Civil Aviation

The forgotten story of when Pan Am evaluated the Concorde and its crews pushed it to Mach 2.6

“Ultimately, all of the U.S. airlines canceled their orders for the Concorde for economic as well as environmental reasons. John Anderson and I were tremendously disappointed,” Paul Roitsch, Captain with Pan Am.

The Aérospatiale/British Aircraft Corporation (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.

The Concorde, which was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the 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 the Concorde although the aircraft was evaluated by Pan Am.

Since the Concorde would have changed the way passengers traveled across the Atlantic and since Pan Am believed that supersonic was the future of aviation, in 1963 the company would option the aircraft and become the third airline to have the plane on its order book.

As reported by Simple Flying, it is likely that Pan Am would have used the Concorde to cross to Europe (the famous London to New York route).

President JFK was blindsided by the deal. He said that the US was just about to announce its own supersonic transport (SST) the very next day.

“This order involves hundreds of millions of dollars in balance of payments, which is going to sabotage a program to put the United States up in the lead in the 70s,” said Kennedy of the Pan Am order.

Pan Am was aware of the new American SST program, but decided to order the Concorde anyway.

In 1963 the company placed an order for three aircraft from Aerospatiale and three from BAC. Pan Am would also reserve two options (one from each) which ordered in 1966.

Negotiations went on almost under the eyes of the world news media. As was to be expected, the main discussions centred around the economics of the aircraft. According to, the performance guarantees that Aerospatiale/BAC were prepared to offer would probably have been found acceptable but there was a difference of opinion on the likely revenue earning capacity of the aircraft.

Actually there was disagreement over the predictions of the Concorde operating costs. In the process of negotiating a sale of aircraft equipment, differences of this kind are not unusual, but on this occasion the gap between the two sides was wide enough to represent the difference between a profitable and a loss-making operation. And, despite a vigorous and highly professional marketing campaign, the gap proved to be unbridgeable. On Jan. 31, 1973, the last day of the six months period, Pan Am announced that it had decided to cancel its options.

In its statement, Pan Am said that its studies indicated that the “aeroplane will be capable of scheduled supersonic service,” but that it would require substantially higher fares than today’s and therefore did not satisfy the airlines’ future requirements.

However, the airline did not exclude the possibility that its interest in Concorde might be revived in the future. Pan American said that they would “maintain an open door to the manufacturers should they have any new proposals they wished to make.”

Although the company never ordered the aircraft, as reported by Heritage Concorde, Pan Am’s Captain Paul Roitsch and Flight Engineer John Anderson had the chance to perform a flight evaluation of the Concorde in Toulouse. Both had been at ground school in England in early 1969.

Paul Roitsch reports: “John Anderson and I were given approximately two more days of ground school and at least two simulator rides on the Concorde. On November 8, 1969, accompanied by Sud Aviation test pilot Jean Franchi, John and I flew the first airline evaluation flight during the one-hundredth hour of operation of the first prototype (Concorde 001). For two hours and five minutes, we took the 1,400-mph Concorde to an altitude of 43,000 feet and to a speed of Mach 1.219 (802 mph). I didn’t want to bring it back.

“Thereafter, John and I flew the airplane in 1971, three more times evaluating performance, flying qualities and failure modes and reached a top speed of Mach 2.6.

“Ultimately, all of the U.S. airlines canceled their orders for the Concorde for economic as well as environmental reasons. John Anderson and I were tremendously disappointed.”

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Photo credit: Heritage Concorde and Hobbydb

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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