Concorde: Faster Than the Speed of Sound

A British Airways Concorde. (Photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons)
A British Airways Concorde. (Photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1976, the first Concorde flight between London and Washington, D.C. took place.

Here are some things you may not have known about Concorde.

The idea of supersonic passenger flights began in the early 1950s, a few years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time in 1947.

The British government began making practical plans for a supersonic passenger plane in 1956, with a contract awarded for preliminary designs in 1959. At the same time, the French government was beginning its own supersonic program. Eventually, the two nations signed a treaty to develop the program together.

In 1967, the first Concorde began test flights. At the same time, the British-French consortium began advertising for buyers of the plane. One ad predicted a market for 350 Concordes by 1980. They eventually received non-binding orders for more than 100 aircraft from airlines including Pan Am, United, Continental, American, Air Canada, TWA and Qantas.

The first flight by Concorde was on March 2, 1969 from Toulouse, France. In 1973, the first British version made the first Concorde flight to the United States to mark the opening of the new Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

A crash during the 1973 Paris Air Show of a similarly designed plane built by the Soviet Union tempered the excitement over Concorde. This resulted in only Air France and British Airways taking up their orders. Another reason for many of the cancelations was the development of the Boeing 747, which made ordinary, subsonic flights considerably more economical.

In 1976, the U.S. Congress banned Concorde landings in the United States due to complaints about engine noise and sonic booms. The first scheduled Concorde flights were on January 21, 1976 between London and Bahrain and Paris and Rio de Janeiro by way of Dakar, Senegal. Three months later Air France began service between Paris and Caracas, Venezuela, via the Azores. Eventually permission was granted to allow Concorde to fly in and out of Washington Dulles International Airport and both Air France and British Airways began service on May 24, 1976.

After a U.S. Supreme Court decision, service to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport began on November 22, 1977.

The ability to fly at Mach 2, allowed Concorde to travel between New York and London in less than half the time it takes a traditional subsonic plane. The fastest Concorde crossing between JFK and Heathrow was a 1996 flight that took 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds. The scheduled flight time for a regular jet is right around seven hours.

In 1983, the British government was considering shutting down Concorde service. However British Airways bought the planes outright and increased the fares, allowing the company to make a profit on the service.

Eventually three events combined to spell the end of Concorde.

The first was the 2000 crash of Air France Flight 4590 at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. As Concorde was taking off, it ran over a part from another airplane which caused a tire blowout. Pieces of the tire punctured a fuel tank causing the plane to catch fire and crash. 115 people died, including four on the ground. It was the only fatal accident in Concorde’s history.

The second event was the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. World air travel slumped dramatically, causing the service to become uneconomical.

The final event was the decision by the consortium that built Concorde to stop making new replacement parts.

The final flight of Concorde was on November 26, 2003.

Our question, the consortium between the British and French led indirectly to the formation of what aircraft company?

Today is Bermuda Day, Commonwealth Day in Belize and Independence Day in Eritrea.

It’s unofficially Asparagus Day, Brother’s Day, International Tiara Day and National Escargot Day.

It’s the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born in 1819; musician Bob Dylan, who is 75 today; and author Michael Chabon, who is 53.

This week in 1976, the top song in the U.S. was “Silly Love Songs” by Wings.

The No. 1 movie was “All the President’s Men,” while the novel “1876” by Gore Vidal topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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