Concorde G-BOAA prepares for the first commercial flight from LHR to BAH on Jan 21, 1976 - Photo: British Airways

Concorde G-BOAA prepares for the first commercial flight from LHR to BAH on January 21, 1976 – Photo: British Airways

Today is the 40th anniversary of Concorde’s first commercial flight. On January 21, 1976, Concorde successfully completed its first supersonic flight by British Airways, from Heathrow to Bahrain, while Air France flew to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar.

Concorde is one of the most iconic airliners ever built and was created with huge dreams; dreams that sadly never became a reality.

To celebrate this milestone, British Airways shared information about the historic aircraft and some thoughts from one of its former pilots. What better place to chat with a former pilot than next to one of the aircraft? Captain Leslie Scott recently spent some time, along with others associated with the plane, at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to share his memories.

Captain Scott sits in the captain's seat and an airline engineer sits in the right seat - Photo: British Airways

Captain Scott sits in the Captain’s seat, with an airline engineer in the right seat – Photo: British Airways

The Captain’s perspective on Concorde

“I was delighted to visit Concorde again and share stories with the guys, all of whom I worked with at JFK. The Intrepid Museum is maintaining her really well, she’s looking good, even after 40 years! I’m really pleased customers still visit her and discover what a remarkable aircraft Concorde is,” said Captain Scott, who retired from flying shortly before Concorde did in 2003.

BONUS: Historic Photo of Concorde Visiting Seattle in 1984

Twenty years ago, on February 7, 1996, he and his crew set, and still hold, the record for the fastest flight across the Atlantic from New York to London by a civil aircraft at 2:52:59. Just think about that. New York to the UK in less than three hours? What a feat!

Concorde ended up serving well, but in 2003, it was finally retired. It was a combination of things that brought the end to commercial service. Among the issue were high fuel prices, lower passenger demand after 9/11, and the unfortunate crash of flight 4590.

BONUS: What It Was Like Flying on the Concorde

The good news is that most of the air frames are still being enjoyed by the public. The seven British Airways Concordes are now displayed around the world, and it is estimated that more than one million people have visited them over the past 12 years.

Some facts and stats on Concorde, from British Airways

Here are some (hopefully) interesting facts about Concorde:

  • Concorde successfully completed its first supersonic flight on October 1, 1969 –
    although the first commercial flights took place on January 21, 1976
  • It flew up to 11 miles high at the edge of space in the layers between the
    stratosphere and the ionosphere where the curvature of the earth could be seen
  • Due to the intense heat of the airframe, Concorde could stretch anywhere from six
    to 10 inches during flight. Every surface, even the windows, were warm to the touch
    by the end of the flight
  • Because of its speed, Concorde was sometimes used to transport human organs,
    diamonds, and currency
  • The menu on British Airways’ first commercial flight included: Champagne Dom
    Perignon 1969, caviar and lobster canapes, grilled fillet steak, palm heart salad with
    Roquefort dressing, and fresh strawberries with double cream. Customers were also
    offered Havana cigars.
A Concorde now sits at the Museum of Flight in Seattle - Photo: David Parker Brown

A Concorde now sits at the Museum of Flight in Seattle – Photo: David Parker Brown

Where to see British Airways Concordes on display

Concorde resides at the following sites: East Fortune, near Edinburgh; Heathrow Airport; Aviation viewing park, Manchester Airport; Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York; Grantley Adams Airport, Bridgetown, Barbados; Airbus UK, Filton, Bristol; and The
Museum of Flight, Seattle.

BONUS: A Classic British Airways Concorde Commercial From 1989

An eighth Concorde, owned by British Airways but never operated
commercially, was the final test aircraft. She now resides at Brooklands Museum in
Weybridge.

