The Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde supersonic transport (SST) was one of only two supersonic passenger airliners that have ever seen commercial service. Concorde regularly reached a speed of Mach 2.04 and a cruise altitude of 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) with a delta wing configuration and an evolution of the afterburner-equipped engines originally developed for the Avro Vulcan strategic bomber. Commercial flights, operated by British Airways and Air France, began on January 21, 1976 and ended on October 24, 2003, with the last "retirement" flight on November 26 that year.

The last flight lands at Filton, November 26, 2003

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 Scheduled flights
3 Paris crash
4 Withdrawal from service
5 Aircraft Histories
6 Cultural and political impacts
7 Dimensions and specifications
8 Possible replacement
9 See also
10 External links


In the late 1950s the British, French, Americans and Soviets were all interested in developing supersonic transport.

Britain's Bristol Aeroplane Company and France's Sud Aviation were both working on designs; the Type 233 and Super-Caravelle respectively. Both were largely funded by their respective governments as a way of gaining some foothold in the aircraft market that was then utterly dominated by the United States.

The designs were both ready to start into prototype construction in the early 1960s, but the cost was so great that the companies (and governments) decided to join forces. The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between Britain and France rather than a commercial agreement between companies. This made the project almost impossible to cancel even when the aircraft became commercially unviable. A draft treaty was signed on November 28 1962. By this time both companies had been merged into new ones, and the Concorde project was thus a part of the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale. The consortium secured orders for over 100 new airliners from the leading airlines of the era. Pan Am, BOAC and Air France were the launch customers with six Concordes each.

British Airways Concorde in Britsh Airways' post-1993 'Utopia' livery

Concorde 001 took off for the first test flight from Toulouse on March 2, 1969 and the first supersonic flight followed on October 1. The flight program of the first development aircraft progressed as planned, but trouble was brewing on the commercial side of the project. A combination of factors, including the 1970s oil crisis, acute financial difficulties of the partner airlines, a spectacular crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, and environmental issues such as sonic boom noise and pollution caused a sudden cascade of order cancellations. Air France and British Airways ended up as the only buyers. All the unsold aircraft and parts were later sold to them for the nominal price of one British pound.

The US had cancelled its supersonic (SST) program in 1971. Two designs had originally been submitted; the Lockheed L-2000, looking like a scaled-up Concorde, lost out to the Boeing 2707, which had originally been intended to be faster, carry 300 passengers, and feature a swing-wing design.

Both European airlines operated demonstration and test flights to various destinations from 1974 onwards. The testing of Concorde set records which are still unsurpassed; it undertook 5,500 flight hours, 2,000 of which were supersonic. This equates to approximately four times as many as for similarly sized subsonic commercial aircraft.

Scheduled flights

Scheduled flights started on January 21, 1976 on the London-Bahrain and Paris-Rio routes. The United States Congress had just banned Concorde landings in the US, mainly due to citizen protest over sonic booms, preventing launch on the coveted transatlantic routes.

Air France Concorde

When the US ban was lifted in February for over-water supersonic flight, New York quickly followed by banning Concorde locally. Left with little choice on the destination, AF and BA started transatlantic services to Washington D.C on May 24. Finally, in late 1977, the noise concerns of New York residents gave way to the advantages of Concorde traffic, and scheduled service from Paris and London to New York's John F. Kennedy airport started on November 22, 1977.

The average flight time on either route was just under 3.5 hours. Up to 2003, both Air France and British Airways continued to operate the New York services daily. Additionally, Concorde flew to Barbados during the winter holiday season and, occasionally, to charter destinations such as Rovaniemi, Finland. On November 1, 1986, a chartered Concorde circumnavigated the world in 31 hours and 51 minutes.

For a brief period in 1977, and again from 1979 to 1980, British Airways and Singapore Airlines used a shared Concorde for flights between Bahrain and Changi International Airport. The aircraft, G-BOAD, was painted in Singapore livery on the port side and British livery on the starboard side. The service was discontinued after its first three months because of noise complaints from the Malaysian government: it could only be reinstated when a new route, bypassing Malaysian airspace, was designed. However, an ongoing dispute with India prevented the Concorde from reaching supersonic speeds in Indian airspace, so the route was eventually declared unviable.

