Concorde: the Supersonic Airliner, and Why did it Stop Flying?

Believe it or not, the world witnessed a flight between London and New York that took about three hours only! (Nowadays it takes about 8 hours to fly this flight) So, how was that possible, and what kind of airplane was able to fly about 5,600 km (3,500 miles) in only 3 hours?! In this article, we will talk about the fastest airliner ever, the Concorde, and why it stopped flying. Let’s dig in!

The beginning of the Concorde

The story began when the test pilot “Chuck Yeager” broke the sound barrier in an experimental Bell X-1 aircraft at an altitude of over 40,000 feet, and this, that test pilot made history by becoming the fastest man in a plane.

The iconic image of Chuck Yeager, who had “The Right Stuff” to be a test pilot, and his Bell X-1, Glamorous Glennis, after his first historic supersonic flight. (Photo: Smithsonian Air & Space Museum) – THE AVIATIONIST

By that time nobody knew about this, since the U.S. government’s top-secret project stayed under wraps until 1948. And later when the nations of the world knew supersonic air travel was possible. An airliner that could carry passengers faster than the speed of sound was the UK’S project at that time, effectively shrinking the globe.

Britain’s aviation experts soon discovered that the cost of building such a plane would be massive to build alone, so Britain sought help. “The British government wanted to split the costs with another country,” says Jonathan Glancey, the author of “Concorde: The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner“. And after an unsuccessful seeking of American assistance, Britain found an ally in France. In 1962, the two nations signed the Anglo-French Concorde agreement, ensuring cooperation on a new plane, one they hoped would finally level the aeronautical playing field in Europe’s favor.

And after hard work, the Concorde made its maiden flight, in 1969, and soon thereafter it finally appeared on the runway in 1976, bearing the liveries of British Airways and Air France.

Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

The Concorde was equipped with four Rolls-Royce afterburner engines, the same kind used on fighter jets, each of which generated 38,000 pounds of thrust. This bird used a slanted droop-nose that lowered upon takeoff and landing, enabling pilots to see the runway. Revamped brake systems allowed the plane to touch down on a tarmac unscathed even if it landed at far higher speeds than its subsonic counterparts. Because the plane’s nose temperature could climb to 278 degrees while it flew, it was coated in a highly-reflective white paint that radiated heat.

Sound cool! Then, Why did it stop flying?

The aircraft’s noise and the development costs of the Concorde were so massive that they sometimes would never be recovered from operations, and the aircraft was never financially profitable. Financial losses led both airlines to cut routes, eventually leaving New York City as their only regular destination, Concorde operations were finally ceased by Air France in May 2003 and by British Airways in October 2003. Only 14 of the aircraft actually went into service.

The Last Flight

The last British Airways Concorde flight lands at London’s Heathrow Airport and pilots greet
(Photo by Sean Dempsey – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Captain Mike Bannister and Senior First Officer Jonathan Napier were the pilots of the final commercial passenger flight for a Concorde, specifically on the 24th of October in 2003, when they operated this flight from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport. Before departing JFK, Captain Bannister said to the passengers; “You will be flying at the edge of space. There the sky gets darker, and you can see the curvature of the earth. You will fly faster than a rifle bullet, at 23 miles a minute, faster than the world rotates!”

Are supersonic flights getting back?

Photo via: Boom Technology

Pleasingly, mentioning that it has been more than 18 years since the retirement of the Concorde and when commercial supersonic air travel was last in service, a brand new supersonic jet is preparing for lift-off! Denver’s startup Company “Boom Supersonic” announced in the middle of 2020 the rollout of XB-1, a 1:3 scale prototype of its upcoming supersonic commercial jet “Overture”, that United Airlines purchased 15 “Overtures” last year, an order that is valued at $3 billion.

United plans to operate the Overture from coastal United States cities to overseas destinations. United is planning for Overture’s inaugural and main route to be from New York to London, the route Concorde flew last that will almost take the same time as the Concorde did.

An Overture can fly from San Francisco to Tokyo in 6 hours instead of 10 hours and 15 minutes, and 8 hours and 30 minutes from Los Angelos to Sydney instead of 14 hours and 30 minutes, according to some flight durations BOOM SUPERSONIC’s website listing.

Read more about United’s Supersonic order:

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