Did you ever fly on Concorde? Or watch it fly? Share your memories in the comments!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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29 Comments

During the test flights in Johannesburg, South Africa, about 1971, I’ve spent many hours there admiring this aircraft. I had a super 8 mm camera and had meters and meters of film. Had a burglary and these were stolen with my camera and projector. Seeing this aircraft on a touch and go basis were just awesome. The smoke from the engines, the speed,, that sound. It was a white aircraft, no markings, and I can clearly see her standing there on runway 3R ready for taking off. How can you forget that without a tear in the eye. She were taken out three or four times a day, because of the altitude of the then Jan Smuts Airport (FAJS) which is 5300 feet above see level.
Sweet memories.

Thanks for sharing your memories! That is unfortunate that all your photos were stolen. It was an amazing aircraft and I wish I had the chance to take a flight in it!

David | AirlineReporter

James Burke

The highlight of my visit to the Museum of Flight was the Concorde. I had goosebumps walking up the stairs to go on board. It would have been a thrill and a half to have been crammed CRJ style into that feat of engineering across the ocean.
Also, thanks for finding the picture of the Concordes in formation. What an amazing picture.

Alastair Long

It’s not strictly a BA Concorde, but G-AXDN is the pre-production model used for testing in 1971 and is now parked nicely amongst a few other classic aircraft at IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire (UK). They got the nose cone to ‘droop’ for the first time in 37 years, back in 2014! Worth a visit, fellow AvGeeks.

Just for the sake of interest, is there any ex Concorde flight deck crew or even cabin crew reading this awesome article of this awesome aircraft. If so, don’t you want to share some of youre experiences, please.

Where’s dakaron? Google is coming up empty for me.

Do you think it might be a error, it should read via Dakar to Rio.?

Yup! I think the sentence originally had “Dakar on” and we changed it around and messed it up. Fixed now!

Thanks,

David | AirlineReporter

It was a town that lasted a day — for the first flight and then was shut down. Not many people (not even Google) knows about it. I was told I shouldn’t share either, but I accidentally did. But now I have “fixed” it to Dakar and we are all good.

Thanks for catching that — I updated the story 🙂

David | AirlineReporter

Andrew Webb

Air France, Paris to Manchester, August 1990.

The subsonic outbound (A320 with the flight-deck door open!) took an hour, then our return 3 days later took 90 mins – but we did take time over the sea to achieve M2.0. We were lucky to find a fabulous deal, including 3 nights in Paris – even our two young boys came along – and we’ve still got the amenity kits!

A beautiful aircraft that I followed from its first flight (black & white TV in 1969) to seeing a final flight into Manchester in 2003. Now we get the chance to see her every time we fly from Manchester.

1989: Paris-Dakar-Cayenne and return. A bit cramped, frankly – like a DC9. Air France crew actually civil. Warned by before flight to say nothing confidential on board as every seat was bugged! Crossed South Atlantic on return in 2 hours! Aircraft then went technical in Senegal so crew served us meal in Dakar airport café. 5 hour delay. Still wearing silk and cashmere scarf that was in AF goodie bag.

Roddie MacPhee

Had the good fortune to fly Concorde 4 times to JFK – an unforgettable travel experience!

Jim Holtrop

Doesn’t the Air & Space Museum at Dulles also have one?

Years ago I was staying at the Sheraton Skyline which happens to be across the street from the take off runway at Heathrow. I was watching tv and heard a noise like I had never heard before. Naturally I went to the window just in time to see the Concorde start it’s take off roll. The noise was deafening even through the double pain windows but it was the coolest thing that I have ever seen. I wish I had had a camera! Also, when I was flying out of Heathrow this summer, I looked out the window of the plane I was on and saw a BA Concorde across the tarmac. I took a picture but being the lousy photographer that I am, the picture was not a good one.

Peter Duffey

I was the standby captain at London Heathrow on January 21 1976, with Captain John Eames as the standby copilot. We were both in uniform, bags packed, but were not called to replace Capt Norman Todd or
Capt Brina Calvert as they remained fit and well.

