Concorde’s last commercial flight: How Jeremy Clarkson, David Frost and Jodie Kidd flew on its final journey from New York to London on this day 20 years ago – three years after Air France crash that killed all 109 people on board
- Total of three Concorde planes touched down at Heathrow on October 24, 2003
- One from New York was the final commercial fight and had celebrities on board
It was the end of an era that had promised so much, not least London to New York in less than three hours.
Twenty years ago today Concorde – the great feat of British and French engineering – made its final commercial flight.
On board for the journey from New York to London Heathrow were 100 lucky celebrities, including Jeremy Clarkson, Jodie Kidd, Joan Collins and the famed TV interviewer David Frost.
Two other Concorde planes had already landed just minutes earlier. One carried competition winners from Edinburgh, and the other had taken invited guests around the Bay of Biscay.
There to greet them were thousands of Britons with waving Union Jacks, symbolising the pride of a nation that had been enraptured by the technological feat of supersonic travel.
Not on the agenda that day was the devastating Concorde crash in July 2000 that killed all 109 people on board.
Operators British Airways and Air France had blamed the end of Concorde on a downturn in demand and the fact it was hugely expensive.
It was the end of an era that had promised so much, not least London to New York in less than three hours. Twenty years ago today, Concorde made its final commercial flight. Above: The plane takes off from New York
On board for the journey from New York to London Heathrow were 100 lucky celebrities, including Jeremy Clarkson (above), Jodie Kidd (right) and the famed TV interviewer David Frost
Largely forgotten though was the tragedy three years earlier that helped seal the project’s fate: the devastating Concorde crash during take-off from Paris in July 2000 that killed all 109 people on board
Concorde made its maiden flight on March 2, 1969, from Toulouse Airport. It was flown for 27 minutes by test pilot Andrew Turcat.
Concorde: Key stats
- Average cruise speed: 1,320mph (Mach 2.02).
- Typical take-off speed: 250mph (220kt).
- Max take-off weight: 185,070kg (408,000lb).
- Cabin width: 2.63m (8ft 8in).
- Height: 11.30m (37ft 1in).
- Wing span: 25.56m (83ft 10in).
- Length: 62.10m (203ft 9in).
A little more than a month afterwards, a prototype piloted by test pilot Brian Trubshaw took off from the British Aircraft Corporation’s (BAC) site in Filton near Bristol.
The jet made a short trip to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, bringing commercial travel one step closer.
Prior to the maiden flight, the coalition of two governments and two aircraft makers – British Aircraft Corporation (now BAE Systems) and Sud-Aviation, a precursor to Airbus – had encountered a series of hurdles and differences.
Even the aircraft’s name, which means ‘agreement’ in both languages, was a sticking point: English-style ‘Concord’ or ‘Concorde’ in French?
Britain’s technology minister Tony Benn settled the dispute in 1967, keeping the ‘e’ for ‘excellence’, ‘England’, ‘Europe’ and ‘Entente cordiale’, as he said.
Concorde had four Rolls-Royce Olympus engines that burned 6,771 gallons (25,629 litres) of fuel every hour.
They enabled it to reach a cruising velocity of 1,350mph, twice the speed of sound.
The plane’s most distinctive feature – its pointed nose – drooped downwards during take-off to allow for better pilot visibility.
The last British Airways Concorde lands at London’s Heathrow Airport Friday October 24, 2003, on the day that the world’s first supersonic airliner retired from commercial service
Two other Concorde planes had already landed just minutes earlier. One carried competition winners from Edinburgh, and the other had taken invited guests around the Bay of Biscay. Above: The three planes on the runway at Heathrow
Plane-spotters line up to buy souvenirs beside the runway on the day Concorde was being retired
The last ever British Airways commercial Concorde flight touches down at Heathrow airport
The last ever British Airways commercial Concorde flight touches down at Heathrow airport
Concorde was retired from service in October 2003, with British Airways and Air France blaming a downturn in passenger numbers and rising maintenance costs
The last Concorde flight took place in October 2003. Pictured are the flight crew from the last flight leaning out of the windows of the cockpit
Its triangular ‘delta’ wings were also instantly recognisable and offered stability and efficiency.
READ MORE: British Airways supersonic Concorde that set New York to London record at 1,350mph – more than twice the speed of sound – gets tour of the Hudson as it’s moved from Intrepid Museum to Brooklyn shipyard for makeover
Innovations born with Concorde advanced aeronautics, including the weight-saving aluminium for the body and the first ever use of electronic controls to replace manual ones.
According to BAE Systems, the estimated final overall cost of developing the Concorde was around $1.6 billion.
Its inaugural scheduled passenger flights were on January 21, 1976: the Paris-Rio route operated by Air France and London-Bahrain by British Airways.
But tickets did not come cheap. A return London-New York ticket in 2003 cost around £8,300 pounds ($11,960).
That meant that it was largely the preserve of the very wealthy, or the very famous.
Regular passengers included Joan Collins, Sir Paul McCartney, Diana, Princess of Wales and David Frost.
On the 2003 flight, passengers famously claimed Jeremy Clarkson launched his glass of champagne over Piers Morgan’s lap.
