The British Concorde fleet at London Heathrow Airport, January 21, 1986. The occasion was the 10-year anniversary of British Concorde flight service, which began in 1976.
First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercially for 27 years. With a cruising speed of 1,350 mph (2,180 km/h at cruise altitude), its unmistakable roar and sleek, sexy lines the Concorde became an icon of aviation history. For those wealthy enough to afford the expensive round trip ticket, a journey aboard Concorde was the closest they might get to flying on a rocket.
Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty. Concorde’s name, meaning harmony or union, reflects the co-operation on the project between the United Kingdom and France. Twenty aircraft were built including six prototypes and development aircraft. Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA) each received seven aircraft.
The Concorde faced problems beyond high costs. Any aircraft traveling faster than the speed of sound creates what’s aptly called a “sonic boom”. To avoid this problem, the Concorde was limited to subsonic speeds while flying over land. That meant it could only exercise its prime advantage over other aircraft while traveling on trans-oceanic routes.
On 10 April 2003, Air France and British Airways simultaneously announced that they would retire Concorde later that year. They cited low passenger numbers following 25 July 2000 crash, the slump in air travel following the September 11 attacks, and rising maintenance costs. Although Concorde was technologically advanced when introduced in the 1970s, 30 years later, its analogue cockpit was outdated. There had been little commercial pressure to upgrade Concorde due to a lack of competing aircraft, unlike other airliners of the same era such as the Boeing 747. By its retirement, it was the last aircraft in the British Airways fleet that had a flight engineer; other aircraft, such as the modernized 747-400, had eliminated the role.