2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Air & Sea transport

Air France Concorde
Type Supersonic airliner
Manufacturer Aérospatiale- BAC
Maiden flight 2 March 1969
Introduced 21 January 1976
Retired 26 November 2003
Primary users British Airways
Air France
Number built 20
Unit cost £23 million (US$46 million) in 1977

The Aérospatiale- BAC Concorde supersonic transport (SST), along with the Tupolev Tu-144, was one of only two models of supersonic passenger airliners to have seen commercial service. First flown in 1976, Concorde service commenced in 2003. It regularly flew from London Heathrow ( British Airways) and Paris Charles de Gaulle ( Air France) to New York JFK. However, it never fully recovered from its only crash in 2000, and, for economic reasons post 9/11, operations ceased in 2003. Its development represented a major economic loss for the French and British governments, although it made large operating profits for British Airways for much of its service life. In retirement, Concorde remains an icon of aircraft history.

General features

Concorde had an average cruise speed of Mach 2.02 (an airspeed of around 2140 km/h or 1,330 mph) with a maximum cruise altitude of 60,000 feet (18 300 metres). It was an ogival delta-winged aircraft with four Olympus engines originally developed for the Avro Vulcan strategic bomber. The engines were jointly built by Rolls-Royce and SNECMA, the latter gaining its first foothold in civil aviation turbojet engine manufacturing. Concorde was the first civil airliner to be equipped with an analogue fly-by-wire flight control system. It employed a trademark droop snoot lowering nose section for visibility on approach and sported taxi and landing lights that retracted flush to its body to reduce drag. Commercial flights operated by British Airways and Air France began on 21 January 1976 and ended on 24 October 2003, with the last "retirement" flight on 26 November that year.

In regular service, Concorde employed a relatively efficient cruise-climb. As aircraft lose weight from consuming fuel, they can fly at progressively higher altitudes. This is (generally) more efficient, so conventional airliners employ a stepped climb, where air traffic control will approve a change to a higher flight level as the flight progresses. With no other civil traffic operating at her cruise altitude, dedicated Oceanic airways across the Atlantic were allocated in which Concorde would be cleared in a 10,000' block, allowing her to slowly climb from 50,000 to 60,000 feet during her crossing.

Design and development

Concorde's final flight, G-BOAF from Heathrow to Bristol, on 26 November  2003.
Concorde's final flight, G-BOAF from Heathrow to Bristol, on 26 November 2003.

In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom, France, United States and Soviet Union were considering developing supersonic transport.

Concorde G-BOAD on a barge beneath Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York City in November 2003, bound for the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.
Concorde G-BOAD on a barge beneath Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York City in November 2003, bound for the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum.

Britain's Bristol Aeroplane Company and France's Sud Aviation were both working on designs, called the Type 233 and Super-Caravelle, respectively. Both were largely funded by their respective governments. The British design was for a trans-Atlantic-ranged aircraft for around 100 people, while the French were intending to concentrate on a medium-range sector.

The designs were both ready to start prototype construction in the early 1960s, but the cost was so great that the British government made it a requirement that BAC look for international co-operation. Approaches were made to a number of countries, but only France showed real interest. The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between the two countries rather than a commercial agreement between companies and included a clause, originally asked for by Britain, issuing penalties for cancellation (Britain's Treasury would later twice come close to cancelling the project). A draft treaty was signed on 28 November 1962. By this time, both companies had been merged into new ones, thus the Concorde project was now a part of the British Aircraft Corporation and Aerospatiale.

The consortium secured orders for over 100 new airliners from the premier airlines of the day. Pan Am, BOAC and Air France were the launch customers with six Concordes each. Other airlines in the order book included: Panair do Brasil, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, Braniff, Iran Air, Qantas, CAAC, Middle East Airlines and TWA.

The aircraft was initially referred to in Britain as "Concorde," with the French spelling, but was officially changed to "Concord" by Harold Macmillan in response to a perceived slight by Charles de Gaulle. In 1967, at the French roll-out in Toulouse the British Government Minister for Technology, Tony Benn announced that he would change the spelling back to "Concorde." This created a nationalist uproar that died down when Benn stated that the suffixed "e" represented "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale)." In his memoirs, he recounts a tale of a letter from an irate Scotsman claiming: "you talk about 'E' for England, but part of it is made in Scotland." Given Scotland's contribution of providing the nose cone for the aircraft, Benn replied "it was also 'E' for 'Ecosse'"(the French name for Scotland) "—and I might have added 'e' for extravagance and 'e' for escalation as well!"

Construction of two prototypes began in February 1965: Concorde 001, built by Aerospatiale at Toulouse, and Concorde 002, by BAC at Filton, Bristol. Concorde 001 made her first test flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969 and first went supersonic on 1 October. As the flight programme progressed, 001 embarked on a sales and demonstration tour on 4 September 1971. Concorde 002 followed suit on 2 June 1972 with a tour of the Middle and Far East. Concorde 002 made the first visit to the United States in 1973, landing at the new Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to commemorate the airport's opening.

These trips led to orders for over 70 aircraft. However, a combination of factors led to a sudden number of order cancellations. The 1970s oil crisis (Concorde used more fuel per passenger mile than her subsonic competitors), acute financial difficulties of the partner airlines, a spectacular crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, along with environmental concerns such as the sonic boom, take-off noise and pollution. Eventually, only Air France and British Airways, (the successor to BOAC) took up their orders, with the two governments continuing to take a cut of any profits made. In the case of BA, 80% of the profit was kept by the government until 1984, while the cost of buying the aircraft was covered by a state loan.

