Next Monday, Mar 2, marks the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Aerospatiale/British Aircraft Corporation Concorde, the iconic Anglo-French supersonic airliner that was retired from service in November 2003.
Stemming from European supersonic airliner research in the 1950s, Concorde was the result of a British and French government agreement signed in 1962. The first prototype, Concorde 001, made its maiden flight from Toulouse, France on Mar.2, 1969, and was followed just over a month later by the British-built 002 model which flew from Filton, England.
British-built prototype Concorde 002 on an early test flight at Fairford. (credit. Aviation-Images.com)
Despite optimistic sales forecasts of 240 by 1978, the unacceptable sonic boom problem, the 1970s fuel crisis, growing environmental concerns and the 1973 crash of the competing Tupolev Tu-144 at the Paris air show put paid to these hopes. In the end only 20 Concordes were built, of which 14 were used for passenger services by Air France and British Airways.
Despite being a commercial flop, the aircraft achieved many technological firsts including engines with supercruise capability and electrically controlled analog fly-by-wire flight controls. The Mach 2.02 capable airliner was so advanced it continued to set speed records even on its way to retirement. These include a 3 hr. 5 min. London to Boston trans-Atlantic speed record, New York to London and a trans-Canadian record, all established during the British Airways Concorde fleet’s farewell tour in 2003.
But it wasn't just about speed. In the longer term, the co-operative European venture also made an indelible mark on the aerospace world by paving the way for the subsequent formation of the more successful Airbus Industrie.
What’s more, as these Concorde Tribute compilations below indicate, it stirred public emotions to levels that remain unmatched by any other civil aircraft to this day. Despite being ferociously noisy and environmentally unsound, its sheer beauty and dramatic presence turned heads wherever it flew. When spotted on approach to Heathrow, Londoners would comment “look there’s THE Concorde”, not “there’s A Concorde.” Now retired, the Concorde fleet continues to draw big crowds at museums across the world.
Here’s a selection of tributes from YouTube. Depending on your choice of music (Queen or Coldplay), you may prefer one of the top two. However I found the third one, dedicated to the memory of those lost in the July 2000 Paris crash, and the victims of the 1973 Tu-144 accident, the most intriguing for its use of archive footage.