A tribute in pictures to one of the most iconic aircraft in history: Concorde
If you think about innovative breakthroughs in aviation, the Concorde has been never been overtaken in 50 years. Concorde was born from a successful European cooperation between the British Aircraft Corporation and France’s Aérospatiale (initially Sud Aviation). Their groundbreaking partnership birthed the Concorde, an iconic symbol of technology that has revolutionised air travel.
I have been lucky enough to witness Concorde flying in my early years as an aviation photographer. An absolute highlight was witnessing the last ever landing of F-BVFB in Karlsruhe Baden Airpark on 24 June 2003. This report relives my memories of this day and serves as is a small homage to one of the greatest innovations aviation has ever seen.
After years of design and construction of two prototypes saw the light in February 1965. Concorde 001, built by Aérospatiale, flew for the first time on 2 March 1969. The first supersonic flight took place on 1 October. The first UK-built Concorde flew on 9 April 1969. The public saw both prototypes for the first time at the Paris Air Show in June. As the flight programme progressed, Concorde 001 and 002 made sales tours around the world in 1971.
Yet, the Concorde faced competition in the form of the Tupolev Tu-144, a Soviet counterpart. In the race for supersonic supremacy, both aircraft types vied for dominance. With the Tu-144 initially making history as the first supersonic passenger jet. However, its fate took a tragic turn with a devastating crash during a Paris Air Show in 1973. The Paris Le Bourget air show crash of the competing Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and public concerns over supersonic aircraft’s environmental issues led to a shift in public opinion. By 1976, the remaining buyers were Britain, France, China, and Iran. Only Air France and British Airways proceeded with their orders, with the two governments taking a share of any profits. Boeing had been developing its own SST to that point (the 2707). But the US government cut the funding of the OBeing 2707 project. As a consequnece Boeing did not complete the two prototypes.
Flying Concorde developed into a status symbol of sorts. This was despite, or even thanks to the lack of commercial sales of Concorde and the huge cost of operating the small Concorde fleet. Launching into service in 1976, the Concorde swiftly became synonymous with luxury air travel, connecting elite passengers to prestigious destinations like New York, Washington D.C., Singapore, and Barbados. Operated by both Air France and British Airways, the Concorde epitomized speed and style. Thus carving a niche in the aviation landscape.
But despite its its huge reputation, Concorde’s journey was not without hurdles. The tragic crash of Air France Flight 4590 in 2000, coupled with escalating maintenance costs and evolving aviation dynamics, spurred the decision to retire the iconic aircraft. In 2003, both Air France and British Airways bid farewell to the Concorde. This marked a conclusion of an era in supersonic travel.
The final chapters of the Concorde’s service unfolded with emotional farewells. British Airways’ ultimate commercial Concorde flight transpired on October 24, 2003. The last flight from New York to London Heathrow drew thousands of spectators. Earlier Air France had already said goodbye to Concorde on June 27, 2003. These momentous events featured special celebrations. It afforded enthusiasts and passengers with a last opportunity to relish the exhilarating experience of supersonic flight.
As the Concorde no longer graces the skies, all flying Concorde aircraft have found a haven in museums. It is not often that all flying airframes of a jet that has been phased out gets this credit. But given the iconic status of the Concorde this was hardly surprising. Apart from the F-BVFB that can be found in the Technik Museum in Sinsheim in Germany, notable locations encompass the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, the National Museum of Flight in Scotland, the Fleet Air Arm Museum in England, and the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace in France. These museums not only offer a glimpse into the golden age of supersonic travel but also safeguard the Concorde’s legacy for generations to come.
The Concorde fuselage is narrow, and due to the streamlined nose section, the cockpit at the front is extremely small and narrow. Concorde flew a crew of three on the flight deck. The captain on the left, First Officer on the right and the Flight Engineer was seated behind the first office on the right hand side.
Due to the nature of supersonic flight some extra systems had to be built in, such as pumping fuel around to maintain the ideal point of gravity. This was especially important during supersonic cruise. Also on Concorde more complex cooling systems are required due the fact that during supersonic flight temperatures on the hull, wings and engines would remain under control.
Contrary to what you might expect with Concordes exclusive reputation, the Concorde cabin was not the summum of luxury. Due to the small size of the cabin not much more could be made than putting four abreast seatings in. The maximum capacity of Concorde was 100 passengers. Also supersonic travelling was quite noisy.
But all of this was compensated with service that was second to none. both Air France as British Airways spared no expense to spoil their Concorde passengers. On top of that nothing on earth of course would top the experience of travelling at the edge of space at Mach 2. Due to this, more often than you would arrive earlier than when you left when travelling westbound.
A beautiful morning on what promises to be a scorching hot day in the Rhine Valley in Southwest Germany. Just moments earlier, Air France flight 4406 took off from Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport for her final flight. A flight that will take her to Karlsruhe Baden Airpark. From here the plane will be transported to the Sinsheim Transport Museum.
The final flight of F-BVFB is emotional in many ways. Not only is it the last glimpse that most of the people present will see of a Concorde flying. It is also the last flight for Captain Jean Louis Châtelain.
The flight crew of the last flight of Fox Bravo consisted of Captain Jean Louis Châtelain, co-pilot Robert Vacchiani and flight engineer Rémy Pivet. For Captain Châtelain this flight was not only his last flight in the Concorde but also was his last flight with Air France. He headed of into retirement after this flight
Air France had stopped flying Concorde already on 30 May 2003. During the month of June all of the Air France Concordes were decommissioned to museums subsequently. The Auto & Technik Museum in Sinsheim, Germany agreed to buy the Concorde F-BVFB from Air France. Both parties agreed to a symbolic amount of 1 euro. The museum wanted to put Fox Bravo on display together with an original Tu-144 that was already there.
The final flight of F-BVFB routed over Le Havre, Brittany and the Atlantic where Fox Bravo would go supersonic for one last time. After that over Guernsey, Jersey, Caen and Paris towards Strasbourg. Lastly to the final destination: FKB Karslruhe Baden Airpark. The final arrival of Fox Bravo in Sinsheim was much anticipated by the locals. A massive 25.000 people showed up on this day to see the Air France Concorde make her final landing.
I was part of the official photo crew that day to record the final landing of Fox Bravo. In these days I was still shooting slides. I had to rely on my trusty old Canon EOS 50e. My girlfriend was shooting with the small but brilliant Konica Hexar 35mm compact camera.
We truly live in a very different era right now: if I look back at the slides obviously the quality would be so much better these days. But the slides do give me something that no digital images can ever give you: a true sense of nostalgia. This works especially well with the subject for today: the brilliant Concorde.
Over the years my encounters with the Concorde have been limited unfortunately.
But still I am so happy to have been able to see them fly. They will always be treasured moments in my memories. This collage gives a few impressions of some of these moments dating back to July 1990.
You can find “Fox Bravo” on permanent display at the Sinsheim Transport Museum.
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