Pre-production Concorde number 101 on display at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, UK
Pre-production Concorde number 101 on display at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, UK

The United States had cancelled its supersonic transport (SST) program in 1971. Two designs had 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. Industry observers in France and the United Kingdom suggested that part of the American opposition to Concorde on grounds of noise pollution was, in fact, orchestrated by, or at least encouraged by, the United States Government, out of spite at not being able to propose a viable competitor, despite President John F. Kennedy's impassioned 1963 statement of commitment. Other countries, such as Malaysia, also ruled out Concorde supersonic overflights due to noise concerns.

Both European airlines flew demonstration and test flights from 1974 onwards. The testing of Concorde set records that still have not been surpassed; it undertook 5,335 flight hours in the prototype, pre-production and first production aircraft alone. A total of 2,000 test hours were at supersonic speeds. This statistic equates to approximately four times as many as similarly sized subsonic commercial aircraft. Unit costs were £23 million (US$46 million) in 1977. Development cost overrun was 600%.

Technological features

An unusual camera angle on the final Concorde landing
An unusual camera angle on the final Concorde landing
The flight deck.
The flight deck.

Many features common in early 21st century airliners were first used in Concorde.

For high speed and optimization of flight:

  • Double-delta ( ogee/ ogival) shaped wings
  • Rolls-Royce/ Snecma Olympus turbojet engines with reheat ( afterburners) and variable inlet ramps
  • Supercruise capability
  • Thrust-by-wire engines, predecessor of today's FADEC-controlled engines
  • Droop-nose section for improved visibility in landing

For weight-saving and enhanced performance:

  • Mach 2.04 for optimum fuel consumption (supersonic drag minimum, although turbojet engines are more efficient at high speed)
  • Mainly aluminium construction for low weight and relatively conventional manufacture (higher speeds would have ruled out aluminium)
  • Full-regime autopilot and autothrottle allowing "hands off" control of the aircraft from climb out to landing
  • Fully electrically controlled analogue fly-by-wire flight controls systems
  • Multifunction flight control surfaces
  • High-pressure hydraulic system of 28 MPa (4,000 lbf/in²) for lighter hydraulic systems components
  • Fully electrically controlled analogue brake-by-wire system
  • Pitch trim by shifting fuel around the fuselage for centre-of-gravity control
  • Parts milled from single alloy billet reducing the part-number count

Concorde's primary legacy is in the experience gained in her design and manufacture which later became the basis of the Airbus consortium. For example, Snecma Moteurs' involvement with the Concorde programme prepared the company's entrance into civil engine design and manufacturing, opening the way for Snecma to establish CFM International with General Electric and produce the successful CFM International CFM56 series engines.

Although Concorde was a technological marvel when introduced into service in the 1970s, 30 years later, her cockpit, cluttered with analogue dials and switches looked dated. With no competition, there was no commercial pressure to upgrade Concorde with enhanced avionics or passenger comforts, as occurred in other airliners of the same vintage (e.g. Boeing 747).

The key partners, BAC (later to become BAE Systems) and Aerospatiale (later to become EADS), were the joint owners of Concorde's type certificate. Responsibility for the Type Certificate transferred to Airbus with formation of Airbus SAS.

Main problems overcome during design

G-AXDN, Duxford, close up of engines.
G-AXDN, Duxford, close up of engines.

Many issues were overcome whilst researching and developing Concorde.

Movement of centre of pressure

When any aircraft passes the critical mach of that particular airframe, the centre of pressure shifts rearwards. This causes a pitch down force on the aircraft as the centre of gravity remains where it was. The engineers designed the wings in a specific manner to reduce this shift. However, there was still a shift of about 2 m. This could have been countered by the use of trim controls, but at such high speeds this would have caused a dramatic increase in the drag on the aircraft. Instead, the distribution of fuel along the aircraft was shifted during acceleration and deceleration to move the centre of gravity, effectively acting as an auxiliary trim control.


To be economically viable, Concorde needed to be able to fly reasonably long distances, and this required high efficiency. For optimum supersonic flight, the engines needed to have a small frontal cross-sectional area to minimise drag and a low bypass ratio to give a high, supersonic exhaust speed. Turbojets were thus the best choice of engines. The more efficient and quieter high bypass turbofan engines such as used on Boeing 747s could not be used. The engine chosen was the twin spool Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593, a version of the Olympus originally developed for the Vulcan bomber, but further developed for Concorde.

Concorde's ramp system
Concorde's ramp system

The inlet design for Concorde's engines was especially critical. All conventional jet engines can only intake air at around Mach 0.5; the air, therefore, needs to be slowed from the Mach 2.0 airspeed that enters the engine inlet. In particular, Concorde needed to control the shockwaves this reduction in speed generates to avoid damage to the engines. This was done by a pair of ramps and an auxiliary flap, whose position was moved during flight to slow the air down. The ramps were at the top of the engine compartment and moved down and the auxiliary flap moved both up and down allowing air to flow in or out. During take-off, when the engine's air demand was high, the ramps were flat at the top and the auxiliary flap was in, allowing more air to enter the engine. As the aircraft approached Mach 0.7, the flap closed; at Mach 1.3, the ramps came into effect, removing air from the engines which was then used in the pressurization of the cabin. At Mach 2.0, the ramps had covered half their total possible distance. They also helped reduce the work done by the compressors as they not only compressed the air but also increased the air temperature.

