- Title: VARIOUS: THE IMMINENT RETIRMENT OF CONCORDE ENDS AN ERA OF SUPERSONIC TRANSPORT
- Date: 25th October 2003
- Summary: HEATHROW AIRPORT, LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (OCTOBER 21, 2003) (REUTERS) . LV TARMAC - CONCORDE TAKING OFF
- Embargoed: 12th June 2014 17:16
- Location: PARIS, FRANCE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES, FILTON AND FAIRFORD, UNITED KINGDOM, IN FLIGHT
- Country: USA
- Topics: General,Transport
- Reuters ID: LVA4FQEKBR68XABQ3SDBHCLVE7CK
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: The imminent retirement of Concorde ends the era of
supersonic transport with no successor in sight.
Concorde, the only supersonic passenger aircraft in
the world, will on Friday (October 24) retire from service
after 27 years of whisking the well-heeled across the
Atlantic at twice the speed of sound.
The product of a supersonic adventure launched by
French President Charles de Gaulle and British Prime
Minister Harold MacMillan in 1962, the Concorde evolved
into a prestigious tool of the rich and famous, who paid
lofty sums to hurtle across the Atlantic at twice the speed
The history of concorde goes back to 1956 when both
Britain and France began working separately on the
development of supersonic transport aircraft (SST).
The realisation that the costs involved were becoming
prohibitive along with the similar nature of the individual
projects, persuaded the two countries to collaborate on the
development of SST and in 1962 they signed an agreement to
Five years later at an international ceremony presided
over by British and French dignitaries, the first prototype
plane (001) was rolled out of its hangar at Toulouse in
Running on four Olympus 593 engines, built jointly by
the Bristol division of Rolls Royce and the French Snecma
organisation, Concorde 001's first flight took place on 2
March 1969 from Toulouse.
It was piloted by Andre Turcat, assisted by a co-pilot
and two engineers and was in the air for just 27 minutes
pi /piBrian Trubshaw was the first British test
pilot and on 9 April 1969, he took Concorde 002 on its
The 22-minute flight left from a test runway at Filton
near Bristol, landing at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.
On October 1, 1969 Concorde successfully completed its
first supersonic flight and a year later the French
prototype attained its cruising speed of Mach 2 (twice the
speed of sound) for the first time.
Four years later it made its first transatlantic flight.
The British and French were not the only ones interested
in the concept of supersonic travel. In the United States
Boeing was contracted to come up with an SST prototype but
the programme was abandoned as being unrealistically costly.
The Russians went ahead and built an SST, the Tupolev
or TU 144 which was nicknamed the Konkordski. Again cost
and, following a crash at the Parish air show in 1973, the
Tupolev was withdrawn from passenger service and and used
for air mail transportation. The plane was later leased by
the Russians to NASA who used it in supersonic flight
research until 1998.
Despite rollercoaster diplomatic relations between
Britain and France, the progress of the Anglo-French
aircraft continued. !973 saw Concorde 002 landing at
Dallas/Ft Worth on its first visit to the United States and
a year later the aircraft completed its first double
transatlantic journey in one day.
Concorde was subjected to 5,000 hours of testing by the
time it was certified for passenger flight, making it the
most tested aircraft in aviation history.
Its test flights took it around the world and
everywhere it went it attracted almost fanatical interest.
Despite the interested it attracted across the globe,
Concorde was always a controversial aircraft on both
economic and environmental grounds.
The "sonic boom" heard on the ground as the aircraft
passed through the sound barrier caused outrage amongst
residents living close to airports proposing to host the
Concorde service and lead several countries to ban
overflying at supersonic speeds.
This was was a financial disaster for the French and
British governments, which underwrote its development at a
cost to taxpayers of over $34 billion at today's prices.
Of an initial plan to make 300 Concordes, only 16 were
ever manufactured of which two were the prototypes and only
14 flew commercially. Unable to find buyers for the
aircraft the British and French governments were forced to
'sell' the planes to their national carriers.
British Airways famously paid just one pound for the
In January 1976 the first commercial flights took place
with British Airways flying from London, to Bahrain and Air
France, from Paris to Rio.
