Concorde: still inspiring devotion 50 years on

Concorde: still inspiring devotion 50 years on

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This Saturday, 2 March 2019, marks exactly half a century from the legendary airliner’s first flight

Aviation enthusiasts will gather at events all over Europe to celebrate the first supersonic passenger-carrying commercial aeroplane that changed aviation history.

Thousands of Concorde’s admirers will flock to museums and airfields where the airliner is on display. They will have the opportunity to meet its pilots and check out the aeroplane from the inside. The celebrations will be accompanied by showing footage of its first flight.

In the UK, there will be events taking place at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset or Aerospace Bristol in Filton. Events will also be held in Germany and France.

The year was 1969 when the first Concorde prototype took off from the city of Toulouse in Southwest France. Its maiden flight lasted for 27 minutes. During the flight, its speed rose to nearly 500 kph (300 mph).

“Finally the big bird flies, and I can say now that it flies pretty well,” said the test pilot Andre Turcat.

Russian Tupolev Tu-44 was the first aircraft to reach supersonic speed

The most impressive of Concorde’s characteristics — and the reason to be proudly called supersonic — was its speed. During commercial flights, the aeroplane’s cruising velocity would reach 2,200 kph (1,350 mph), which is more than twice as much as conventional aircraft.

Concorde was a joint project of England and France and it was the first major cooperative venture of European countries to design and manufacture an aircraft.

Tupolev Tu-144’s fleet was permanently grounded after only 55 scheduled flights — Creative Commons Concorde: still inspiring devotion 50 years onTupolev Tu-144’s fleet was permanently grounded after only 55 scheduled flights — Creative Commons

However, it wasn’t the first supersonic airliner to meet the sky. Two months prior to Concorde’s first flight, on 31 December 1968, the Russian Tupolev Tu-144 successfully completed its first test flight. It was also the first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2.

However, a series of crashes resulted in the passenger fleet to be permanently grounded after only 55 scheduled flights.

A Concorde flight between London and NYC took only three hours

Concorde first entered service in 1976, seven years after its maiden flight. It continued flying for the next 27 years until 2003.

Jock Lowe, the longest-serving Concorde pilot, said that flying the aircraft was “like driving a sports car compared with a normal car”.

“The most exhilarating part was the power you had on take-off. The acceleration was really quite special.”

Most of Concorde’s routes were being operated temporarily or seasonally. The most viable routes were between London’s Heathrow Airport and Paris‘s Charles de Gaulle Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The aircraft’s maximum cruising speed of Mach 2.04 allowed it to reduce the flight time between London and New York City to about three hours. Its passenger capacity was between 92 and 128 per flight.


1960s solutions to 21st century problems — Siriwat Akkharathanainan / Shutterstock Concorde: still inspiring devotion 50 years on1960s solutions to 21st century problems — Siriwat Akkharathanainan / Shutterstock

However, despite being a technological miracle for its time, the Concorde fleet never became financially profitable. The development costs of the aircraft were so great that they could never recover from its operations.

The high costs were also reflected in the ticket price. The running price of a standard one-way ticket from London to New York was $5,700 (£4,350) and a return ticket went for up to $10,900 (£8,292).

The airliner was retired in 2003

Concorde’s fate was sealed on 25 July 2000. En route from Paris to New York the aircraft crashed on take-off. All 109 passengers on board and another four on the ground died.

The once magical plane was retired in 2003. Both British Airways and Air France blamed the airliner’s retirement on the dropping numbers of passengers and rising maintenance costs.

Is there a future for super- and hypersonic transport?

Although supersonic air travel proved to be quite costly in the past, the aviation industry has plans to return to supersonic speeds in the future. More so, China wants to develop a plane reaching hypersonic speeds of up to 6,000 kph, which is about five times faster than the speed of sound. Similarly, Boeing plans to manufacture hypersonic aircraft hitting speeds of up to 6,500 kph.

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