From 1979 to 1980, Braniff International leased two Concordes, one from both British Airways and Air France. These were used on flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to JFK, feeding BA and AF's routes to London and Paris. The aircraft were registered in both the United States and their home countries, for legal reasons: a sticker would cover up each aircraft's European registration while it was being operated by Braniff. On DFW-JFK flights, the Concordes had Braniff flight crews, although they maintained their native airline livery. However, the flights were not profitable for Braniff and were usually less than 25% booked, which forced Braniff to end its term as the only U.S. Concorde operator.

Paris crash

The Concorde was the safest airliner in the world according to passenger deaths per mile until the 25 July 2000 crash of Air France Flight 4590 in Gonesse, France. All of the people on board the flight perished, as well as five people on the ground.

The incident would make way for modifications to be made to the Concorde. After safety updates on sufficient aircraft, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks, and specially developed, burst-resistant tyres, both routes were re-opened on November 7, 2001.

The new style tires would be yet another contribution from the Concorde programme to future aircraft development.

Withdrawal from service

On April 10, 2003 British Airways and Air France simultaneously announced that they would retire the Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger numbers following the July 25, 2000 crash and rising maintenance costs.

That same day Sir Richard Branson offered to buy British Airways' Concordes for 1 each for service with his Virgin Atlantic Airways, but was refused. He later wrote to The Economist (23 October 2003) that his final offer was "over 5 million" and that he had intended to operate the fleet "for many years to come".

Air France

Air France made its final Concorde landing in the United States in New York City from Paris on May 30, 2003. Firetrucks sprayed the traditional arcs of water above the aircraft on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy airport. It made its final commercial flight back to Paris the following day. The end of Air France's Concorde services was also marked by a charter around the Bay of Biscay.

An auction of Concorde parts and memorabilia for Air France was held at Christie's in Paris, on November 15, 2003. 1,300 people attended, and several lots exceeded their predicted values by ten or more times.

British Airways

BA's last Concorde departure from Barbados was on August 30, 2003.

A final week of farewell flights saw Concorde visiting Birmingham on October 20, Belfast on October 21, Manchester on October 22, Cardiff on October 23, and Edinburgh on October 24. Each day the aircraft made a return flight out and back into Heathrow to the cities concerned, often overflying those cities at relatively low altitude. Over 650 competition winners and 350 special guests were carried.

On the evening of October 23, 2003, the Queen consented to the illumination of Windsor Castle, as Concorde's last ever west- bound commercial flight departed London, and flew overhead. This is an honour normally restricted to major state events and visiting dignitaries.

British Airways retired its aircraft the next day, October 24. One Concorde left New York to a fanfare similar to its Air France predecessor's, while two more made round-trips, one over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests incuding many former Concorde pilots, and one to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then circled over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude, before landing in sequence at Heathrow. The two round-trip Concordes landed at 4:01 and 4:03 PM BST, followed at 4:05 by the one from New York. All three aircraft then spent 45 minutes taxiing around the airport before finally disembarking the last supersonic fare-paying passengers. The pilot of the New York to London flight was Mike Bannister, who had also piloted the first British Concorde commercial flight in 1976.

Passengers on the final transatlantic flight included:

Bonhams held an auction of British Airways' Concorde artefacts on December 1, 2003 at Olympia Exhibition Centre, in Kensington, London. Items sold included a machmeter, a nose cone, Concorde pilot and passenger seats and even the cutlery, ashtrays and blankets used onboard. About 3/4 million was taken, with the first half- million going to 'Get Kids Going!', a charity which gives disabled children and young people the opportunity to participate in sport.

Aircraft Histories

Only 20 Concordes were built, six for development and 14 for commercial service.

These were:

  • two prototypes
  • two pre-production aircraft
  • 16 production aircraft
    • The first two of these did not enter commercial service
    • Of the 14 which flew commercialy, 12 were still in service in April 2003

All but two of these aircraft - a remarkably high percentage for any commercial fleet - are preserved.