I had a dual duty which was to host a tv programme produced by the BBC for initially internal relay to all the airline’s staff. This covered the synchronized departure of the Air France and British Airways Concordes to Rio de Janeiro and Bahrain. I had to wait three days before flying the second BA Concorde service. Exciting days of course.

blair kooistra

I saw Concorde fly only one time–during its visit to the west coast of the US in the early 1980s. It made a stop-over at Boeing Field in Seattle, and I was at the south end of the runway covering its departure for Associated Press when it lifted off. LOUD! Like tearing the skies apart. Granted, this was in the era of the unmuffled 727, and the Concorde could be felt deep in your chest.

You mentioned the Concorde as a vehicle for human organs bound for transplant. That was one of the story lines in the horrible thriller “Airport 1979: Concorde”, where a human heart–stuffed in a white cardboard box labeled “Caution: Human Heart” is placed in a carry-on bin. The pilot on the flight was one Joe Petroni, who in four years had graduated from a TWA maintenance foreman in the original “Airport” to Captain of the illustrious Concorde. At one point in the move, Concorde is being tracked by heat seeking missiles, and Petroni saves the day by opening a cockpit window and shooting a marker flare out the window to divert the missiles from harm’s way. The Concorde eventually makes an emergency landing on a ski slope in the Alps. Amazing film!

Paul Begg

I remember 210176 standing next to the perimeter fence near LHR 27R with my mother in the rain waiting for that first flight. On 190676 I took my first flight on Concorde. taking off in the worst downpour. I still have the letter I wrote home from that flight, tear stained as I was completely overcome with emotion. I flew back via Paris. AF never came close to meeting BA’s style. I took Concorde a further 8 times in my life – always for pleasure and it was always a pleasure..the greatest pleasure. What always struck me until the end was that London stopped at 1800 hrs every evening. People would stop and watch as she passed over West London. Cars would pull over, and there were always cars near the village of Horton as she passed overhead going West in the dusk – after burners blazing and the earth vibrating and all the car alarms going off. There are so many of us who would love just once more to stand by the car and see that sight, enjoy the noise and smell those fumes. My love for Concorde still makes me shed a tear.

Don Soetaert

I flew the Concorde, as a passenger, several times 78/79. It was exciting yes, but it was “hot” to the touch, not “warm”. You could visit the flt deck in those days and the poor guys were sweating profusely from the heat off the windows. The little bump when passing thru the sound barrier was a let down and no sound of course. It was about the size of a DC9…maybe a bit smaller even, quite narrow cabin. I think to see the take off and landing was more exciting than the ride.

Peter Duffey

During my years flying Concorde as a captain I never had any problems feeling hot. It was also common to position as a passenger. I never felt hot in the passenger cabin either. Maybe on that specific flight there was a system problem? The comparison with a DC9 which cruised at about Mach 0.82 and was short range is like comparing apples with oranges. Even during a subsonic cruise at Mach 0.95 we were often routed past the slower traffic, and would tell the passengers to look out as we whizzed past.
My fastest JFK to LHR was 2h 58m. Concorde was all about speed. No need to have lie flat beds, tvs to fill time, etc, Just get in,have a really first class meal, and get off, refreshed and what is more free from jet lag. I never had jet lag. Much of that is in my opinion caused by inhaling polluted air for prolonged flight times.

Peter Mac

Without a doubt, the highlight of my traveling career was flying on AF2, JFK-CDG in the fall of 1989. The experience was remarkable with the most superb service and of course, being on AF the food was spectacular along with the wine. The welcome aboard beverage was chilled vodka and the rest just kept coming. My biggest regret was that the flight was over too quickly.
I still to this day have the amenities kit, portfolio case and the sterling silver flask that AF gave to it’s passengers, all in original condition. Just something that my children will be able to fight over when I am gone.
A wonderful airplane and I cherish the memory

Peter Harrington-Cressman

I remember in the summer of 2002 my grandfather paid for my entire family to fly from Toronto to Heathrow and back for 6 weeks in Europe – it was the most incredible flight of my life. I will never forget the sensation of being thrust back in my seat during take-off. During taxi to the foot of the runway, I recall everyone on the ramp, in the terminal and even other aircraft all gawking at the lucky 100 folks who would soon be skimming the edge of space at twice the speed of sound.

