Sadly Concorde stopped flying in 2003. This was due to the Paris airport crash of 2000, the general downturn in the commercial aviation industry as well as increasing maintenance costs. The world suddenly became a bigger place again on 25th October, the day after it stopped flying.
Much has been written about Concorde’s history, celebrity passengers, sad demise and of late its potential new lease of life in 2019 if enthusiasts are able to get a single Concorde back in the air again. But what was it like to fly in?
The most popularised route was London to New York but few people realise there were shorter, chartered trips available too. One such regular trip was London Heathrow to the Bay of Biscay, just north of Spain, and back again (a big 1h 40m loop route) and in 1989 I was lucky enough to be on such a trip with ‘Flights of Fantasy’. In doing so I became one of “just” 2.5m passengers to experience Concorde at twice the speed of sound.
After a champagne reception in the trip’s own private departure lounge we boarded Concorde and found our seats in row 15. You felt like you were in a small tube, with just 2 seats either side of the aisle, little headroom and small windows to look out of (apparently to limit the speed of decompression if there was an incident at its higher altitudes).
The most noticeable difference though between flying in Concorde compared to a normal passenger plane was the punch in the back we got as it accelerated along the runway along with the much steeper angle of climb at take-off (250 mph and 22° compared to 170mph and 10° for a 747). Also the fact that you knew you were doing something special and people would be looking up in the air pointing no matter what their age, status or background.
Onboard there was a green digital instrument in the bulkhead in front of us that displayed the speed in Mach with a resounding cheer when we hit Mach 1 and then a further one at Mach 2. Although we were flying at 1,334mph there was absolutely no difference in the cabin itself or any sense of this speed when we transitioned from subsonic to 1 and then onto 2. Only if you saw a plane out of the window below you going backwards would you have been able to appreciate Concorde’s sheer speed. Only military aircraft were able to fly faster!
In the days before terrorism we were even allowed to wander up to the flight deck to see through the cockpit window and speak to the pilots. Far, far more innocent times, something that sadly would be unheard of today. Nobody onboard that day would have believed that 14 years later it would be taken out of service and not replaced with something even quicker. Of the 20 operational aircraft that were built 18 remain preserved today with our plane G-BOAA now being housed at the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, Scotland. That’s why it’s great news that Concorde might once again grace our skies and allow us to go forwards rather than backwards once more.
Check out also this great piece on Concorde in the Independent by Simon Calder