Concorde engine twin intake displayed in a museum from Ciudad Juarez,  Mexico. (Museo del Concorde)
Concorde engine twin intake displayed in a museum from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. ( Museo del Concorde)

Engine failure causes large problems on conventional subsonic aircraft; not only does the aircraft lose thrust on that side but the engine is a large source of drag, causing the aircraft to yaw and bank in the direction of the engine which has failed. If this could have happened to Concorde at supersonic speeds, it would almost certainly have caused a catastrophic failure of the airframe. However, during an engine failure, an engine's air intake needs are virtually zero, so in Concorde the immediate effects of the engine failure were countered by the opening of the auxiliary flap and the full extension of the ramps, which deflected the air downwards past the engine, gaining lift and streamlining the engine, thus minimising the drag effects of the failed engine. In tests, Concorde was able to shut down both engines on the same side of the aircraft at Mach 2 without any control problems.

The aircraft used reheat ( afterburners) at take-off and to pass through the high- drag transonic regime (i.e. "go supersonic"). Although the engines were just barely capable of reaching Mach 2 without reheat, it was discovered operationally that it burnt more fuel that way, since the aircraft took much longer to accelerate even though reheat is quite inefficient.

Heating issues

Beside engines, the hottest part of the structure of any supersonic aircraft is the nose, and Concorde was no exception. The engineers wanted to use ( duralumin) aluminium throughout the aircraft, due to its familiarity, cost and ease of construction. The highest temperature that aluminium could sustain over the life of the aircraft was a maximum of 127 °C, which limited the top speed to Mach 2.02.

Concorde actually went through two cycles of heating and cooling during a flight, first cooling down as it gained altitude, then heating up after going supersonic. The reverse happened when descending and slowing down. This had to be factored into the metallurgical modelling. Owing to the heat generated by compression of the air as Concorde traveled supersonically, the fuselage would extend by as much as thirty centimetres (almost 1 foot), the most obvious manifestation of this being a gap that would open up on the flight deck between the flight engineer's console and the bulkhead.

A way was needed to keep the cabin cool. Concorde used the fuel as a place to dump the heat from the air conditioning, as well as to cool the hydraulics.

In spite of this, during supersonic flight, the windows in the cockpit became too hot to touch.

Structural issues

Due to the high speeds at which Concorde travelled, large forces were applied to the entire aircraft structure during banks and turns. This caused twisting and the distortion of the aircraft's structure. This was resolved by the neutralization of the outwards elevons at high speeds. Only the innermost elevons which are attached to the strongest area of the wings, are active.

Concorde ended up with quite small passenger windows. Research showed that at the extremely high altitude that Concorde flew, a larger window, if broken, could have led to the passengers and crew passing out before the aircraft could be brought down to a safe altitude. Standard oxygen masks would not have helped. The windows were therefore made smaller so that the compressors could maintain sufficient cabin pressure during the descent.


Due to a relatively high average take-off speed (250 miles per hour), Concorde needed good brakes. Concorde's brakes were one of the first major uses of anti-lock braking systems which stop the wheels from locking when fully applied, allowing greater deceleration and/or control during braking, particularly in the wet.

The brakes were carbon-based and could bring Concorde (going at 190 mph, weighing up to 185 tons / 188 tonnes) to a stop from an aborted take-off within one mile (1600 m). This braking manoeuver brought the brakes to temperatures between 300 °C to 500 °C, requiring several hours for cooling.

Increased radiation exposure

The high altitude at which Concorde cruised meant passengers received almost twice the flux of extra-terrestrial ionising radiation as those travelling on a conventional long-haul flight. Because of the proportionally reduced flight time, however, the overall equivalent dose was less than a conventional flight over the same distance. Unusual solar activity would lead to an increase in incident radiation, therefore the flight deck was fitted with a radiometer and an instrument to measure the rate of decrease of radiation. If the level was too high, Concorde would descend to below 47,000 feet (14 000 m). The rate of decrease indicator indicated whether the aircraft needed to descend further, decreasing the amount of time the aircraft was at an unsafe altitude.

Droop nose

Concorde's famous drooping nose was a compromise between the need for a streamlined design to reduce drag and increase aerodynamic efficiency in flight and the need for the pilot to see properly during taxi, take-off, and landing operations. A delta wing aircraft takes off and lands with a high angle of attack (that is, a high nose angle) compared to subsonic aircraft due to the way the delta wing generates lift. The pointed nose would obstruct the pilots' view of taxiways and runways, so Concorde's nose was designed to allow for different positioning as appropriate for different operations. The droop nose was accompanied by a moving visor that would be retracted into the nose prior to the nose being lowered. When the nose was raised back to horizontal, the visor would be raised ahead of the front cockpit windscreen for further aerodynamic streamlining in flight.

Concorde's nose is famous as the "droop nose," but in flight the nose was not kept in this position. A controller in the cockpit allowed the visor to be retracted and the nose to be lowered to five degrees below the standard horizontal position for use in taxi and take-off operations. Following take-off and after clearing the airport, the nose and visor would be raised. Shortly before landing, the visor would again be retracted and the nose would be lowered to 12.5 degrees below horizontal for maximum visibility. Upon landing, the nose was quickly raised to the five-degree position to avoid the possibility of damage. On very rare occasions, the aircraft could take off with the nose fully down as well.