In May that year, two Concordes, one taking off from
Paris, the other from London, jointly inaugurated the
supersonic jet service across the Atlantic.
After two years of legal wrangling, Concorde began
regular flights to New York from London and Paris on
November 15, 1977 but the overfly ban prevented the
carriers from extending the supersonic service to locations
across the United States cutting down further on it's
viability as a moneyspinner.
Controversy aside Concorde quickly gained popularity.
A crossing from Europe to New York took less than half
the normal flying time for other jets. Travelling
westwards the five-hour timed difference meant that
passengers could travel in pampered luxury and land at
their destination before local arrival time caught up with
the local departure time.
Concorde's fastest transatlantic crossing was on
February 7, 1996, when it completed the New York to London
flight in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
Perhaps the most famous transatlantic hop was that
made by singer Phil Collins during the 1985 Live-Aid
concert when the singer sang at the Wembley Arena then
hopped aboard Concorde to rejoin the fund-raising event via
satellite link from Philadelphia.
It became the transport of choice of high powered
businessmen, politicians, personalities and royalty.
After twenty five years of successful, safe flight,
On July 25, 2000 an Air France Concorde flight en route
from Paris to New York crashed just moments after takeoff,
killing all passengers and crew as well as several people
on the ground.
Both British Airways and Air France immediately
grounded their Concorde fleets which underwent extensive
checks and modifications in attempt to prevent further
Investigations into the crash centred on a loose strip
of metal on the runway which apparently caused a blow out
of one of the Concorde's tyres.
Debris from the tyre was sucked into the fuel tank
where it caused a fire. The aircraft stalled and crashed on
a hotel in nearby Gonesse.
Despite a public declaration as to its safety and
extensive modifications including the installation of
Kevlar linings and strengthening the wiring in its
undercarriages, public confidence in Concorde was
accompanied the September 11 attacks in the United States,
bookings never recovered.
In 2003 both Britain and France declared their
intention to retire the supersonic jets and on May 30
Concorde flew for the last time from Paris to New York.
The decision to retire the slender, needle-nosed jets
after over a quarter century of flight marks the end of an
era in civil aviation. But it is flagging demand and
rising costs rather than safety issues which have proved to
be the nemesis to what has become the ultimate symbol of
Speaking to Reuters on the eve of the final retirement
of the British Concorde fleet, British Airways chairman,
Lord Marshall said he was sad to see what was effectively
the end supersonic flight for commercial purposes but he
said it was important to celebrate the success of Concorde
itself as an icon.
The decision to retire what air traffic controllers
have dubbed "Speedbird One" has been met with incredulity.
The biggest regrets are being voiced by flamboyant
entrepreneur Richard Branson. The Virgin Atlantic boss
offered to take over Concorde from his arch-rival but
British Airways said no.
Reflecting on the end of a chapter in aviation history,
he said: "The idea that it will never fly again just seems
completely and utterly wrong.
"The (World War Two fighter) Spitfire is still flying
-- I flew in one last week -- and so Concorde should be
flying in 30, 40, 50 years' time."
His wish to somehow keep the fleeting spirit of
supersonic speed alive willdoubtlessss be on the minds of
many of loyal Concorde passengers for whom the
transatlantic hopping became a way of life.
Jamiroquai lead singer Jay Kay summed up what many
British taxpayers must be feeling about the loss of an
aircraft paid for by their wages.
"It is an old aircraft but it is part of this country's
heritage and we've all paid for it at the end of the day as
well" he said.
Many a nostalgic tear will be shed when the British
Airways Concorde makes its last flight from New York to
Veteran British broadcaster David Frost, who once
entered the Guinness Book of Records for making the most
crossings of the Atlantic when he was doing shows in London
and New York, said it will be an emotional final flight for
"It's odd," he told Reuters Television. "Usually when
things work technologically they survive but in this case
it works technologically and it's not surviving and that is
Despite calls by police and traffic officials to stay
away, a quarter of a million people are expected to turn up
at Heathrow on Friday to pay homage to Concorde and to bid
farewell for once and for all to dreams of ever boarding
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