October 5, 2022
When Pepsi Flew Supersonic
Airlines History Special Flights

When Pepsi Flew Supersonic

DALLAS – The Concorde’s ultimate design was to deliver speed—just being fast wasn’t enough, it had to be supersonic. Transatlantic flights clocked in at approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. It takes more than six on a present-day Airbus or Boeing jet.

Glamour and Glitz accompanied the Concorde, after all, anything that fast was sure to catch the spotlight. But flying at Mach speeds burns a proportional amount of fuel.

Short-lived, a couple of crashes and a massive rise in fuel costs proved it impossible to generate profits. What was one of mankind’s greatest achievements, flying so fast didn’t tempt all to fly Concorde. Rather, the type was used for other commercial purposes.

Enter “Project Blue.”

Aerospatiale-British Aerospace Concorde 101. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt, GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

Commercial Stunt at Mach 1.7

In 1990, the tug of war between the two soda giants Coca-cola and Pepsi was fierce, the latter trailing in market share and net valueCoca Cola sells three times more soft drinks worldwide than Pepsi. Pepsi undertook its largest rebranding project to stay competitive which was tagged at 500 million.

A variety of marketing strategies came into force, right from contracting supermodels and sports stars to a Pepsi poster onboard the Russian space station Mir. But that wasn’t enough, something unique and catchier was needed. How about if Pepsi flew supersonic across the globe? Well, it happened.

A deal was struck with Air France (AF) and the next thing you know – an all-blue Pepsi Concorde jet was ready to rip through the skies. It was the Pepsi blue revolution where over 500,000 vending machines, 30,000 Pepsi trucks, and all Pepsi dispensers will be specially repainted. Pepsi reached out to the two then Concorde operators British Airways and Air France and eventually settled for the french flag carrier.

Of course, such a large marketing push had to be carried out in complete confidentiality in order to surprise the world with the Pepsi Blue supersonic jet. Concorde “Sierra Delta” (F-BTSD) was the selected aircraft for the job.

The new paint job was done in time and to keep secrecy, The paintwork started in March 1996 at the AF maintenance facility of Paris, Orly. It required 200 liters of paint and 2,000 hours of work to complete the tasks. the entire jet was covered in brown wrapping paper.

On the night of March 31, 1996, Pepsi Blue left the hangars and took off for London Gatwick (LGW), where a launch event was carried out.

Comments from PepsiCo

PepsiCo marketing chief John Swanhaus commented at the Concorde Inauguration at LGW, “We’re going to redefine how the Coke War is fought in the 21st century!” he yelled…We think this is the most expansive transformation of a consumer product ever.”

The obvious question is, how much did the particular deal cost Pepsi? The rumor went by US$20m. 16 flights were split into two phases, with one crew set for each:

Captain – Y. Pecresse
First Officer – B. Bachelet
Flight Engineer – A. Piccinini

31 March Paris (ORY)-London (LGW)
02 April London (LGW)-London (LGW)
03 April London (LGW)-Dublin (DUB)
03 April Dublin (DUB)-Dublin (DUB)
04 April Dublin (DUB)-Stockholm (ARN)
04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Stockholm (ARN)
04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Paris (CDG)

Captain – G. Arondel
First Officer – P. Decamps
Flight Engineer – M. Suand

06 April Paris (CDG)-Beirut (BEY)
07 April Beirut (BEY)-Dubai (DXB)
07 April Dubai (DXB)-Dubai (DXB)
07 April Dubai (DXB)-Jeddah (JED)
08 April Jeddah (JED)-Cairo (CAI)
08 April Cairo (CAI)-Milan (LIN)
09 April Milan (LIN)-Madrid (MAD)
09 April Madrid (MAD)-Madrid (MAD)
09 April Madrid (MAD)-Paris (ORY)

Issues with the Pepsi Blue Paint Job

There were a bunch of technical limitations on flying at such high speeds. One such was temperature. An all-blue Concorde could trap and retain heat much longer than a lighter color (white being the best option).

There was the problem all transport vehicles face: “friction”. Concorde reached speeds of Mach 2, equivalent to twice the speed of sound. This with the friction between the fuselage and the particles in the air, causes the fuselage to heat up too much and expand. That is why the colors of the mythical Concorde were always white using reflective paints, to avoid overheating on the surface.

Prior to the paint operation, the AF maintenance team made contact with Aerospatiale for approval. Fortunately, the green light was given. However, the wings had to remain white to avoid fuel-based temperature issues.

Due to this reason, “Sierra Delta” had a speed restriction in place: it could only fly at Mach 2.2 for a maximum of 20 minutes and for the remaining at Mach 1.7.

This Concorde, registration F-BTSD, was delivered to AF in September 1978 and operated for 25 years for the airline. It was in 2003 when the type was retired from the AF fleet and placed in the Le Bourget Museum, Le Musee de l’Air et de l’Espace.

Featured image: Air France Concorde 101 F-BTSD at London Gatwick Airport, 2/4/1996. Photo: Alex Rankin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Commercial pilot | Flight Instructor | Aviation Journalist & writer.

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