On March 2, 1969, the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, the first operational supersonic airliner, took to the skies for the first time. Introduced in January 1976, Concorde would fly until November 2003. It was one of two supersonic transport aircraft to carry passengers commercially, the other being the Russian Tupolev Tu-144, nicknamed "Concordski" by the West. Concorde flew regular routes from London Heathrow and Paris' Charles de Gaulle to New York's JFK Airport, Washington Dulles and Barbados. Its maximum cruising speed of Mach 2.04 cut the flying time between these transatlantic destinations in half when compared to traditional airliners, with flights averaging about 3 hours 30 minutes.
Concorde was developed and produced under an Anglo-French agreement by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale. A total of twenty aircraft were built, six of which were prototypes and used for development and testing. Of the remaining fourteen, Air France and British Airways each received seven.
Engine detail of Air France Concorde F-BVFA on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center in Virginia
Concorde was powered by four Rolls Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 afterburning turbojets. Afterburners were used on takeoff and to reach supersonic speeds. They were not used during cruise. Early engines were notoriously thirsty, and Concorde burned two tons of fuel simply taxiing to the runway, even when two of the engines were shut down. Concorde was also the first airliner to employ an analog fly-by-wire control system.
Concorde flight deck, showing pilot positions and flight engineer's panel
Concorde set a number of records, including the fastest eastward transatlantic flight on a trip from JFK to Heathrow on February 7, 1996. British Airways' G-BOAD made the trip in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds. The flight was aided, though, by a stiff 175 mph tailwind. Concorde also set records for circumnavigation of the world in both directions, with numerous refueling stops along the way.
Concorde F-BTSC at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1985
The only loss of a Concorde occurred on July 25, 2000 when Air France flight 4590 (F-BTSC) crashed shortly after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. The investigation pointed to the primary cause of the crash being debris on the runway from a Continental DC-10 aircraft which punctured Concorde's tire on takeoff. A large chunk of the damaged tire struck the wing, leading to a rupture of a fuel tank. A catastrophic fire and engine failures ensued. Concorde to crash into a hotel, killing all 100 passengers, 9 crew, and 4 persons on the ground.
Concorde was never a money-maker for the airlines. Citing low passenger numbers following the 2000 crash, a drop in air travel after the 9/11 terrorism attacks, and rising maintenance costs, Air France and British Airways made the decision to retire Concorde in 2003. Of the fourteen operational aircraft, 12 are on display at sites in Europe, the US, and Barbados. One aircraft was lost in the crash, and the other was used for spare parts and scrapped in 1994.
The last ever flight of any Concorde (G-BOAF) on November 26, 2003