Concorde at 50
It’s 50 years since the most beautiful airliner the world has ever seen took to the skies. I’ve had a soft spot for Concorde many years and wanted to mark the anniversary of its first British test flight by explaining why the aircraft is special to me.
Despite being retired from air travel, Concorde remains a pride of British and French engineering as a mainstay of supersonic flight – reaching Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, at an incredible 1,350 miles an hour.
Aviation is in my blood on both sides of the family, so much so that in the first careers test I did at school the results indicated that I should work in that industry. My uncle was an air steward for British Airways and my Mum, Dad and auntie all worked at Fairey Engineering in Stockport, which was originally a manufacturer of military aircraft.
As you might expect, I grew up living under the flight path of Manchester Airport (some may call it Ringway) and could see the line of take offs and descents from my bedroom window. The site of the Stockport air disaster in 1967 isn’t too far away either.
One particular occasion in the school playground, the whistle blew and everyone had to stand still and listen to the teacher for instruction. It seemed far too early to go inside, but instead we were told to look to the sky. Concorde was flying overhead and it was a magnificent sight and sound to experience.
This didn’t sound like a usual aircraft landing, there wasn’t a sonic boom of course as that was forbidden over towns and cities. The sound of the airliner was louder but smooth. I also saw the inimitable streamlined shape from below with the outline of the wings and a “snoop droop” nose sketching a silhouette into the sky, as the landed gear was lowed. All I can describe it as is a magical sight to witness that has stayed with me.
Concorde retired from the skies in 2003. That was after a crash in France due to a catalogue of errors three years earlier had affected some public feeling towards the aircraft. Attitudes towards supersonic travel changed but the fondness the pubic holds towards Concorde still exists. That was witnessed in the last flypast over Buckingham Palace, alongside the RAF Red Arrows. The last time it would be seen in the sky.
Nowadays Concorde is a tourist attraction at sites across the UK, including the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. Tour guides take you onto the plane and you can also sit where the likes of Sir David Frost, Dame Joan Collins or even The Queen would have travelled.
It makes you wonder how such a splendid aircraft came to be grounded? But in this era of budget air travel it’s clear to see how it happened. Now Brexit is on the cards (or is it…) finances and feelings are elsewhere when it comes to supersonic flight. However, the Concorde era will remain an extraordinary period of aviation history and an example of the great heights that can be achieved.