FILE - In this Dec. 11, 1967, file photo, two test pilots who will fly the Concorde, the British-French supersonic airliner, Andre Turcat, of France and left, British pilot Brian Trubshaw, stand in front of the prototype of the jet during its roll out ceremony in Toulouse, France. (AP Photo/Peter Kemp, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 11, 1967, file photo, two test pilots who will fly the Concorde, the British-French supersonic airliner, Andre Turcat, of France and left, British pilot Brian Trubshaw, stand in front of the prototype of the jet during its roll out ceremony in Toulouse, France. (AP Photo/Peter Kemp, File)

‘The end of a fantastic era’ – a look back on the Concorde

“Concorde was a tool devised to outwit time”

The speed and elegant appearance of the Concorde inspired awe. Its ear-rattling sonic booms irritated people on the ground and led to restrictions on where the jet could fly.

The Concorde’s maiden flight was 50 years ago this month. Although the plane went out of service in 2003, its delta-wing design and drooping nose still make it instantly recognizable even to people who have never seen one in person.

The Concorde was the world’s first supersonic passenger plane. It was a technological marvel and a source of pride in Britain and France, whose aerospace companies joined forces to produce the plane.

Its first flight occurred on March 2, 1969, in Toulouse, France. The test flight lasted 28 minutes. British Airways and Air France launched passenger flights in 1976.

With four jet engines and afterburners, the plane could fly at twice the speed of sound and cruised at close to 60,000 feet, far above other airliners. It promised to revolutionize long-distance travel by cutting flying time from the U.S. East Coast to Europe from eight hours to three and a half hours.

Depending on the layout, the plane could seat up to 128 passengers, far fewer than on many other planes flying the trans-Atlantic routes. The relative scarcity of seats and the plane’s high operating costs made tickets expensive — typically several thousand dollars — so it was mostly reserved for the wealthy and famous, occasionally royalty.

READ MORE: SpaceX’s new crew capsule aces space station docking

In the U.S., the plane flew mainly to New York and Washington and attracted quite a buzz. In the mid-1980s, men dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers to re-enact a Civil War battle in Virginia paused in mid-skirmish to gaze up at a Concorde flying into nearby Dulles Airport.

A Concorde captain raved that the plane flew beautifully, and that the only indication of its speed came from looking down at other jets far below that seemed as if they were flying backward — the Concorde was moving about 800 mph faster.

Jamie Baker, an airline analyst and aviation enthusiast, took the plane from New York to London in 2002. Perhaps because it was a morning flight, the mood was more dignified than festive, Baker says. The ride was so smooth that there was hardly any sensation of flight.

“No turbulence. No sense of motion, save for the clouds passing by below us,” Baker says. “Concorde was a tool devised to outwit time.”

Former Boeing engineer Peter Lemme recalls his 1998 flight as a delight, but cramped.

“The seats were more like what we flew domestically in coach,” he says. “The food was excessive,” including caviar, and there was a duty-free cart piled with very expensive items.

However, the Concorde never caught on widely. The plane’s economics were challenging, and its sonic booms led it to be banned on many overland routes. Only 20 were built; 14 of which were used for passenger service.

As time went on, flights were disrupted by mechanical breakdowns including engine failures and a broken rudder. Reviewers complained about the small cabin, noise, and vibrations that started during takeoff and continued once airborne.

The plane’s darkest day came on July 25, 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed into a hotel and exploded shortly after takeoff in Paris, killing all 109 people on board and four on the ground.

Investigators determined that the plane ran over a metal strip that had fallen off another jet on to the runway, damaging a tire. A piece of the tire crashed into the underside of the wing, shockwaves caused a fuel tank to rupture, and the fuel ignited.

The planes were grounded for expensive modifications. After 18 months, BA and Air France both resumed flights, but traffic never recovered.

It was determined that a more intensive and expensive maintenance schedule would be required to keep the fleet flying. In 2003, BA and Air France both stopped Concorde service.

READ MORE: Trump signs order to create US Space Command

BA’s chief executive called it “the end of a fantastic era in world aviation,” but added that retiring the planes was a prudent business decision.

Supersonic transports could yet make a comeback. Several companies are working on models and hope to test them soon.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Esk’etemc First Nation (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins takes part in Secwepemc Health Caucus’s “Raising Our Spirits” ceremony Friday, Jan. 22. (Secwepemc Health Caucus Facebook image)
Secwepemc Nation raises spirits through song

More than 150 join virtual ceremony

Rod Hennecker and Karen Greenwood’s small herd of sheep in their winter pen. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile House)
Seedy Saturday goes online

Horse Lake Farm Co-Op not hosting it this year

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
RCMP investigating suspicious trailer found abandoned in Cache Creek

Hazardous materials believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs were found

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Most Read