DALLAS – Today in Aviation, two Concorde supersonic airliners landed at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) in 1976. The Concorde in British Airways (BA) colors and the other in Air France (AF) colors would be the first scheduled service SSTs to visit the US.
The arrival of the two inbound flights at IAD was a huge deal. Thousands of people had gathered to await the arrivals. Concorde had finally arrived in America, despite widespread opposition and heated debate. Both BA and AF began frequent supersonic transatlantic flights, ushering in a new era in passenger air travel.
At the time, obtaining permission to fly Concorde into American airspace was not a simple task; not since 1973, until William E. Coleman, Jr., Secretary of Transportation gave official approval for four daily flights into New York’s JFK and IAD on a 16-month trial basis.
Secretary Coleman imposed a variety of conditions in granting approval, including flying only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., keeping the flights subsonic over US soil, and using both London Heathrow (LHR) and Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airports for departures to ensure that citizens of London and Paris were subjected to the same level of noise as Americans would.
Because of strong resistance from the governors of New York and New Jersey, the flight to IAD came ahead of what should have been a natural inaugural transatlantic flight into New York. As reported by the Washington Post on February 5, 1976, however, there were some very vocal opponents in Congress regarding the IAD landings.
The WP reads, “a move is being made this morning in the Senate Commerce Committee to attach to an airport financing bill an amendment to ban Concorde flights permanently into the United States. The House last year prohibited the flights from Kennedy.”
In addition, Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) introduced a bill that would refuse all federal funding to any airport that requires the Concorde to land on a daily commercial basis. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin), who was leading the fight against the plane in the Senate, said he would introduce legislation to reverse Mr. Coleman’s decision.
The Day of the Landings
While scheduled flights between Asia, Europe, and South America had started earlier that year, in the US, people opposed the aircraft’s seismic booms, demonstrations that halted Concorde landings. However, the ban didn’t last long, and on February 4, 1976, US Secretary of Transportation William Coleman authorized the scheduled Concorde flights into IAD.
Resistance persisted until the day before the planned flights but Fairfax County officials went all the way to the Supreme Court, pleading with Justice Warren E. Burger to stay the Secretary of Transportation’s order for the flights into IAD. And so, the two Concordes, one from Paris and the other from London, flew west at twice the speed of sound and landed at IAD within three minutes of each other.
The airlines had become the first supersonic airlines to arrive in Washington, DC on scheduled service. According to WP, there was a lively and celebratory mood at IAD on the day of the landings, with almost 8,000 people in attendance watching the flight arrivals. On the approach of the BA flight, a small single-engine plane came within 400 feet of the inbound Concorde, causing a minor momentary scare.
The two jets departed IAD the next day, one bound for London and the other for Paris. Hundreds of journalists, photographers, and FAA noise monitors lined the runway for AF’s first take-off from IAD, which was later estimated to be two and a half times louder than traditional subsonic aircraft. As a result, BA pilot Norman Todd chose a separate runway to avoid flying over local neighborhoods.
The Concorde ban at JFK was lifted the next year, and flights from London and Paris began arriving in New York.
Featured image: Two Concordes parked nose to nose at Dulles after arrival (1976). Photo: IAD. Article source: gohstofdc.com