I wasn’t crazy about the food, but who cared…..I will never forget seeing the curvature of the earth from those little windows and on the flight home, having breakfast in London and landing in Toronto in time for a second breakfast.

Truly a case of brilliant, far-sighted design!

Kurt Brown

Flew on the same bird now at the Intrepid, back in 2000, from JFK to LHR. One of the peak experiences of my life. No turbulence at 60,000 feet. Like sitting in your living room. Before takeoff the BA captain said, “It is alleged that Concorde produces a bit of noise upon takeoff, so we are obliged to perform some rather strenuous noise abatement maneuvers immediately after takeoff. Please do not be alarmed.” And those were amazing maneuvers. Taking off fast, like a jet fighter, dropping out of the sky like a rock, then powering out like a rocket! And, already flying more than 500 mph, when the afterburners kicked in, and THEN being thrown into the back of your seat! In my jeans and tshirt, I had an impeccably suited London City banker take a picture of me next to the mach meter when it reached 2.0. He rolled his eyes and humored me. The cabin was like a sports car. The personnel were all at the top of their game, starting from the exclusive Concorde Lounge at JFK (so you don’t have to lower yourself to mix with the commoners in the First Class Lounge). And landing at LHR, my Concorde flight was one of the last to arrive before the airport shut down, so all the cabbies knew you got off the Concorde and called you “gov.”

Like the previous poster, I also saved my leather flight kit, with portfolio, pen, and beautiful glossy booklet describing the plane and how it worked (including how fuel was moved around to change the center of gravity). One of my most precious possessions.

Last year, I went to the Intrepid Museum, and paid the extra fee to go inside the Concorde, and learned then it was the exact same plane that I flew on 15 years prior. I remembered the exact seat I was in, and moved to it. I felt so lucky to have been a part of this wonderful plane and service, I started crying like a baby.

I took a day trip from ST. Louis to JFK in the 90’s. I remember standing on top of the Pan Am terminal watching planes arrive and depart. I witnessed a Concord departure from that vantage point. Even at the opposite side of the airport I could hear Concord apply takeoff power. It was a sight to see and hear as it came past me and lifted off into the afternoon sky.

OliverTwist

I lived in Dallas when Braniff commenced the Concorde service to Dallas in 1979. One day, my father took me to the Terminal 2W (now Terminal B) at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The first time I saw Concorde parked in front of the terminal, waiting to be pushed back, was very exciting. For a thirteen-year-old kid in 1979, it was the most far out and futuristic thing ever. I could hardly contain myself from squealing and having spastic fits.

After pushed back, Concorde began its travel to the north side of Runway 18L (or 18R). Seeing it moving further and further away, I felt a bit let down because the aeroplanes would sometimes travel further north as to cross a bridge to 17C/17R on the eastern side. I asked my father if we could rush over to Terminal 2E. He chuckled and said, “no, let’s stay here. If we miss it, we can come back again.”

A side note: the area surrounding the aeroport was sparse and didn’t have any residential or industrial developments for miles in 1979. Thus, no complicated noise abatement or slow take-off manoeuvres. Full throttle all the way.

We watched Concorde in the distance turning and positioning itself for a take-off. It began to roll faster and faster down the Runway 18L/18R toward the south side. As Concorde took off so quickly in front of Terminal 2W, we felt the thick windows vibrating hard and the sound of afterburners thundering through the building and through my body. While Concorde was flying higher and higher into the sky, the amazing sight of flame cones protruding from the exhaust ports was unforgettable. Then Concorde disappeared into the clouds. The whole stunt took less than thirty seconds. That was it…

I looked at my father and the people in the waiting lounges. Everyone, including me and my father, was stunned and speechless for a while. Being profound deaf since birth, it was first and only time I could actually hear the jet engines very clearly (without hearing aids). I still get the goosebumps to this day every time I think of that take off.

