space Shuttle Discovery (yawn) to the AC-35 flying car, and a Boeing 307 Stratoliner to a Cessna 152, there is enough within the hangars of the museum to captivate any aviation fan for a day – or more.
Add to that the IMAX theater, special exhibits throughout the year, and, perhaps most importantly, free admission, a visit to Udvar-Hazy will be a high-water mark of our road trip. And don’t forget the ability to simply sit and watch aircraft operations at this busy international hub.)
The Museum of Flight, Seattle
The last stop on our North American road trip requires a long cross-country drive. (Better stories, remember?) And it’s the only location for Concorde spotting on the left side of the continent. Serial number 214, British Air registration number G-BOAG, is located at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
This example first flew on April 21, 1978 and touched down for the last time on May 11, 2003 with 16,239 hours of supersonic time. This is the aircraft that flew the last ever Concorde passenger service from JFK to LHR, with special permission from Canada to fly at supersonic speed over land.
Billed as the largest independent non-profit air and space museum in the world, the Museum of Flight is located at King County International Airport/Boeing Field – ground zero for fans of American commercial aviation.
From the Boeing 80A-1 which carried mail, to a 787 Dreamliner, one can view the entire scope of Boeing’s contribution to aviation – along with much, much more. Originally displayed outside exposed to the rough Seattle weather, Concorde is now safely enclosed and preserved within the Aviation pavilion.
And so now we head home from our road trip having witnessed the three Concorde beauties in North America along with a lot of other cool, top-notch aviation and space exhibits. And, hopefully, have some great stories to tell as well.
Featured image: Concorde 210 at Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum, New York City. Photo: Roland Rimoczi/Airways