A final possible position had the visor retracted into the nose but the nose in the standard horizontal position. This setup was used for cleaning the windscreen and for short subsonic flights.

The prototype Concordes, 001 and 002, had two fixed "glass holes" on their retractable visors. The Federal Aviation Administration objected to that restrictive visibility and demanded a different design before it would permit Concorde to serve US airports, which led to the redesigned visor used on the production aircraft as well as on the four "pre-production" aircraft (101, 102, 201, and 202).

Scheduled flights

Concorde G-BOAF. The final ever flight of Concorde landing at Filton Airfield, near Bristol, on 26 November  2003
Concorde G-BOAF. The final ever flight of Concorde landing at Filton Airfield, near Bristol, on 26 November 2003

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

When the US ban for over-water supersonic flight was lifted in February 1977, New York banned Concorde locally. Left with little choice on the destination, AF and BA started transatlantic services to Washington, D.C. on 24 May. The ban came to an end on 17 October 1977 when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to overturn a lower court's ruling rejecting the Port Authority's efforts to continue the ban. Scheduled service from Paris and London to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport began on 22 November 1977. Flights operated by BA were generally coded "BA001" through "BA004." (It was noted in the noise report that Air Force One, at the time, a Boeing 707, was, in fact, louder than Concorde at subsonic speeds and for take-off and landing.)

While commercial jets take seven hours to fly from New York to Paris, the average flight time on the transatlantic routes was just under 3.5 hours. Up to 2003, Air France and British Airways continued to operate the New York services daily. Additionally, Concorde flew to Barbados's Grantley Adams International Airport during the winter holiday season and, occasionally, to charter destinations such as Rovaniemi, Finland. On 1 November 1986, a chartered Concorde circumnavigated the world in 31 hours and 51 minutes.

For a brief period in 1977, and again from 1979 to 1981, British Airways and Singapore Airlines shared a Concorde for flights between Bahrain and Singapore Paya Lebar Airport. The aircraft, G-BOAD, was painted in Singapore Airways livery on the port side and British Airways livery on the starboard. The service was discontinued after three months because of noise complaints from the Malaysian government; it could only be reinstated when a new route bypassing Malaysian airspace was implemented. However, an ongoing dispute with India prevented Concorde from reaching supersonic speeds in Indian airspace, so the route was eventually declared not viable. From September 1978 to November 1982, during the Mexican oil boom, Air France flew Concorde twice weekly to Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport via Washington, D.C. The worldwide economic crisis during that period, resulted in the cancellation of the route to Mexico City; the last flights were almost empty. From time to time, Concorde came back to the region on chartered flights with stops in Mexico City and Acapulco.

Between 1984 and 1991, British Airways flew a thrice-weekly Concorde service to London from Miami. This was accomplished subsonically by extending the Dulles flight to Miami and returning the same way.

From 1978 to 1980, Braniff International Airways leased 10 Concordes, five each from British Airways and Air France. These were used on subsonic flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to IAD, feeding the routes of BA and AF 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-IAD flights, Concorde had Braniff flight crews although they maintained their native airline livery. However, the flights were not profitable for Braniff and were usually less than 50% booked, which forced Braniff to end its tenure as the only U.S. Concorde operator in May 1980.

Passenger experience

Concorde interior.
Concorde interior.

Passenger experience on Concorde differed in many ways from that on subsonic commercial airliners. British Airways and Air France configured the passenger cabin as a single class with around 100 seats — four seats across with a central aisle. Headroom in the central aisle was barely six feet (1.8 m) and the leather seats were unusually narrow with legroom comparable to economy class on large airliners. With almost no room for overhead storage, even carry-on luggage was severely restricted.

In the 1990s, features which were common in the first class and business class cabins of a long haul Boeing 747 flight such as video entertainment, rotating or reclining seats and perambulatory areas were absent from Concorde. However, the flight time from London to New York of approximately 3.5 hrs compensated for the lack of those features. There was usually a plasma display at the front of the cabin showing either the altitude, the air temperature or current speed in Mach number.

To make up for these missing "comfort" features, a high level of passenger service was maintained. Meals were served using specially designed compact Wedgwood crockery with short silver cutlery.

The experience of passing through the sound barrier was less dramatic than might be expected. The moment, accompanied by a slight surge in acceleration, would be announced by one of the pilots.

At twice the conventional airliner's cruising altitude, the view from the windows clearly showed the curvature of the Earth and turbulence was rare. During the supersonic cruise, although the outside air temperature was typically -60 °C, air friction would heat the external skin at the front of the aircraft to approximately +120 °C, making the windows warm to the touch and producing a noticeable temperature gradient along the length of the cabin, resulting in Concorde expanding in length by up to thirty centimetres (twelve inches), during flight.

Concorde was able to overtake or outrun the sun on routes where subsonic airliners fell behind. On westbound flights it was possible to arrive at a local time earlier than the local departure time. On certain early evening transatlantic flights departing from Heathrow or Paris, it was possible to take off at night and catch up with the sun, landing in daylight; from the cockpit the sun could be seen rising from the horizon in the west. This was much publicised by British Airways, who used the slogan, "Arrive before you leave."

Paris crash

On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590, registration code: F-BTSC, crashed in Gonesse, France, killing all 100 passengers and nine crew on board the flight, as well as four people on the ground.

