Aviation History

Did you know that the Concorde supersonic airliner with Pepsi Blue Paint was limited to Mach 1.7? Here’s why

The Concorde

The Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde was a British-French supersonic passenger jet airliner. It had a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h at cruise altitude, over twice the speed of sound), with seating for 92 to 128 passengers.

The aircraft entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years. Concorde, which was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty, was built in twenty samples including six prototypes and development aircraft.

Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA) were the only airlines to purchase and fly Concorde. The supersonic airliner flew regular transatlantic flights from London’s Heathrow Airport and Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Washington Dulles International Airport and Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados; it flew these routes in less than half the time of other airliners.

Concorde supersonic airliner with Pepsi Blue Paint

Concorde was one of the most iconic aircraft to ever grace the sky. But for two weeks, Pepsi took over one of the most famous Concorde’s as part of their massive ‘Project Blue’ campaign. This transformation from white to blue caused some problems for the supersonic airliner.

As the interesting video in this post explains, with its market shares eroding in the soft drinks market, in the mid-1990s the US Company Pepsi Cola needed to undertake a major re-branding of its products, therefore it spent $500 million US, on this project. So, Pepsi started to look around for a spectacular and efficient manner to advertise its new brand style and in the process enhance its sales. It was eventually decided to have an advertisement operation involving the Concorde.

As explained by ConcordeSST.com, Pepsi started requesting proposals from both Air France and British Airways, the only two operators of Concorde; Air France was awarded the contract from Pepsi. This meant that as the new identity of Pepsi was based on the colour blue, the aircraft would need to be painted blue. The issue of temperature was very important to Concorde, and the darker colours tend to build, retain and hold heat longer than lighter ones. It was necessary then for Air France maintenance staff to contact Aerospatiale, the French joint manufactures of Concorde, as the aircraft was only certified with a white colour scheme. They received approval to paint the fuselage in blue, but were advised to keep the wings in white due to the fuel temperature concerns.

Limited to Mach 1.7

Air France was advised to remain at Mach 2.02 for no more than 20 minutes at the most, but no restrictions were placed on them below Mach 1.70. This was not a concern for Air France as the aircraft was not due to operate any scheduled flight to New York or any other such long sectors.

Since Concorde was due to be presented in British Airways’ backyard, Air France required its name to be kept close to the cockpit, as well as the seahorse logo, this in despite of the Pepsi blue paint scheme.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

A part of the preparation included the constitution of a maintenance package, necessary handling tools and ground equipment, etc., as for any unscheduled Concorde operation.

The whole operation carried out to this Concorde was to be undertaken in secret, as Pepsi wanted to keep all the surprise for the moment when it would unveil its new identity, Pepsi Blue. Concorde “Sierra Delta” was thus covered by brown wrapping paper after it was painted; this would allow as few people as possible to be aware of the new paint scheme. It eventually left the hanger on Mar. 31, 1996 during the night, and was quickly rolled to the runway where it took off for London – Gatwick (LGW), where Pepsi had planned to receive its guests at the special launch event. It was Freud Communications that launched the new drink, Pepsi Blue, at Gatwick Airport with the revealing of Concorde branded with the colour and logo of the product. The Concorde was immediately towed to the hanger after its arrival, and made ready for the show.

People astonished to see the Concorde with Pepsi Blue Paint

And yet, a few days before the new brand was unveiled, Richard Branson had apparently heard about the advertisement operation, as proved ads for the Virgin Cola soft drink in the British press. A few articles about an Air France Concorde being repainted with a blue colour scheme were issued in the newspapers.

The show took place on Apr. 2, 1996, with the presence of Claudia Schiffer, Andre Agassi, Cindy Crawford, and hundreds of journalists invited by Pepsi for the event. It was Freud Communications that launched the new drink, Pepsi Blue, at Gatwick Airport with the revealing of Concorde branded with the colour and logo of the product.

People were really astonished to see the Concorde with the blue livery. Flight attendants each had a special pin on their uniform designed for the occasion.

Afterwards, “Sierra Delta” started a promotion campaign in Europe and the Middle East. For the Pepsi commercial operation, there were a total of 16 flights which included the ferry flights from Orly, 10 cities were visited. Each flight, except the first and last ones, would have been occasions to go supersonic.

The promotional Flights

PHASE 1

Captain – Y. Pecresse
First Officer – B. Bachelet
Flight Engineer – A. Piccinini

  • 31 March Paris (ORY)-London (LGW)
  • 02 April London (LGW)-London (LGW)
  • 03 April London (LGW)-Dublin (DUB)
  • 03 April Dublin (DUB)-Dublin (DUB)
  • 04 April Dublin (DUB)-Stockholm (ARN)
  • 04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Stockholm (ARN)
  • 04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Paris (CDG)
  • 31 March Paris (ORY)-London (LGW)
  • 02 April London (LGW)-London (LGW)
  • 03 April London (LGW)-Dublin (DUB)
  • 03 April Dublin (DUB)-Dublin (DUB)
  • 04 April Dublin (DUB)-Stockholm (ARN)
  • 04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Stockholm (ARN)
  • 04 April Stockholm (ARN)-Paris (CDG)
  • 06 April Paris (CDG)-Beirut (BEY)
  • 07 April Beirut (BEY)-Dubai (DXB)
  • 07 April Dubai (DXB)-Dubai (DXB)
  • 07 April Dubai (DXB)-Jeddah (JED)
  • 08 April Jeddah (JED)-Cairo (CAI)
  • 08 April Cairo (CAI)-Milan (LIN)
  • 09 April Milan (LIN)-Madrid (MAD)
  • 09 April Madrid (MAD)-Madrid (MAD)
  • 09 April Madrid (MAD)-Paris (ORY)

PHASE 2

Captain – G. Arondel
First Officer – P. Decamps
Flight Engineer – M. Suand

  • 06 April Paris (CDG)-Beirut (BEY)
  • 07 April Beirut (BEY)-Dubai (DXB)
  • 07 April Dubai (DXB)-Dubai (DXB)
  • 07 April Dubai (DXB)-Jeddah (JED)
  • 08 April Jeddah (JED)-Cairo (CAI)
  • 08 April Cairo (CAI)-Milan (LIN)
  • 09 April Milan (LIN)-Madrid (MAD)
  • 09 April Madrid (MAD)-Madrid (MAD)
  • 09 April Madrid (MAD)-Paris (ORY)

Photo credit: Richard Vandervord via Wikipedia

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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