Gordon Church

The Concord’s visit to Seattle – the one and only – in 1984 was big news. Mick McHugh, a Seattle restaurateur was inspired to fly in 218 cases of Beaujolais Nouveau that November as a promotional stunt for the restaurants he and partners owned, and as a newsworthy item in Seattle’s early wine days. The truly inspired part of the stunt was to bring the BN via Concord from Heathrow…reportedly chartered for $185,000 for the trip.

While the plane was here The Museum of Flight also chartered it for two “Flights to Nowhere” fundraisers, flying out over the Pacific for supersonic lunches. That and other creative side deals made the original charter possible. That Concord now rests at the Museum, adjacent to Boeing Field. (http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/2011/11/seattles-beaujolais-nouveau.html)

A reported 10,000 people were at Boeing field to watch the arrival. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them. However, that night I went down to the field to see if I could get some interesting night shots of the plane, without all the crowds and commotion around it. In those days – long before 9/11 – I found a way to get to the edge of the taxi way where the plane was parked, well lit in solitary splendor. Staying in the shadows (no point in pushing my luck too far!) I spent quite awhile getting shots from various angles.

When the festivities were over and Concord was ready to leave I wasn’t going to be able to get anywhere nar the south end of the field, where all the press and officialdom were gathered. I found a place at the north end of the runway, amongst some communal vegetable gardens I never knew existed before, but which provided a great – and inconspicuous, vantage point. Concord taxied up to my end of the runway, turned south, and launched down the runway. As it lifted off there were highly photogenic vortices rolling up off the wingtips, giving a feeling of motion that the photos wouldn’t have otherwise had. It wasn’t long, even in the “no boom” zone of the urban area, before I would have needed a much longer lens to continue shooting.

After reading the previous anecdotes I’m struck now by the fact that I have no real memory of the sound, even with those massive exhausts pointed right at me. True, it wasn’t a full bore takeoff, but I’ve got to believe it was probably louder than any other plane to lift off that runway. I was concentrating so intently of the camera that I just didn’t notice…at least not enough to remember now. But I’ll always remember the only time I got to see the bird in flight.

Nigel Ferris

How wrong to say ‘Concorde is one of the most iconic airliners ever built (but she was) and was created with huge dreams; dreams that sadly never became a reality.’ The ‘reality’ lasted for 27 successful years flying with BA, and was only grounded for political reasons, when she had at least 10 years of flying left in her. Why else would BA have invested millions of pounds in post Gonesse modifications and interior refurbishment if they had thought she would only fly for two more years?

Peter Duffey

I was a apssenger on the short flight in 1984 from Everett to Boeing Field. The Beaujolais was supposed to be the first to be available of the current vintage, but Air France scooped BA by flying in an advance supply on the previous day. Captain John Eames was flying Concorde, and I was invited to join the dinner function that evening, where an ice model of Concorde stood with its nose dripping as we ate. After flying Concorde from 1975-1980 I can testify that the ‘reality’ was that BA received very significant revenue from the aircraft, and for many years the aircraft was very profitable. A truly unique venture in the history of aviation.

Yes, I flew on her December 1985. Part of honeymoon package through Cunard Steamship Line in partnership with British Airways. Sailed from Southampton England to New York City for Christmas, a stay at the Waldorf Astoria, and return flight to Heathrow England on Concorde. It was a truly remarkable and exciting experience. 1st class service, unbelievable views, especially when she hit earths atmosphere and you could look out the window and see the curvature of the earth with day on one side of the plane and night on the other. I still have napkins, booties, headphones and of course photo with a very special certificate having flown faster than the speed of sound.

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