The crash was caused by a titanium strip (part of a thrust reverser) that fell from a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off about four minutes earlier. This metal fragment punctured Concorde's tyres, which then disintegrated. A piece of rubber hit the fuel tank and broke an electrical cable. The impact caused a shockwave that fractured the fuel tank some distance from the point of impact. This caused a major fuel leak from the tank which then ignited. The crew shut down engine number 2 in response to a fire warning but were unable to retact the landing gear, hampering the aircraft's climb. With engine number 1 surging and producing little power, the aircraft was unable to gain height or speed, entering a rapid pitch-up then a violent descent, rolling left. The impact occured with the stricken aircraft tail low and crashing into the Hotelissimo Hotel in Gonesse.

Concorde had, until the accident, been the safest working passenger airliner in the world in terms of passenger deaths per kilometre travelled, but statistically, after the accident it was the worst. While an aircraft's safety cannot be accurately measured from a single accident, the crash of the Air France Concorde nonetheless proved to be the beginning of the end for the type.

The accident subsequently led to a programme of modifications to Concorde, including more secure electrical controls, Kevlar lining to the fuel tanks and specially-developed, burst-resistant tyres.

Return to service

The first test-flight after the modifications departed from London Heathrow on 17 July 2001, piloted by BA Chief Concorde Pilot Mike Bannister. During the three hour and twenty minute flight over the mid-Atlantic towards Iceland, Bannister attained Mach 2 and 60,000 ft before returning to RAF Brize Norton. The test flight, intended to resemble the London-New York route, was declared a success and was watched on live TV, as well as by crowds on the ground at both locations.

The first BA passenger flight took place on 11 September 2001, and was in the air during the attacks on the World Trade Centre. This was not a revenue flight, as all the passengers were BA employees.

Normal commercial operations resumed on 7 November 2001 by BA and AF (aircraft G-BOAE and F-BTSD), with service to New York JFK where passengers were welcomed by the mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

Withdrawal from service

On 10 April 2003, British Airways and Air France simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger numbers following the 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following 9/11 and rising maintenance costs.

That same day, Sir Richard Branson offered to buy British Airways' Concordes at their "original price of £1" for service with his Virgin Atlantic Airways. Branson claimed this to be the same token price that British Airways had paid the British Government, but BA denied this and refused the offer. However, although the cost of buying the aircraft was £26 million each, the money for buying the aircraft was loaned by the government - this loan was written off when British Airways was privatised in 1987.

After posting large losses on their Concorde flights in the early 1980s, British Airways paid a flat sum of £16.5 million in 1984 to the UK government to buy their Concordes outright. After doing a market survey, and discovering that their target customers thought that Concorde was more expensive than it actually was, BA progressively raised prices to match these perceptions. It is reported that BA then ran Concorde at a profit, unlike their French counterparts. Although BA refused to open the accounts, it has been reported to be up to £50 million per year in the most profitable year and a total revenue of £1.75 billion on costs of £1 billion.

Branson 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." Any hope of Concorde remaining in service was further thwarted by Airbus' unwillingness to provide maintenance support for the ageing airframes.

It has been suggested that Concorde was not cancelled for the reasons usually given, and that the airlines discovered during the grounding that Concorde's first class passengers were loyal to the airlines and carrying them on subsonic aircraft gave greater revenue and that this was the real reason for the withdrawal from service.

The small hope remaining for Concorde today rests with a dedicated group of French volunteer engineers keeping one of the youngest Concordes in near airworthy condition. This group of engineers, working on the Air France aircraft retired to the Le Bourget Air and Space Museum in Paris, hope that one day Concorde will be able to show her majesty by taking to the skies. Concordes based in Britain, however, have had their fluids drained and systems have been disconnected, making it even harder for her to regain airworthiness certification. It appears that the French hopes present a much better chance of seeing her fly in the future.

Air France

Air France made its final commercial Concorde landing in the United States in New York City from Paris on 30 May 2003. Firetrucks sprayed the traditional arcs of water above the aircraft on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy airport. Concorde F-BTSD operated the airline's final scheduled supersonic service, returning to Paris on a misty May morning. The final passenger flight for the airline's SSTs was marked by a charter around the Bay of Biscay. During the following week, on 2 June and 3 June 2003, F-BTSD flew a final round-trip from Paris to New York and back for airline staff and long-time employees in the airline's Concorde operations. Air France's final Concorde flight took place on 27 June 2003 when F-BVFC retired to Toulouse.

An auction of Concorde parts and memorabilia for Air France was held at Christie's in Paris, on 15 November 2003. Thirteen hundred people attended with several lots exceeding their predicted values by an order of magnitude.

Two French Concordes at Le Bourget and Toulouse have been run occasionally, and it is possible that they could be prepared for future flights for special occasions.

British Airways

Parade flight at Queen's Golden Jubilee
Parade flight at Queen's Golden Jubilee

BA's last Concorde departure from the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados was on 30 August 2003. BA conducted a mini North American farewell tour in October 2003. G-BOAG visited Toronto Pearson International Airport on 1 October 2003, G-BOAD visited Boston's Logan International Airport on 8 October 2003, and G-BOAG visited Washington Dulles International Airport on 14 October 2003. G-BOAD's flight to Boston set a record for the fastest transatlantic flight from east to west, making the trip from London Heathrow in three hours, five minutes, thirty-four seconds.