Pre-Production Aircraft

Non-commercial Production Aircraft

French Production Aircraft

Air France had seven production aircraft in commercial service:

British Production Aircraft

BA also had seven production aircraft in commercial service:

  • G-BOAA (206) is destined to go to the National Museum of Flight (run by the National Museums of Scotland), East Fortune, near Edinburgh by road or boat. It was mothballed in August 2000 and is unable to fly.
  • G-BOAB (208) remains at Heathrow Airport. It was never modified, and so never flew again after returning home following the Paris crash.
  • G-BOAC (204) The flagship of the fleet (because of its BOAC registration) made its final flight to Manchester Airport (England) viewing park, where special "glass hanger" will be built for its display, on October 31 2003. Its maiden flight was on February 27 1975.
  • G-BOAD (210) departed from Heathrow for the final time on November 10, and flew to JFK airport in New York, from where it was then transferred (on a barge originally used to move Space shuttle external fuel tanks), to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York, down the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty. Its engines were removed, to reduce weight, and it was then lifted on to its temporary home on the deck of the aircraft carrier, pending the proposed creation of a quayside display hall.
  • G-BOAE (212) flew to Grantley Adams Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados on November 17, with 70 members of BA staff on board. The flight, lasting less than 4 hrs, reached the maximum certified height of 60,000ft. A new exhibition facility will be constructed to house the aircraft, east of the airport at the old Spencers Plantation.
  • G-BOAF (216), the last Concorde to be built, made Concorde's final ever flight to on Wednesday November 26 2003. Departing from Heathrow at 11:30 GMT, it made a last, brief, supersonic flight, carrying 100 BA flight crew, over the Bay of Biscay. It then flew a "lap of honour" above Bristol, passing over Portishead, Clevedon Weston Super Mare, Bristol International Airport and Clifton Suspension Bridge, before landing at Filton, soon after 13:00 GMT. It was met by Prince Andrew, who formally accepted its handover. The aircraft will be the star feature of the Bristol Aviation Heritage Museum (to open 2004) in England. Not originally part of BA's order, G-BOAF was bought by them for 1 FFR in the 1980s.
  • G-BOAG (214), the aircraft that flew the final Speedbird 2 service from New York on 24 October, left Heathrow for the final time on November 3 2003. It spent a day "resting" and refuelling in New York before making an unusual supersonic flight (which required special permission) over the uninhabited part of northern Canada, to Seattle, where it will be displayed at the Museum of Flight, alongside the very first Boeing 747 and a BOAC Comet. This Concorde was once used as a source of spares, before being restored using parts fom Air France's F-BVFD.

Cultural and political impacts

The aeroplane remains a powerful symbol of ultra-modern technology although 34 years old, and many people appreciate its sculptural shape. It is a symbol of national pride to many in Britain and France - in France it was thought of as a French aircraft, in Britain as British.

The reaction of people to the prospect of severe overflying noise also represented a socially important change. Prior to Concorde's flight trials the developments made by the civil aviation industry were largely accepted by developed democratic governments and their electors. The popular backlash (particularly on the eastern seaboard of the USA) against the noise of Concorde represented a political turning point and thereafter scientists and technologists in many industries began to take environmental and societal impacts more seriously, accepting that scientists, powerful investors and governments could not always dictate the parameters of debate and allow their narrow economic or career interests to prevail.

From this perspective, Concorde's great technical leap forward can be viewed as triggering a cultural leap forward and a boost to the public's (and the media's) understanding of conflicts between technology and natural ecosystems that continues to reverberate around the world. Thus, the fact that many larger jetliners now produce fewer harmful emissions and smaller noise footprints than Concorde is, perhaps, part of the Concorde's legacy. In France the use of acoustic fencing alongside TGV tracks may be another outcome that might not have been achieved without the 1970's furore over aircraft noise. In Britain the CPRE have issued tranquility maps since 1990 and public agencies are starting to do likewise.

A regular ticket on Concorde was a privilege of the rich, but special circular (non-landing) or one-way (with return by coach or ship) charter flights were arranged to bring a trip within the means of moderately well-off enthusiasts. An over-flying example was usually referred to by the British as simply "Concorde" and the French as "the Concorde" (rather than "a Concorde"), as if there was only one.

A plane from the BA fleet made occasional flypasts at selected Royal events, major airshows and other special occasions, sometmes in formation with the Red Arrows. On the final day of commercial service, grandstands were erected at London Heathrow for the public to watch the final arrivals, and there was extensive media coverage.

Dimensions and specifications

Of a typical production-type aircraft. There are some variations.

Possible replacement

In November 2003, European aviation company European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS, the company behind Airbus) announced that it was considering working with Japanese companies to develop a larger, faster replacement for Concorde [1].

See also

External links