Jock Lowe, who was the longest serving Concorde pilot, said flying the aircraft was ‘like driving a sports car compared with a normal car’.
Pictured are the crew of the first ever Concorde flight. They were Michel Retif, flight engineer, Andre Turcat, captain, mechanical engineer Henri Perrier, and Jacques Guignard, co-pilot
It was until several months later on October 1, 1969 that Concorde first went supersonic during a test flight in Toulouse
The first ever Concorde flight takes off from Toulouse Airport exactly 50 years ago today on March 2, 1969
Concorde welcomed the Queen on several ocassions. She is pictured left in 1977 reading newspapers during her flight home from Bridgetown, Barbados after her Silver Jubilee tour of Canada and the West Indies. Pictured right is Her Late Majesty and Princess Anne touring a Concorde cockpit
In 1996 to mark the 50th anniversary of London’s Heathrow Airport a British Airways Concorde took part in a fly past with the RAF’s Red Arrows
Barbara Harmer, from Bognor Regis, flew into the record books when she became the first woman to operate a Concorde in 1993
John Tye said flying Concorde was ‘a real privilege’. Mr Tye, pictured, now a training captain on the Boeing 777, said Concorde was a ‘masterpiece of engineering’ and ‘one of the world’s most beautiful creations’
The final Concorde, Flight 216, takes off from London’s Heathrow Airport, en route to its birthplace Filton in western England, November 26, 2003
On July 25, 2000, Concorde’s tragic defining moment came, when New York-bound Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after take off from Paris
Along with everyone on the plane, four people died on the ground. Most of the passengers were German tourists
For her 80th birthday, the Queen Mother was treated to a flight on a British Airways Concorde in 1980
The Duchess of York, who became the first female Royal to gain a private pilot’s licence, went on the flight deck of a Concorde supersonic jet during a visit to Heathrow Airport in 1987
The Daily Mail produced a souvenir edition that told readers where they could see one of the three last Concorde planes before they touched down at Heathrow
The Daily Mail’s tribute to the incredible plane, which was a British-French project
He continued: ‘The most exhilarating part was the power you had on take-off. The acceleration was really quite special.’
A Concorde timeline
November 1956: A UK committee featuring representatives from aircraft and engine manufacturers as well as government officials is established to analyse the feasibility of a supersonic airliner.
November 1962: A draft treaty is signed by the UK and France to commit to jointly building a supersonic airliner.
March 1969: A Concorde prototype flies for the first time, from Toulouse in the south of France.
January 1976: British Airways and Air France launch commercial Concorde flights.
January 1980: British Airways takes delivery of its seventh and final Concorde.
July 1985: Singer Phil Collins performs at Live Aid concerts in the UK and US on the same day by flying on Concorde.
February 1996: The fastest transatlantic crossing by an airliner is recorded by Concorde on a New York to London flight which took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
July 2000: An Air France Concorde en route from Paris to New York crashes shortly after take-off due to an engine fire, killing all 109 people on board as well as four people on the ground. The Concorde fleets of British Airways and Air France are grounded pending an inquiry.
November 2001: Transatlantic Concorde flights resume from London and Paris following a safety upgrade.
April 2003: It is announced that Concorde will be taken out of service due to a sharp dip in passenger numbers amid global economic problems and the aftermath of September 11.
October 2003: Concorde touches down for the final time after a special flight from London Heathrow to Airbus UK’s Filton airfield in Bristol.
Former British Airways captain John Tye previously described being ‘glued to the TV’ when the maiden flight happened in 1969.
He went on to fly the 100-seater aircraft between 1998 and 2000.
The pilot explained how it required ‘absolute precision’ and would push through the sound barrier while causing ‘nothing more than a ripple on 100 glasses of champagne’.
He added that said Concorde was a ‘masterpiece of engineering’ and ‘one of the world’s most beautiful creations’.
On July 25, 2000, Concorde’s tragic defining moment came, when New York-bound Air France Flight 4590 crashed shortly after take off from Paris.
Along with everyone on the plane, four people died on the ground. Most of the passengers were Greman tourists.
After the crash, the Concorde fleets of British Airways and Concorde were grounded and an inquiry took place.
In November 2001, flights did resume following a safety upgrade, but the superfast plane was ultimately doomed.
In April 2003 it is announced that Concorde would be taken out of service due to a sharp dip in passenger numbers amid global economic problems and the aftermath of September 11.
The final ever non-commercial Concorde flight took off from Heathrow on November 26, 2003.
It made the short journey to Filton, Bristol, where the plane first took to the skies.
During the flight, it swooped low over Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in what marked one final flourish of the great plane.
Once at Filton, it was installed in an exhibition at what is now called Aerospace Bristol.
In 2016, its wheels turned for the final time when the plane was moved so it could be installed in a new purpose-built hangar.
The 17 Concorde jets that survive are now dotted around the world, either on display in museums or in storage.
Besides the one in Bristol, British Airways has a Concorde at its engineering base at Heathrow Airport.
The area is not open for visitors, but some passengers are able to see it when they land at the west London hub.
There is also a fleet of three British development Concordes, which are at Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset, Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire and Brooklands Museum in Surrey.
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