Concorde Flies for first time
Although Concorde’s maiden flight was only a generation ago it seems to belong to an entirely different age, as separated from today’s vision of the world as say the Age of Exploration, or the Industrial Revolution .
Concorde was developed in an era that was full of hope for technology and what it would do for mankind. The dream was that technology would offer freedom. Just four months after Concorde took off for the first time Apollo 11 made the first manned moon landing, promising somehow that humankind would escape the earth’s gravitational shackles and venture out into the stars. The establishment of a colony on the moon was almost taken for granted.
What Concorde offered was the chance to bring the world closer together. It meant much more than wealthy businessmen and self-regarding celebrities reaching New York from London in three and a half hours instead of nearly eight. The beautiful airplane was the elegant embodiment of what PM Harold Wilson had called “The white heat of this revolution” in his 1963 speech to the Labour Party conference. Indeed, Concorde had been backed through its long and much criticised development by political visionaries like Tony Benn .
On the afternoon of March 2nd 1969 Concorde 001, its registration F-WTSS marked on the fuselage, stood ready on the runway in Toulouse, forced to wait for several days because of unfavourable weather conditions. The French test-pilot André Turcat was at the controls, with co-pilot Jacques Guignard and two engineers, Michel Retif and Henri Perrier to accompany him on the flight. Brian Trubshaw, the British chief test-pilot watched on.
Rather than passengers Concorde was carrying about ten tons of instrumentation to record every aspect of the flight. Two chase aircraft shepherded it up the runway as it took off, one to film the flight from close to, the other to verify speeds on an independent set of instruments. At 15.40 the great white dart began its journey along the runway, travelling almost a mile before lifting off to the spontaneous applause of watching news crews and journalists.
It had been decided to keep the flight to the simplest possible level, so the tilting nose stayed down as did the landing gear. The plane that would eventually travel four times faster was only taken up to 300mph, and brought back down to earth a mere 27 minutes after take-off, flown manually throughout by Turcat.
The flight had been untroubled, unlike the next - the first from British soil - when Trubshaw had to make a landing with both altimeters inoperative. It would not be until October 1969 that the plane would be allowed to exceed Mach 1 for the first time, on its 45th flight.
Concorde was to say the least not a commercial success, thanks in part to the American attitude towards it, something that always smacked of pique at the Limeys and Frogs completely beating them to the punch. But it was until its withdrawal from service in 2003 a magnificent symbol of engineering genius, of the power of cooperation, and of the beauty that technology can create. A generation later we have the Millennium Dome as the visionary product of more recent leaders. God help us.
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