History of Flight: Concorde

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.

Flight History 1901-2000

Orville and Wilbur Wright stepped forward to be counted in the history of flight… or should I say powered flight.  They spent three years testing their designs on gliders, and how to control them at their base at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

By 1902 they had perfected their glider shape, and by 1903 perfected a twelve horsepower engine.

On the 17th December 1903 at 10.35 am in North Carolina the “Flyer” took to the air, and they proved flight was possible, but it suffered from teething problems.   On the 5th October 1905 the “Flyer III” flew for 39 minutes piloted by Wilbur Wright at Huffman Prairie, covering some 24 miles.  History had been made… man could indeed fly.

Thanks to the Wright brothers, with their perfectly designed aircraft, powered by their own twelve horsepower water-cooled, four-cylinder engine, none of this would have been possible.  They proved without doubt, that powered flight was indeed possible, and they had opened the way for a new era in flight.

On the 18th March and 19th March 1906 Traian Vuia flew his self-designed self-propelled fixed-wing aircraft in France.  On the 12th September 1906 Jacob Ellehammer flew his monoplane in Denmark and on the 13th September 1306 Alberto Santos-Dumont made a flight in Paris, and on the 12the November set the first world record.

In 1908 Wilbur Wright gave flight demonstrations in France, attracting thousands, showing why the Wright brothers were superior in the air.

Louis Bleriot (1872-1936) a former engineer, who in 1900 turned his attention to flight. On the 25th July 1909 Louis Bleriot won fame for his solo flight across the English Channel, taking 36 mins travelling at an average speed of 40mph.

It didn’t take long before the military could see practical uses for these flying machines in battle.  The leading manufacturers of fighter planes were, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, whose planes saw action in World War One (1914-1918). 

The new era between the first and second world war saw young fighter pilots eager to show off their skills, in county air shows, and air races like the “Schneider Trophy.”

In 1924 Imperial Airways offered passenger flights to exotic destinations, and in 1927 Pan-Am offered non-stop luxury trips.

In 1927 aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh made history, flying “The Spirit of St.Louis” across the Atlantic Ocean; New York to Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes non-stop.

In 1935 Howard Hughes designed and built the “H-1” racer.  With him at the controls, his plane became the fastest plane beatinf all speed records.

On the 5th March 1936 the Spitfire underwent its maiden flight and entered service with the Royal Air Force (1938-1955).  She was joined by other planes Bristol Blenheim (1937) Mosquito (1941) Lancaster (1942) Gloster Meteor (1944) and of course the Americans B-17 Flying Fortress (1940), just to name a few.

World War Two saw the need for fighter escorts in the shape of Heinkel HE178 (1939) Heinkel HE219 (1943) and Messerschmitt ME262 (1944) to accompany Junkers JU88 (1940) and the JU388 (1944) German Bomber planes during strategic bombing raids on English soil.                                                            

Other names go down in history for their achievements in the world of flight. Amelia Mary Earhart who in 1928, joined an expedition to fly across the Atlantic Ocean with Wilmer “Bill” Stultz (pilot) and Louis E “Slim” Gordon ( co-pilot and mechanic).  They left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland in a Fokker F7 on June 17 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later.  Their landmark flight made headline news. 

From then on, Earhart’s life revolved around flying.  She came third in the Cleveland’s Women’s Air Derby.

President Herbert Hoover awarded her a gold medal from the National Geographical Society, and Congress awarded her a Distinguished Flying Cross for her achievement.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to break records, one after another…  On 11th January 1935, she flew solo across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Oakland, California.  Later that year, first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.

In 1946 after World War Two the “Bell X-1” was the first plane capable of breaking the speed record by breaking the sound barrier.

In 1957 the “Boeing 707” came into service described as sleek, fast and fuel-efficient.

With speeds getting faster and faster, the safety of the pilot became an issue in planes built for combat.  In 1958 ejection seats were fitted, which thrust pilots vertically clear of the plane in seconds.

In 1966 “The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird” came into military use reaching speeds three times the speeds of sound at heights of 100,000 feet.

In 1969 the “Boeing 747” came into service capable of carrying a little over four-hundred passengers, giving the air industry what they wanted, the ability to move large numbers in a single flight.

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, with scheduled flights starting on 21st January 1976 with the London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio routes.

In May 1976, London to Washington, then in 1977 Paris and London to New York in 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.

In May of 1987, a 19 year-old German pilot; Mathias Rust, flew solo in his Cessna from Helsinki in Finland, eastwards to Moscow in Russia. He eluded Russia’s Soviet Air-Defence System and landed alongside Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square.

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