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

On 22 October, Heathrow ATC contrived for the inbound flight BA9021C, a special from Edinburgh and BA002 from New York to land simultaneously on the left and right runways respectively.

On the evening of 23 October 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 reserved for major state events and visiting dignitaries.

British Airways retired its aircraft the next day, 24 October. G-BOAG left New York to a fanfare similar to her Air France predecessor's, while two more made round-trips, G-BOAF over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including many former Concorde pilots, and G-BOAE 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 p.m. 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. All of BA's Concordes have been grounded, have lost their airworthiness certificates and have been drained of hydraulic fluid. Ex-chief Concorde pilot and manager of the fleet Jock Lowe, estimated it would cost £10-15 million to make G-BOAF (at Filton) airworthy again. BA maintains ownership of the Concordes, and has stated that their Concordes will not be flown again.

On 1 December 2003, Bonhams held an auction of British Airways' Concorde artifacts at Kensington Olympia, in London. Items sold included: a Machmeter, nose cone, Concorde pilot and passenger seats and even cutlery, ashtrays and blankets used onboard. Proceeds of about £¾ million resulted,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

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

Concorde G-BOAG at Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington, USA
Concorde G-BOAG at Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington, USA

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 commercially, 12 were still in service in April 2003

All but two of these aircraft - a remarkably high percentage for any commercial fleet, are preserved; the two which are not preserved are F-BVFD (cn 211), withdrawn from service in the 1980s and scrapped in 1994, and F-BTSC (cn 203), which crashed in Paris.

Concorde Aircraft
Number Reg First Flew Last Flew Hours Location
001 F-WTSS 2 March 1969 19 October 1973 812 The Museum of Air and Space, Le Bourget, France
002 G-BSST 9 April 1969 4 March 1976 836 Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, UK
101 G-AXDN 17 December 1971 20 August 1977 632 Imperial War Museum, Duxford, UK
102 F-WTSA 10 January 1973 20 May 1976 656 Musee Delta, Orly Airport, Paris, France
201 F-WTSB 6 December 1973 19 April 1985 909 Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
202 G-BBDG 13 December 1974 24 December 1981 1282 Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey, UK
203 F-BTSC 31 January 1975 25 July 2000 11989 Destroyed in air crash outside Paris, France
204 G-BOAC 27 February 1975 31 October 2003 22260 Manchester Airport Viewing Park, UK
205 F-BVFA 27 October 1976 12 June 2003 17824 Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre, Chantilly, Virginia USA
206 G-BOAA 5 November 1975 12 August 2000 22768 Museum of Flight, East Lothian, Scotland
207 F-BVFB 6 March 1976 24 June 2003 14771 Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum, Germany
208 G-BOAB 18 May 1976 15 August 2000 22296 Heathrow Airport, London, UK
209 F-BVFC 9 July 1976 27 June 2003 14332 Airbus Factory, Toulouse, France
210 G-BOAD 25 August 1976 10 November 2003 23397 Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, USA; temporary move to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn pending for duration of restoration and rehabilitation work on Intrepid, as of late 2006
211 F-BVFD 10 February 1977 27 May 1982 5814 Broken up
212 G-BOAE 17 March 1977 17 November 2003 23376 Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
213 F-BTSD 26 June 1978 14 June 2003 12974 The Museum of Air and Space, Le Bourget, France
214 G-BOAG 21 April 1978 5 November 2003 16239 Museum of Flight, Seattle, USA
215 F-BVFF 26 December 1978 11 June 2000 12421 Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France
216 G-BOAF 20 April 1979 26 November 2003 18257 Filton Aerodrome, Bristol, UK

Cultural and political impact

Concorde remains a powerful symbol, both for her technology and her sculptural shape. It is a symbol of great national pride to many in Britain and France; in France it was thought of as a French aircraft, in Britain as British.

Environmental impacts

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 engineers, powerful investors and governments could not always allow their economic or career interests to prevail.

One of the key protesters to the "SST" (Super Sonic Transport - the US term given to the Concorde aircraft), Carol Vendi, ultimately gained political ground over the whole issue and was elected to the US Congress. Concorde led directly to a general noise reduction in aircraft flying out of JFK; it was found that Concorde was actually quieter than some aircraft (partly due to the pilots temporarily throttling back their engines to reduce noise during overflight of residential areas). This caused the other airlines to have to follow suit.

Concorde produced nitrogen oxides in its exhaust, damaging to the ozone layer at the airliner's stratospheric cruising altitudes. However, the effects are more complex, since nitrogen oxides react with ozone, destroying chlorine and removing it. Chlorine is the main ozone destroying pollutant. It has been pointed out that other, lower-flying, airliners actually produce ozone during their flights in the troposphere, but vertical transit of gases between the two is highly restricted. There have been accusations that the anti-SST lobby overstated the case for ozone degradation to suit their political ends.

From this perspective, Concorde's technical leap forward can be viewed as boosting the public's (and the media's) understanding of conflicts between technology and the environment. In France, the use of acoustic fencing alongside TGV tracks might not have been achieved without the 1970s furore over aircraft noise. In Britain, the CPRE have issued tranquillity maps since 1990 and public agencies are starting to do likewise.

Public perception

Concorde was normally perceived as 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.

Her enigma was such that an overflight would frequently temporarily halt day-to-day business, and she was usually referred to by the British as simply "Concorde" and the French as "le Concorde" (rather than "un Concorde"), as if there were only one. (In fact, this article follows the British usage.)

