At precisely 11:40 GMT on 21 January 2016, a group of people who had designed, built or flown Concorde raised their champagne glasses to the 40th anniversary of the type’s first take-off for a commercial flight.
Plural take-offs to be precise. At 11:40 GMT British Airways’ aircraft began its take-off roll at London Heathrow for Bahrain and, simultaneously – perfectly choreographed via an HF radio link – Air France’s Concorde crew also engaged reheat bound for Rio de Janeiro.
It has been 12 years since, in 2003, the last Concorde flights took place, and all the experts and afficionados gathered at Brooklands last Thursday confirmed – despite many expressed wishes that at least one airframe could be made flyable at some time in the future – it will never get airborne again for air shows, let alone with commercial passengers on board.
Forty years is a long time. The Concorde on show at Brooklands may have still gleamed in the pale winter sun, but the passage of time shows on the faces of those who took part in the Concorde commercial operations story, especially from its very beginning in 1976.
G-BBDG at Brooklands on the 40th anniversary of the type’s first commercial departures
Capt John Eames (below), one of the first batch of BA’s Concorde commanders, was there to raise a glass of champagne, along with Concorde fleet senior stewardess Jeannette Hartley, both dressed in uniforms from that period. Hartley served as Concorde cabin crew from 1977 to 1998, spinning that magic that made everybody who flew on the machine feel special from the moment of check-in.
An event like this serves to remind aviation people – and ordinary souls – just how special Concorde was.
It was an amazing technical achievement and the ultimate adventure in commercial air transport.
Just one of the proofs is that it has no successor.
It’s extraordinary, in this world of breakneck technological advance, that I can tell my six-year-old granddaughter I flew as an airline passenger at twice the speed of sound, then add reluctantly that she can’t do that even if she chooses a career as an RAF fastjet pilot.
This reminder of a historic event was, itself, surrounded by history at Brookands Museum, the home of of both British motor sport and British aviation. The gathering was in the Vickers room (below), complete with the forward end of a Vickers Vimy embedded in the wall. The airscrew on the left was one of those that propelled Alcock and Brown’s first flight across the Atlantic.
A presentation by Capt Eames entitled Concorde – a pilot’s perspective, drew reminiscences from several of his peers about the event in their supersonic career that they found most memorable.
One such pilot recalled a training flight to Gander, Newfoundland, during a single 24h period. Outbound and return flights each took little more than 2h, but the phenomenon that stopped him in his tracks was seeing two sunrises and two sunsets on that day, and one of the sunrises was in the west.
Work that one out!
The first sunset was in UK before take-off. The “sunrise” in the west occurred as Concorde overtook the sun flying westbound, then after landing the sun set once more. Then, on the eastbound leg back to UK, the sun rose as one would expect it to, except that, at nearly 60,000ft above sea level, it rises incredibly early while the earth beneath the aircraft is still in darkness.
And we can’t do that any more.