In 1969, Concorde’s first trial flight was hailed as promising to fly people into a brand-new high-tech future at speeds of 1,330 miles per hour. It was a Franco-British development, born in an era when aviation fuel was cheap and environmental concerns had not yet surfaced. In an age of space exploration and the first moon landings, Concorde was a triumph for both Britain and France.
Euronews aviation reporter Giovanni Magi said: “It was all about national prestige. The USA had already attempted a similar project, and the USSR had developed their own supersonic plane, the Tupolev 144, which was retired very soon after entering service.”
It was also a technical challenge, however. Its development turned received ideas about aeronautical design upside down and led to new developments such as Teflon, anti-lock braking systems and electronic flight control systems.
The first commercial flights started in 1976 and flew from London to Bahrain and Washington, and from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.
Magi said: “There was also the pride in breaking records, achieving supersonic speeds, crossing the Atlantic in 3 and a half hours instead of 8 – and because of the difference in time zones, arrival time in New York was two hours earlier than departure time in London or Paris. So business people could fly out to New York for a meeting and fly back the same day.”
But of course supersonic travel was only ever for those who could pay the fares – Concorde was three times more expensive than conventional flights. The petrol crisis in 1973 pushed prices of aviation fuel up, and there were other issues.
Magi said: “Commercial supersonic flights have different aeronautical characteristics and problems from ordinary aircraft. For example, when flying, air friction heated the fuselage to around 120 degrees centigrade. And the fuselage used to stretch by around 30cms during each flight and the pilots would have been burned if they had touched the windows.”
Finally, with only 20 aircraft ever built, and only 15 of them in service at any one time, it was difficult to make Concorde profitable and it was finally retired from service in 2003.