Concorde: The Rise and Demise of an Iconic Airliner | History Hit

Concorde: The Rise and Demise of an Iconic Airliner

British Airways Concorde G-BOAB coming into land with landing gear fully extended, 1996.

Concorde, perhaps the most iconic airliner in history, is regarded as being a wonder of engineering and innovation as well as a former privilege for the world’s jet-setting elite. It operated from 1976 until 2003 and was able to transport 92 to 108 passengers at a maximum speed of over twice the speed of sound.

A crossing from London and Paris to New York took approximately three and a half hours, which knocked about four and a half hours off the subsonic flight time. At its fastest, it flew from New York to London in just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

Though it was eventually retired in 2003 because of a downturn in demand leading to rising maintenance costs, Concorde remains a marvel of efficiency, technology and modernisation.

1. The name ‘Concorde’ means ‘agreement’

Concorde 001. The first Concorde flight in 1969.

British Aircraft Corp and France’s Aerospatiale merged when developing the planes for commercial flight. An aircraft was developed by French and British engineers and the first successful flight was in October 1969. In both English and French, ‘concord’ or ‘concorde’ means agreement or harmony.

2. Concorde’s first commercial flights were from London and Paris

Concorde made its first commercial flight on 21 January 1976. British Airways and Air France both scheduled flights for that day, with BA flying Concorde from London to Bahrain and Air France from Paris to Rio de Janeiro. A year later in November 1977, scheduled flights on the coveted London and Paris to New York routes finally began.

3. It was staggeringly fast

The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh disembark Concorde in 1991.

Concorde travelled at a maximum speed of over twice the speed of sound – specifically at peak levels of 2,179 km/h. Concorde’s power was due to its four engines using ‘reheat’ technology, which adds fuel to the final stage of the engine, which produces the extra power needed for take off and the transition to supersonic flight.

This made it popular amongst the world’s busy elite.

4. It flew at a high altitude

Concorde travelled at around 60,000ft, a height of over 11 miles, which meant that passengers could see the Earth’s curve. Due to the intense heat of the airframe, the plane used to expand by around 6-10 inches during the flight. By the end of each flight, every surface was warm to the touch.

5. It came with a hefty price tag

Concorde in flight.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

For the price of around $12,000 for a round trip, Concorde shuttled its wealthy and often high-profile customers across the Atlantic in around three hours. Its tagline, ‘Arrive Before You Leave’, advertised its ability to beat the world clock by travelling westwards.

6. It was originally partially banned

In December 1970 the American Senate voted against permitting commercial supersonic flights to pass over land in the US due to the impact of sonic booms and high noise levels during take-off and landing. The ban was lifted in May 1976 at Washington Dulles Airport and both Air France and British Airways opened routes to the American capital.

Anti-Concorde protesters lobbied New York City and succeeded in pushing through a local ban. Despite continued opposition, the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court in October 1977 after it was argued Air Force One produced more noise on take-off and landing than Concorde.

7. Concorde flew over 50,000 flights

British Airways Concorde interior. The narrow fuselage permitted only a 4-abreast seating arrangement with limited headroom.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Concorde’s crew was made up of 9 members: 2 pilots, 1 flight engineer and 6 flight attendants. It was able to fly 100 passengers. Over its lifetime, Concorde transported over 2.5 million passengers over the course of 50,000 flights, with the oldest person to fly on the plane being 105 years old. Interestingly, the planes were also used to transport diamonds and human organs.

8. It is the most tested aircraft ever

Concorde was worked on by around 250 British Airways engineers. They subjected the aircraft to around 5,000 hours of testing before it was first certified for passenger flight, which makes it the most tested aircraft ever.

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9. A Concorde plane crashed in 2000

Air France Flight 4590, operated with the Concorde, on fire during take-off at Charles de Gaulle International Airport. The image was taken by a passenger in an aircraft on a nearby taxiway. The president of France, Jacques Chirac, was also on this plane which was returning from Tokyo. This image along with a video of the aircraft shortly after it took-off are the only visual recordings of the aircraft on fire.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A very dark day in the history of Concorde was on 25 July 2000. A flight departing from Paris ran over a piece of titanium which had fallen from another aircraft. It burst the tire, which resulted in the fuel tank igniting. The plane crashed, and everyone on board was killed.

Up to that point, Concorde had an exemplary safety record, with no crashes in 31 years up to that point. However, the crash was one of the direct causes of the phasing out of the aircraft from then on.

10. The Soviet Union developed a version of Concorde

In 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was made aware of a new aircraft project being investigated by Britain and France to develop a super-sonic passenger airline. In tandem with the space race, it was politically important that the Soviet Union develop their own equivalent.

The result was the world’s first supersonic airliner, the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144. Far larger and heavier than Concorde, it was, for a time, a commercial airline. However, a devastating crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show combined with rising fuel prices meant that it was eventually used for military purposes only. It was finally decommissioned in 1999.

Lucy Davidson