Last Flight of the Concorde

Supersonic passenger flight ended on November 26, 2003, the day a Concorde made its last flight, this time back to its birthplace in Bristol, England, where it was put on outdoor display. The Concorde’s last transatlantic flight had occurred roughly a month earlier (see video below).

The Concorde, a joint venture between the United Kingdom and France was riddled with problems right from the start, right down to whether the name should be spelled with (British) or without (French) the e on the end. Still, orders for more than 100 aircraft poured in, the industry was jazzed about this revolution, and construction of the aircraft began in 1965.

public domainThe drop nose and delta wing are among Concorde’s distinctive features, the former needed for pilots to see the runway and the latter developed to allow the plane to reach a speed of more than Mach 2 (about 1320 milies per hour). But supersonic flight at high altitude presented challenges for engine design, heating and cooling, braking, and cabin pressurization. And the price of fuel was rising. Only 20 aircraft were built, 14 of which were used for passenger service. The first scheduled flight occurred on January 26, 1976. But protests led Congress to ban Concorde landings. Even after the federal ban was lifted, New York City instituted a ban.

NASA public domainThe Supreme Court ended that prohibition, and flights from London and Paris to New York began on November 22, 1977. The record time between Heathrow and New York is 2 hours, 52 minutes. The public outrage subsided, as celebrities and the wealthy (Paul McCartney was a favorite of the crew) zipped back and forth across the Atlantic. The Concorde served more than one million bottles of champagne.

Doug toured the inside of the Concorde at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where it sits outdoors. Anna saw the Concorde during its restoration at Scotland’s National Museum of Flight in the summer of 2004. Together, we’ve seen a Concorde sitting in the distance as we landed in Birmingham, England, and up close at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy facility. The shape and size is pencil-like, as airplanes go, with the cabin ceiling just six feet from its floor and little room for carry-on baggage. When you look at this supersonic jet, you sense the speed it could achieve. But today marks the eight anniversary of its becoming an artifact.

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