Aviation History

20 Years On: Concorde supersonic airliner’s last commercial flight

Concorde last commercial flight

On Oct. 24, 2003, Concorde flew for the final time after a 27-year service within the British Airways fleet.

It was the end of an era that had promised so much, not least London to New York in less than three hours.

According to a British Airways news release, the airline’s Concorde made just under 50,000 flights and flew more than 2.5m passengers supersonically. With a take-off speed of 220 knots (250mph) and a cruising speed of 1350mph – more than twice the speed of sound – 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.

In November 1986 a British Airways Concorde flew around the world, covering 28,238 miles in 29 hours, 59 minutes.

Concorde used the most powerful pure jet engines flying commercially

Concorde used the most powerful pure jet engines flying commercially. The Aircraft’s four engines took advantage of what is known as ‘reheat’ technology, adding fuel to the final stage of the engine, which produced the extra power required for take-off and the transition to supersonic flight.

Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing was on Feb. 7, 1996 when it completed the New York to London flight in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

Concorde measured nearly 204ft in length and stretched between 6 and 10 inches in flight due to heating of the airframe. It was painted in a specially developed white paint to accommodate these changes and to dissipate the heat generated by supersonic flight.

A team of about 250 British Airways’ engineers worked tirelessly, together with the relevant authorities, to ensure safety on board and Concorde was subjected to 5,000 hours of testing before it was first certified for passenger flight, making it the most tested aircraft ever.

Bringing to a close the world’s only supersonic passenger service

On Oct. 24, 2003, British Airways withdrew Concorde, bringing to a close the world’s only supersonic passenger service. The final scheduled commercial flight was BA002 from JFK operated by G-BOAG.

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As reported by Daily Mail, 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.

Operators British Airways and Air France had blamed the end of Concorde on a downturn in demand and the fact it was hugely expensive.

Concorde made its maiden flight on Mar. 2, 1969, from Toulouse Airport. It was flown for 27 minutes by test pilot Andrew Turcat. 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 tragic defining moment of Concorde

On Jul. 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.

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.

The end of an era

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 Sep. 11.

Accordingly, the final ever non-commercial Concorde flight took off from Heathrow on Nov. 26, 2003.

It made the short journey to Filton, Bristol, where the plane first took to the skies.

BA’s fleet of seven aircraft were dispersed for preservation at Barbados (AE), Edinburgh (AA), Filton (AF), Manchester (AC), New York (AD) and Seattle (AG) with one (AB) remaining at Heathrow.

Photo credit: British Airways

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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