December 8, 2023

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The last flight of the Concorde: a supersonic plane used by the rich and famous to cross the Atlantic

The last flight of the Concorde: a supersonic plane used by the rich and famous to cross the Atlantic
Concorde can carry 144 passengers. London-New York round-trip ticket price averages $10,000: A VIP market but undercut (Mario Dama/Getty Images)

On October 24, 2003, twenty years ago, the first supersonic commercial airliner said goodbye. He Synchronization, a model that was ahead of its time and had no successors. After 27 years of service, operated Air France and British AirwaysThe last flight landed in the United Kingdom a century after the Wright brothers began conquering the skies on the other side of the Atlantic.

On October 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright, stayed in the air for twelve seconds and crossed 36 meters with the Wright Flyer: a short distance for man, a sure departure for mankind. One hundred years later, the Concorde, a symbol of aviation progress in the 20th century, became a makeshift museum amid the industry’s financial crisis. Its black mark was an accident: on July 25, 2000, Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after takeoff. John F. in New York. Parisian Charles de Gaulle Airport to Kennedy. One hundred passengers, nine crew and four on the ground died. But the disappearance of Concorde was not due to lack of safety, but for many reasons, especially commercial, high maintenance cost and insufficient profitability.

On 14th October 1947, after the Second World War, as a result of technological progress in the war industry, the pilot Chuck Yeager Bell became the first man to break the sound barrier in an X-1 rocket-powered aircraft. The project, which involved the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s predecessor, did not yet contemplate commercial flights. Supersonic military aircraft models soon followed: basically, small, light-speed craft capable of making sudden maneuvers and flying at Mach 1 (the sound barrier) for more or less short periods. Only with the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, whose first flight was in 1969, and it entered service on January 21, 1976, airliners became supersonic. The new marvel of aeronautical engineering was built by British Aircraft Corporation in collaboration with French Aerospace. It covers the London-New York route At just three and a half hours, less than half the time of normal flights (Concorde used four times as much fuel). Its maximum speed is 2,179 kilometers per hour, twice the speed of sound at 1,235.5 kilometers per hour. Maximum flight altitude 18,300 meters; I flew out of big cities because of the noise pollution. Twenty ships were built in France and the United Kingdom: six experimental prototypes; Seven were awarded to Air France and the rest to British Airways.

British royalty were also part of Concorde’s path to fame. Isabelle Bowes-Lyon, Queen Mother Elizabeth (whose daughter, Elizabeth II, first traveled on Concorde in 1977) boarded a supersonic flight to celebrate her 85th birthday in 1985 (Marc Garanger/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Supersonic stars

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Concorde can carry 144 passengers. Average round trip price from London to New York $10,000: VIP market but reduced. Typically, businessmen and women, entertainment stars and the rich and famous traveled. A regular traveler, for example, Paul McCartney, who traveled with a guitar. Lawrence Azeroth, author of “Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of the Concorde,” wrote that the musician invited his traveling companions to sing Beatles songs in a style “something we all know.” According to “The New York Post”, McCartney watched from the window of the Concorde as it was about to land at JFK where American Airlines Flight 587 crashed (in Queens, on November 12, 2001, with 265 deaths).

Instead of singing their songs during supersonic flights, Michael Jackson As in the case of “Billie Jean” he created them, or at least was inspired by them. “Songs come at strange times. You can be walking through a park or anywhere, and they pop up. I wrote a whole song in the Concorde at 50,000 feet without a recorder. I came home and recorded it. He just came up to me in the middle of the plane,” explained the King of Pop. Bill Collins He was another of Concord’s musician-travellers. Thanks to faster-than-sound planes, in 1985, during the Live Aid benefit concert, he performed on both sides of the Atlantic in the same day: he played Wembley Stadium in London and JFK in Philadelphia. A trip to Philadelphia by helicopter.

British royalty were also part of Concorde’s path to fame. Isabel Bowes-Lyon, The Queen Mother Elizabeth (her daughter, Elizabeth II, sailed on the Concorde for the first time in 1977) He boarded a supersonic flight in 1985 to celebrate his 85th birthday. He had a crowning achievement: they let him travel in a special seat in the cabin. The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, is familiar with supersonic flights and incorporates them into her routine, which is not very common. “The good thing about Concorde is that I can get my kids to school in London at 8.30am, drop them off and get on British Airways flight 001 to New York at 10.30am and get there at 9.30am, in time for my Weight Watchers. Meetings and speeches.” The time difference worked in his favor. And its financial solution, of course.

After 27 years of service, operated by Air France and British Airways, the last flight landed in the United Kingdom, a century after the Wright brothers began conquering the skies on the other side of the Atlantic (Hugh Thomas/BWP Media/Getty Images )

A unique experience

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On January 21, 1976, a young woman John Dye He was among the crowd of excited people who witnessed the first departure of the Concorde at London Heathrow Airport. Amazed, he decided to become an airline pilot. More than twenty years later, at the end of the 90s, after intensive training, he arrived at the command seat of a Concorde: the dream of his life. “To feel those four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines starting up and the vibration of the aircraft for the first time was absolutely mind-blowing. The sun was setting and a huge fireball could be seen at the end of the runway. After adjusting all the details and counting down, I pushed all four throttles to the floor with my left hand. When I shot down the track, I can’t describe the feeling under acceleration. “It was the most incredible experience of my flying career.”

Every time he took off or landed with Concorde, as in 1976, he saw large groups of onlookers. “Once, an American Airlines pilot, in command of a flight scheduled to take off before mine, asked if he could switch places in line to watch Concorde take off. It’s unusual to operate a supersonic flight from Heathrow. You can feel the eyes of passengers on subsonic flights watching you and the eyes of your fellow pilots watching you. There I went by taxi Concorde towards Runway 27 R at London Airport”.

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, cabin policy was very open, with a lot of interaction between crew and passengers. “The first big star I met Elton John. “I was sitting in the front row,” Tye recalls. A few weeks ago I went to Wembley Stadium with 100,000 people. We had a brief conversation of which I remember little because I was so impressed. Over time, on those flights where caviar was served with mother’s pearl cutlery, the pilot got used to communicating with some of his idols, among whom he particularly remembers. Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney.

On flights, caviar was served with mother-of-pearl cutlery and pilots chatted with celebrities (Stephen Sacklin/Getty Images)

It’s all history

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Another Concorde pilot, Jack Lowewho turned 25 on the day of the ship’s first flight – watched the historic moment on television – Muhammad Ali, Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery. And many celebrities. “There were a lot of people traveling that I would never have dreamed of meeting: pop stars, movie stars, businessmen, royalty,” he says. In addition to regular flights, Concorde added charter flights for the most VIPs. The main difference, Lowe says, is that “there was a little more tension and pressure on the charter to make sure the flight took off and arrived on time. At one point we were flying together Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip From Canada to the United Kingdom, we had to slow down as temperatures in the upper atmosphere reached the limit. Rani noticed and asked what was happening. I replied. The conversation was very funny: I was able to explain to him that although we were slowing down, we were not slowing down, we were coming as planned. It was so”.

when Cold War, the Soviet Union produced its supersonic aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-144. But it only flew 55 flights with passengers, and the program was canceled due to numerous failures, one of which was a major crash at the Paris Air Show in 1973. Concorde, on the other hand, dominated the skies for nearly three decades. , it carried about 2.5 million passengers and made 5,000 flights in its brief useful life, until ruthless market laws forced it into early retirement.