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Travel Aviation History Concorde Retirement Anniversary

3NEW YORK - OCTOBER 24: Onlookers wave as the last-ever Concorde passenger flight takes off from John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to London October 24, 2003 in New York City. British Airways is retiring the Concorde, the world's only supersonic airliner. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A decade since Concorde's last flight

29 November 2013

It was arguably the fastest passenger aircraft in service, if you consider the commercial failure of its contemporary, the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-144. The supersonic Concorde, jointly built and developed by the French Aerospatiale and British Aerospace, was first flown in 1969. Taking off at 400 kmph, Concorde was capable of attaining cruising speeds of 2,160 kmph (or Mach 2, twice the speed of sound) at an altitude of 18,228 m (60,000 feet). Concorde could seat 100 passengers, six cabin crew and was manned by two pilots and a flight engineer. The distance from New York to London was completed in about three hours, less than half the time taken by a commercial airline flight. On February 7, 1996, Concord made its fastest trans-Atlantic crossing, covering the New York-London flight in two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

During a 27-year period, Concord flew over 2.5 million passengers, including dignitaries such as the Queen and Pope John Paul II. Other famous passengers included pop stars The Bee Gees and Phil Collins, soccer star David Beckham, and British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair.

Only 20 Concorde aircraft were ever built. On entering commercial service in 1976, Concorde passenger flights were operated successfully by Air France and British Airways until 2003, when it was retired owing to a number of reasons, foremost among them safety concerns. On July 25, 2000, Air France Concorde flight 4590 burst into flames on takeoff and crashed into a hotel, killing 109 passengers and crew and four people on the ground. In addition, concerns over assembly and structural issues, overheating of the fuselage, noise pollution and environmental damage (to the ozone layer), together with the perceived high cost of flying, put additional pressure on the manufacturers. Airbus, the successor of the Aerospatiale-British Aerospace joint venture, withdrew maintenance support and finally forced Concorde into retirement after its last commercial flight in 2003. It is remembered, however, as an icon in aviation history. The seven Concord owned by British Airways were retired and despatched to museums in Barbados, Edinburgh, Filton, Manchester, New York and Seattle. One aircraft remained at Heathrow.

Enjoy these moments from the 27 years of Concorde's history.

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