A joint venture between the British and French governments, Concorde redefined what it was to fly when its first commercial flight took off 40 years ago today. To celebrate the momentous occasion, here are 40 intriguing facts about the supersonic aircraft.
1. Concorde’s first successfully completed supersonic flight took place on October 1, 1969, but it wasn’t until January 21, 1976, that the first commercial flights took place. On that day a British Airways Concorde flight flew from London to Bahrain and an Air France Concorde flight flew from Paris to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar.
2. A one-way fare on the inaugural flight from London to Bahrain cost £356; at the time flying the route in a conventional first-class service cost £309.50.
3. The aircraft seated 100 passengers: 40 in the front cabin and 60 in the rear cabin.
4. Flights accommodated a crew of nine: two pilots, one flight engineer and a cabin crew of six.
5. The aircraft was subjected to 5,000 hours of testing before it was first certified for passenger flight, making it the most tested aircraft ever
6. The first Concorde flight to America was to Dallas Forth Worth on September 20, 1973.
7. The quintessential Concorde route, between London and New York, was inaugurated on November 22, 1977.
8. A typical London to New York crossing would take a little less than three and a half hours as opposed to about eight hours for a subsonic flight
9. Concorde still holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic by a civil aircraft. The quickest Concorde flight from New York to London, on February 7 1996, took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
10. Concorde fares between London and New York cost over £1,000 by the 1980s, but canny passengers could save hundreds of pounds by flying the route as a courier and personally delivering sensitive cargo between the two destinations.
11. Concorde had a take-off speed of 220 knots (250mph) and a cruising speed of 1350mph – more than twice the speed of sound. Its landing speed was 187mph.
12. The first round-the-world flight by a BA Concorde took place on November 8, 1986. The aircraft covered 28,238 miles in 29 hours 59 minutes.
13. Concorde could fly up to 60,000ft, a height of over 11 miles. From there, at the edge of space in the layers between the stratosphere and the ionosphere it was possible for passengers to see the curvature of the Earth.
14. Due to the intense heat of the airframe, Concorde could stretch anywhere from six to 10 inches during flight. Every surface, even the windows, was warm to the touch by the end of the flight.
15. Concorde was painted in a specially developed white paint to accommodate these changes in temperature and to dissipate the heat generated by supersonic flight.
16. The plane had a fuel capacity of 26,286 Imperial gallons (119,500 litres) and consumed 5,638 Imperial gallons (25,629 litres) per hour.
17. The aircraft had a range of 4,143 miles (6,667 kms).
18. Though they spent little time on board, Concorde passengers could expect to be generously fed. The menu on British Airways’ first commercial flight included Dom Perignon 1969 champagne, caviar and lobster canapes, grilled fillet steak, palm heart salad with Roquefort dressing and fresh strawberries with double cream. In another sign of the times, customers were also offered Havana cigars.
19. Only 14 different Concorde aircraft ever flew commercially.
20. Concorde didn’t just transport passengers and their luggage. It was sometimes used to transport human organs, diamonds and currency.
21. James Callaghan was the first British prime minister to travel at supersonic speeds when he flew by Concorde to see President Carter in Washington to negotiate landing rights for the aircraft in the US.
22. Concorde was also popular with the Queen and celebrities. Joan Collins travelled with the aircraft so frequently that she became something of an ambassador for the service. Other notable passengers included Elton John, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and Sean Connery.
23. Diana Ross was arrested before boarding Concorde, for assaulting a security officer who had attempted to search her.
24. Phil Collins famously used Concorde to perform at Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985.
25. Concorde made just under 50,000 flights during its lifespan.
26. Concorde was also chartered for private group tours. The first, from Heathrow to Nice for the Monaco Grand Prix, departed on May 15, 1983.
27. Some 2.5 million passengers flew supersonically with Concorde.
28. Concorde’s oldest passenger was Eva Woodman, from Bristol. She was aged 105 during her flight from Filton over the Bay of Biscay in 1998.
29. Plans to enhance Concorde’s interiors were scuppered when the aircraft was withdrawn from service. Sir Terence Conran had been enlisted to revitalise the décor in 2001 and had planned lighting features that would turn a cool blue when Concorde flew through the sound barrier at Mach 1. The proposal was never realised.
30. During the design process that preceded the development of Concorde, the aircraft manufacturing company Handley Page Limited suggested seating passengers within compartments in the plane’s wings.
31. A planned route from London to Singapore via Bahrain, operated in conjunction with Singapore Airlines, was cancelled after just three return flights due to complains about noise disturbances caused by the aircraft’s sonic boom.
32. Concorde was impeded from flying over Saudi Arabian airspace as it was felt that noise from the aircraft would disturb camel breeding.
33. The most disastrous day in Concorde’s history was on July 25, 2000. A flight departing from Paris ran over a piece of titanium that had fallen from another aircraft. It burst the tire and resulted in the fuel tank igniting. The plane crashed killing all on board.
34. Though it has fallen from public consciousness, Russia’s TU-144 supersonic aircraft commenced service before Concorde. It made its maiden flight on December 31, 1968, two months before Concorde, and went into service delivering cargo the following year. It first flew passengers in 1977 and after crashing twice was withdrawn from commercial service in 1985.
35. During its time in service, Concorde’s profitability figures weren’t released by BA but it is understood that the service wasn’t a profitable enterprise. Fuel costs were significant and other incidents, such as the Paris crash, caused consumers to lose confidence in the aircraft. After the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001, passenger rates fell to less than 50 per cent.
36. Concorde’s last commercial flight was from New York to Heathrow on October 24, 2003.
37. By the time flights finished, Concorde was the last BA aircraft that had a flight engineers as part of the crew.
38. Concorde can still be seen at the following sites: Museum of Flight, East Fortune, near Edinburgh (Alpha Alpha); Heathrow Airport (Alpha Bravo), Aviation viewing park, Manchester Airport (Alpha Charlie), The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York (Alpha Delta); Grantley Adams Airport, Bridgetown, Barbados (Alpha Echo); Airbus UK, Filton, Bristol (Alpha Foxtrot); The Museum of Flight, Seattle (Alpha Golf). An eighth Concorde (Delta Golf), owned by British Airways but never operated commercially, was the final test aircraft. It can be seen at Brooklands Museum in Weybridge.
39. Though BA has no plans to recommence Concorde flights, the aircraft may fly again soon. Club Concorde, a collective of aviation enthusiasts and former Concorde pilots and charterers, claims it has adequate financial backing and expertise to independently place a Concorde plane on display on London’s South Bank by 2017 and to return the supersonic aircraft to service by 2019.
40. Concorde has also provided inspiration to a number of other aviation and engineering firms that are hoping to launch transatlantic commercial supersonic flights by the 2020s.
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