As a symbol of national pride, a plane from the BA fleet made occasional flypasts at selected Royal events, major airshows and other special occasions, sometimes in formation with the Red Arrows. On the final day of commercial service, public interest was so great that grandstands were erected at London's Heathrow Airport to afford a view of the final arrivals. Crowds filled the boundary road around the airport and there was extensive media coverage.

Thirty-seven years after her first test flight, Concorde was announced the winner of the Great British Design Quest, organised by the BBC and the Design Museum. A total of 212,000 votes were cast with Concorde beating design icons such as the Mini, mini skirt, Jaguar E-type, Tube map and the Supermarine Spitfire.


Public reaction to the Air France Concorde crash was cited by Jeremy Clarkson during a 2004 TV appearance on Parkinson as a primary inspiration for his book I Know You Got Soul.

Concorde's global prominence led it to feature as the star in the poorly received and outlandish film sequel The Concorde: Airport '79.


  • In transatlantic flight, Concorde travelled more than twice as fast as other aircraft, and other aircraft frequently appeared to be flying backwards.
  • Concorde had restrictions on its livery; the majority of the surface had to be white to avoid overheating the aluminium structure due to the supersonic heating effects of Mach 2. In 1996, however, Air France briefly painted F-BTSD in a predominantly blue livery (with the exception of its wings) as part of a promotional deal with Pepsi Cola. In this paint scheme, Air France were advised to remain at Mach 2 for no more than twenty minutes at a time, but there was no restriction at speeds under Mach 1.7. F-BTSD was chosen for the promotion because she was not then scheduled to operate any long flights that would require extended Mach 2 operations.
  • On all the Concordes that had a supersonic flight before retirement, the flight engineers placed their hats in the gap that appears at high speed between the console and the bulkhead before it cooled, where the hats remain to this day. However, in the case of the Seattle museum's Concorde, a protruding cap was cut off by a thief in an apparent attempt to steal it, leaving a part behind. An amnesty led to the severed cap being returned; the museum has been examining options to reattach it in some way.
  • Due to turbojet engines being highly inefficient at low speeds, Concorde burned two tonnes of fuel taxiing to the runway. After landing, only the two outer engines were run to conserve fuel because the full 152,200 lb of thrust (677 kN) was not required. A Concorde once ran out of fuel taxiing back to the terminal after a flight; the pilot was fired.
  • The delta-shaped wings allowed Concorde to attain a higher angle of attack than conventional aircraft, as it allowed the formation of large low pressure vortices over the entire upper wing surface, maintaining lift. It is this low pressure which caused Concorde to disappear into a bank of fog on humid days. These only formed at low air speeds, meaning that during the initial climb out and throughout the approach, Concorde would experience light turbulence and buffeting.
  • Throughout the entire approach, Concorde was on the "back side" of the drag curve.
  • Braniff International pilots flew both AF and BA Concordes (10 in total).
  • During the multi-venue Live Aid, when famine relief concerts were held on 13 July 1985, pop star Phil Collins flew a Concorde from London so that he could perform at both venues (London and Philadelphia) on the same day.
  • Concorde travelled, per passenger, 17 miles for each gallon of fuel (mpg) (an efficiency of 20 litres per hundred kilometres (l/100km)). This is comparable to a Gulfstream G550 business jet (~16 mpg or 18 l/100km per passenger), but much larger than, say a Boeing 747-400 (~91 mpg or 3.1 l/100km per passenger)
  • Concorde's cruising speed exceeded the top speed of the terminator. It was possible to take off from London just after sunset and see the sun rise in the west on the way to America.
  • Concorde flew fast enough that the weight of everyone onboard was temporarily reduced by about 1% when flying east. This was due to centrifugal effects since the airspeed added to the rotation speed of the Earth. Flying west, the weight increased by a smaller amount (about 0.3%), because it cancelled out the normal rotation, and, with it, the normal centrifugal force and replaced it with a smaller rotation in the opposite direction.
  • Concorde also flew high enough that the weight of everyone onboard was reduced by an additional 0.6% due to the increased distance from the centre of the Earth.
  • The speed of sound varies greatly with the air temperature, meaning that if Concorde entered a warm pocket of air, her speed could increase from Mach 2.0 to more than Mach 2.04, without her actual velocity changing. The speed of sound is around 332 m/s at standard temperature and pressure.


General characteristics

  • Crew: 9
  • Capacity: 100 passengers
  • Length: 202 ft 4 in (61.66 m)
  • Wingspan: 84 ft 0 in (25.6 m)
  • Height: 40 ft 0 in (12.2 m)
  • Fuselage internal length: 129 ft 0 in (39.32 m)
  • Fuselage max external width: 9 ft 5 in (2.88 m)
  • Fuselage max internal width: 8 ft 7 in (2.63 m)
  • Fuselage max external height: 10 ft 10 in (3.32 m)
  • Fuselage max internal height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
  • Wing area: 3,856 ft² (358.25 m² )
  • Lift/drag ratio: Low speed- 3.94, Approach- 4.35, 250 knots, 10,000 ft- 9.27, Mach 0.94- 11.47, Mach 2.04- 7.14))
  • Empty weight: 173,500 lb (78,700 kg)
  • Useful load: 245,000 lb (111,130 kg)
  • Powerplant: Rolls-Royce/ SNECMA Olympus 593 Mk 610 afterburning turbojets
    • Dry thrust: 32,000 lbf dry (140 kN)
    • Thrust with afterburner: 38,050 lbf (169 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.04 (1,350 mph, 2,170 km/h)
  • Range: 3,900 nm (4,500 mi, 7,250 km)
  • Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,300 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,525 m (5,000 ft)/min (25,41 m/s)
  • Wing loading: lb/ft² (kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: .373
  • Fuel consumption: 46.85 lb/mi (13.2 kg/km)
  • Maximum nose tip temperature: 260 °F (127 °C)

