The latter years of the 1950’s brought four countries into contention with each other. Each wanting to be the first to develop and build successful supersonic aeroplanes, and control the skies: England – France – Russia – America.
For they knew, whoever reached the goal first, would attract a new breed of customers, those looking for shorter flying times. Attracting businesses and holiday-makers, travelling to the other side of the world.
The costs for such a venture soared as each company and government saw their funds for such an ambitious project; stretched to the limit.
Britain’s Bristol Aeroplane Company was designing the Type 233. Whilst France’s Sud Aviation designed the Super-Caravelle.
They had to admit, that neither could undertake a project of this size on their own. Each in their own way was still re-building their country after the Second World War.
By the early part of the 1960’s, both England and France were ready to build their prototypes. It was at this time the two countries joined forces on this venture, and the draft treaty was signed on 28th November 1962.
Bristol Aeroplane Company and Sud aviation had been merged for this project, and would be known as British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale. This would lead to orders from leading airlines.
The first test flight of Concorde 001 took place on the 2nd March 1969 from Toulouse, and supersonic flight commenced on the 1st October 1969. On the 4th September 1971, it started a sales and demonstration tour, and in June Concorde 002 went on a sales tour of the Middle East.
In 1973, the United States opened their new airport: Dallas International Airport, and what better way to commemorate it, than the landing of Concorde 002.
The future looked good, and orders were flowing in from major airlines. With the crash of a similar type of aeroplane, it sent shock waves through the industry, and orders for Concorde were being cancelled amidst the shock news of Russia’s Tupolev TU-144 which crashed. This was followed by environmental issues of sonic boom, noise and pollution, along with the oil crisis of the 1970’s. Sales plummeted to just two airlines; British Airways and Air France.
Concorde’s scheduled flights started on 21st January 1976 with the London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio routes.
American citizens protested about Concorde’s sonic booms, which forced the U.S.Congress to ban Concorde landing on American soil, this delayed the start of transatlantic crossings. By February 1976, the ban had been lifted, and British Airways started landing at Washington Airport on 24th May.
Late 1977, the noise concerns of landing in New York were also waived, and so scheduled services ran from Paris and London to New York taking less than 3½ hours. Concorde went on to make history by circumnavigating the world in thirty-one hours and fifty-one minutes, starting out on 1st November 1986.
Attempts by British Airways and Singapore Airlines, to fly Concorde between Bahrain and Singapore, were met with noise complaints from the Malaysian government. An alternative route, crossing India’s airspace, would not allow the use of supersonic speeds… finally the route was declared, not viable and terminated.
From 1978-1982 Air France flew to Mexico City on a regular basis.
One would expect that something extra, as you passed through the sound barrier; but all you receive is a slight surge in acceleration. Turbulence was rare at such increased speeds, and as one gazed out the window, one would observe the Earth’s curvature.
Concorde’s passenger deaths were considered the safest until Air France’s Flight 4590 in Gonesse. For it was on the 25th July 2000, all passengers plus four ground crew died in a horrific crash.
All Concorde planes were grounded for safety checks. Fuel tanks were lined with Kevlar and burst-resistant tyres replaced existing ones all in the name of additional safety.
Concorde, returned to full flight status on 11th September 2001, and was back in the air, flying over our capital on 7th November 2001. However, air passenger numbers had dropped off, following the attack upon the World Trade Centre.
The accident report of 14th December 2004, of Air France’s Flight 4590 in Gonesse, on the 25th July 2000, blamed a piece of titanium on the runway.
On the 10th April 2003, British Airways and Air France announced that Concorde would retire from our skies by the end of the year, after thirty-four years of service.
On the same day Virgin Atlantic Airway’s offered to buy British Airways Concorde’s at £1 million each, but the offer was refused.
Air France made its final Concorde trip: Paris to New York return on 30th May 2003, and British Airways made its final trip: London to New York return on 24th October 2003 to a fanfare.
Only twenty Concorde’s were ever built, of that only fourteen entered commercial service. By the time of Concorde’s retirement only twelve were still in active service… Not bad, considering they had been in service for thirty-four years.