The highs and lows of Concorde

As 25 July marks the 20-year anniversary of Concorde’s fatal crash, we look back on the highlights – and lowlights – of the famed supersonic jet.

1959

The Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee recommends that the UK build a passenger jet capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. It estimates that by 1970 the world market for supersonic planes would be between 150 and 500.

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29 November 1962

An Anglo-French treaty to produce a supersonic aircraft is signed by Julian Amery, Minister of Supply, and Geoffroy de Courcel, the French Ambassador to Britain.

It is not, though, a good omen of warmer ties. A few weeks later the then-French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes British membership of the European Economic Community.

3 June 1963

The first orders for the plane arrive, with Air France, BOAC (later part of British Airways) and Pan Am of the US each ordering six.

A wide range of other airlines place non-binding orders, including Air India, Lufthansa and Qantas. All except the French and British orders were subsequently cancelled.

The work is split between Sud Aviation (later Aérospatiale) and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).

19 November 1964

Five weeks after the new Labour government is elected, it announces Britain’s withdrawal from the supersonic project. But such are the cancellation penalties that two months later the decision is reversed.

11 December 1967

The first prototype Concorde is rolled out in Toulouse. Up to this point the British had called it Concord, but the technology minister Tony Benn said they would add the “e”, standing for “excellence, England, Europe and entente”.

31 December 1969

Concorde’s Soviet rival, the Tupolev Tu-144, took off for the first time from a runway to the side of the factory where it was built in Zhukovski, USSR. It was nicknamed “Concordski” by the West.

2 March 1969

The first Concorde test flight takes off at Toulouse.

3 June 1973

The Tupolev Tu-144 crashes during the 1973 Paris Air Show. All six crew died, as well as eight people on the ground.

21 January 1976

Concorde enters service with British Airways as BA300 and flies from Heathrow to Bahrain. Permission to land in the US had not been granted.

Air France flies from Paris via Dakar in Senegal to Rio.

24 May 1976

Concorde flies from Heathrow to Washington DC after permission is granted to land in the US capital.

22 November 1977

Concorde starts flying from Heathrow to New York JFK, which would become its principal route for the next 26 years.

15 May 1983

The first Concorde charter, from Heathrow to Nice for the Monaco Grand Prix.

27 March 1984

Concorde begins flights to Miami, requiring a stop in Washington DC; the range was insufficient to reach Florida without refuelling.

13 July 1985

Phil Collins performs in both Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia, courtesy of Concorde.

12 December 1987

Concorde starts flights from Heathrow to Barbados.

7 February 1996

The fastest-ever New York to London flight, with just two hours, 53 minutes between take-off and touchdown.

25 July 2000

An Air France Concorde crashes outside Paris. As AF4590 is taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport to New York JFK, it runs over debris on the runway. A tyre blows, sending a 9lb chunk of rubber into the left wing and rupturing a fuel tank.

A fire breaks out as the aircraft takes off with only three of its four engines, and it crashes near the village of Gonesses.

All 109 passengers and crew on board die, along with four people on the ground.

15 August 2000

When one contributory cause of the Paris crash emerges – the vulnerability of the fuel tanks – a BA flight departing to New York returns to the gate at Heathrow. Concorde is grounded.

The plane remains out of service for over a year.

11 September 2001

The first post-crash proving flight with passengers lands at Heathrow just after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

10 April 2003

BA and Air France announce the end of Concorde passenger flights. The French carrier had effectively closed its supersonic operation already.

As Rod Eddington, the then-British Airways chief executive, reveals the end to supersonic travel, the flight from New York to Heathrow is carrying just 20 fare-paying passengers.

24 October 2003

Concorde’s last passenger flight, BA2, operates from New York to Heathrow. It is joined for the final approach by two other British Airways Concordes.

26 November 2003

The last flight is from Heathrow to Filton in Bristol – where the UK manufacture was based.

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