Comparison with other supersonic aircraft

The only other supersonic airliner that was in direct competition with Concorde was the Russian TU-144, that ultimately was a failure. Although the TU-144 entered service earlier, it was retired in 1978. The still-born project, the Boeing 2707 was America's entry into the supersonic sweepstakes.

The early version of the TU-144D had significantly lower range than Concorde, largely due to its underpowered engines. It required reheat to maintain Mach 2.0, and cruised at just Mach 1.6 without. The vehicle had poor control at low speeds, due to simpler, dedicated supersonic wing design. In addition, the Tupolev cabin noise was far higher and the vehicle cruder and much less refined, due to more rapid development, and whereas Concorde had sophisticated antilock brakes, the Tu-144 required parachutes to land. It also had two crashes, one at the Paris airshow, which made further sales impossible, and made things very difficult for Concorde as well, the other crash on a cargo flight. The later versions of the Tupolev had retractable canards for better low speed control and military engines from Tu-160 that gave them nearly the range of Concorde. It had 126 seats, and top speed of Mach 2.35 (made possible due to titanium and steel leading edges). Whilst theoretically a more competitive plane this version was not exportable due to the military engines.

The American design was to have been larger, seating 300. It was also intended to reach higher speeds of up to Mach 3.0, which made the construction much more difficult, as high temperatures ruled out the use of duralumin. Running a few years behind Concorde, the extra costs of these features may have helped to kill the project. The discovery that sonic booms were quite capable of reaching the ground also meant that the aircraft was subject to the same environmental concerns that contributed to hindering commercial success of Concorde. The American government had spent over $1 billion on the project and finished empty-handed.

Possible replacements

In November 2003, European aviation company EADS, (the company behind Airbus), announced that it was considering working with Japanese companies to develop a larger, faster replacement for Concorde. However, recent news reports suggest only $1m is being invested every year into research, much less than the $1bn needed for the development of a viable supersonic airliner.

In October 2005, JAXA, the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency, undertook aerodynamic testing of a scale model of a airliner designed to carry 300 passengers at Mach 2. If pursued to commercial deployment, it would be expected to be in service around 2020 - 2025.

Research into supersonic business jets is ongoing.

The British company, Reaction Engines Limited, with 50% EU money, are researching LAPCAT, a design for a hydrogen fuelled plane carrying 300 passengers, capable of flying nonstop from Brussels to Sydney at Mach 5+ in 4.6 hours.

Films and television

Concorde has been featured or mentioned in:

  • The Wild Geese (1978): Colonel Faulkner ( Richard Burton) arrives at London Heathrow on Concorde.
  • The Concorde: Airport '79: The Concorde used for the live-action aerial filming was the same Air France Concorde that crashed 21 years later on 25 July 2000.
  • The Concorde Affair (Concorde Affaire in orig.) Italy 1979. Director: Ruggero Deodato
  • Moonraker(1979): James Bond arrives in Rio de Janeiro on an Air France Concorde. Air France flew Concorde on the Paris- Dakar- Rio route at the time.
  • The Long Good Friday(1980): Harold Shand ( Bob Hoskins) flies into Heathrow on Concorde.
  • Superman II (1980): Superman overtakes Concorde on his way to Paris.
  • Doctor Who: Featured in the 1982 story " Time-Flight."
  • The Transformers (1984-1987): As the Aerialbot leader Silverbolt in the animated TV series.
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities (film)(1990): Maria Ruskin ( Melanie Griffith) arrives in New York on an Air France Concorde. The film's Second Unit Director, Eric Schwab, went to considerable effort to calculate the exact time and day when a runway at JFK would line up exactly with the setting sun, to serve as a spectacular backdrop for the landing Concorde.
  • Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2004): Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone made regular trips to New York aboard Concorde.
  • Coming to America (1988): Prince Akeem and Semmi arrive in New York on a British Airways Concorde.
  • Snatch (2000): The character Cousin Avi flew on Concorde from New York City to London to see Doug the Head, then back, after an unexpected turn of events and again to London in the closing scene of the film.
  • Sabrina (1995): Linus Larrabe Harrison Ford takes an Air France Concorde from New York to Paris in order to meet Sabrina on time since she had left New York earlier on a conventional Air France flight.
  • Only Fools and Horses: In the 1996 Christmas episode, the family is seen aboard Concorde on their way home from America after attending the auction of the John Harrison pocket watch which made them millionaires.
  • The Parent Trap (1998 version): Hallie and her father take Concorde so that they can beat the twins' mother and Annie to London.
  • Cats & Dogs (2001) Concorde was used to transport secret agent dogs from the UK to the USA.
  • National Treasure (2004): Concorde is shown on the New York Harbour.
  • SuperSonic Dream (2005): A PBS NOVA documentary about Concorde
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