TOULOUSE – Today, exactly 50 years ago – on March 2, 1969 – the Concorde took off for the first time. The Concorde was a technological marvel, an airliner that could fly more than twice the speed of sound at altitudes that brush the air of space. Flying Supersonic was seen as the future in the 60s. The Concorde was the first – in the West built – supersonic plane for commercial passenger flights. And for now, also the last one.
The Concorde was developed and manufactured by Sud Aviation (later Aérospatiale) and BAC (British Aircraft Corporation, later British Aerospace/BAe). This amazing aircraft was able to fly the incredible speed of more than Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. To be precise; Mach 2.04, which means it could fly with a speed of 1534 mph (2469.6 km/h) at cruise altitude of almost 59.000 ft (18.000 km). It only spent 3 hours traveling from London to New York, twice as fast as a ‘normal’ passenger plane.
The Concorde consumed a lot of high fuel and maintenance costs were high. The aircraft consumed three times as much kerosene per passenger as the Boeing 747, which made its first flight on February 9 of the same year, 1969.
16 airlines ordered the Concorde, but in the end only Air France and British Airways purchased the aircraft where it went into service in 1975. They retired the Concorde in 2003, when commercial aviation went through a hard time as a result of 9/11, high fuel costs and because of Airbus ceasing maintenance support.
In its first 31 years of supersonic flight, there was not one single fatal accident, until July 25, 2000. The crash of Air France Flight 4590 erupted in flames as it was lifting off the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight from Paris to New York City flown by a Concorde. On 25 July 2000 at 4:43 PM (16:43 CET), the aircraft serving the flight (registration F-BTSC) ran over debris on the runway during takeoff, blowing a tyre and puncturing a fuel tank. The subsequent fire and engine failure caused the aircraft to crash into a hotel in nearby Gonesse two minutes after takeoff. The plane exploded on impact, killing all 109 people aboard and four people in the hotel, with another person in the hotel critically injured. The cockpit crew consisted of pilot Captain Christian Marty (54); First Officer Jean Marcot (50) and Flight Engineer Gilles Jardinaud, (58).
The flight was chartered by German company Peter Deilmann Cruises, and the passengers were on their way to board the cruise ship MS Deutschland in New York City for a 16-day cruise to Manta, Ecuador. It was the only fatal Concorde accident during its 27-year operational history.
Until the crash of Air France Flight 4590 in 2000, Concorde had been considered among the world’s safest planes. The crash of the Concorde contributed to the end of the aircraft’s career. There are serious plans in the West and in Russia though to develop and manufacture a successor of the mighty Concorde.
(Top photo: Eduard Marmet (CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2)