Aviation History

The story of the four British Airways Concorde Supersonic Airliners that flew in formation on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve 1985, a unique Concorde formation appeared in the sky.

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.

On Christmas Eve 1985, a unique Concorde formation appeared in the sky.

In 1986 British Airways were celebrating the upcoming 10th anniversary of launching the first regular supersonic route: London – Washington D.C.

Concorde had accumulated 71,000 supersonic flying hours during that time.

BA attempted something never done before to commemorate those 10 years of services. They decided to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Concorde flying four aircraft in formation for a very special birthday photo.

As reported by concordesst.com days of detailed planning went into the project that would see 4 Concorde in the new BA Landor livery flying together over the south coast of the UK.

Concorde schedules were scoured to find a date when 4 of the fleet in the new livery would be available.

Even though the dates were hard to come by three were found and the engineers set to work to ensure that the 4 chosen aircraft would be serviceable and not have to be withdrawn at the last moment.

BA’s Senior Concorde crews were chosen to fly the aircraft for the event:

G-BOAA (leader)
Captain Brain Walpole
First Officer Dave Rowland
Engineering Officer Ian Smith

Captain John Eames
First Officer Peter Horton
Engineering Officer Roger Bricknell

Captain John Cook
First Officer Jock Lowe
Engineering Officer Bill Brown

Captain David Leney
First Officer John White
Engineering Officer Dave MacDonald

Each crew was given a special task to look after.

Captain Brian Walpole, general manager of the Concorde Division, not only flew as leader and decided on what formations would be flown, but also oversaw the planning for the event. Captain David Leany devised detailed flight planning, that included working with air traffic control. Captain Jock Lowe and Engineering Officer Dave McDonald undertook the other planning work.

To share the moment with as many of their staff as possible, BA decided that each aircraft would carry 65 of their flight deck crews as passengers during the 1 hr subsonic formation flight. The tickets were distributed to the staff by their heads of department who each had an allocation.

Initially scheduled for November 1985, the formation flight was postponed until Christmas Eve because of technical limitations and very bad weather it when there would be better aircraft availability, due to fewer services being flown.

The morning of the formation flight finally arrived, and the crews along with the expectant passengers in tow were met with a very rare sight, with all four aircraft, G-BOAA, G-BOAB, G-BOAF and G-BOAG parked up side by side, ready and waiting to make history.

The Concordes were pushed back off their stand, their engines started and the police closed off the road crossing so all 4 could taxi across to the main airport apron.

The formation would be led by a Learjet that would capture the event on film and video.

The airliners departed from the ramp outside Tech Block K, lined up on Heathrow’s runway 28R (now 27R) and within 10 minutes all 5 were in the air, heading for the rendezvous point 15,000ft above Lyneham in Wiltshire.

High above the English countryside the 4 aircraft closed up into their first formation, the Diamond, with Alpha-Alpha leading and Alpha-Golf bringing up the rear. Another one of the pictures taken at this time was subsequently computer-enhanced, for the new livery, in the late 1990’s.

As they headed towards Land’s End they formed into their 2nd formation: a Concorde “swan like” outline, built with 4 Concordes.

The final formation called for the aircraft to line up for the set of famous pictures.

According to concordesst.com, to this day the captains still argue who’s fault it was that the line-up is not perfect, although the imperfection helps to prove that the picture was real and not a mock up. The captain in G-BOAB will tell you he was formatting on the leader while the other 2 were too far ahead, while the captains of Alpha-Foxtrot and Alpha-Golf will tell you they were formatting on the leader and it was Alpha-Bravo that was falling behind!

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

Two days later, 6 of the aircraft were lined up on the ramp of the engineering base for a unique shot of 6 aircraft together (the 7th was in the paint shop being put into the new livery).

This was the most Concorde ever photographed together until late 2000, when all 7 were brought together for the first and only time, before work got under way on the return-to-flight modifications.

Brian Walpole famously told the photographer that as the weather was bad:
“if he had to crash, please don’t crash on the Concordes as you will wipe out nearly my entire fleet!”

In this Short clip you will see and hear Captain John Hutchinson explaining the formation before having a go at the controls himself.

Photo credit: Adrian Meredith via 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.

Recent Posts

The USAF Skyraider pilot who landed his SPAD on a besieged airstrip to rescue another crash-landed A-1 pilot

The A-1 Skyraider Designed as a US Navy carrier-based aircraft, the AD (Attack, Douglas) Skyraider… Read More

18 hours ago

Russia most powerful and quiet nuclear attack submarine Carries Out Missile Exercise off US East Coast

Russia most powerful nuclear attack submarine off US East Coast Kazan, a nuclear Russian Yasen-M-class… Read More

21 hours ago

When Soviets faked a flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4s to pretend they had a credible fleet of bombers, the US increased B-52 production by 35%

The fake flyby of 28 Myasishchev M-4s that increased B-52 production When the Myasishchev design… Read More

2 days ago