January 21, 1976: The Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde supersonic transport (SST) begins service. Supersonic means a speed of greater than Mach 1 – the speed of sound – or 1,129 feet per second or 770 mph. The speed of sound is affected by temperature and for the above measurements the temperature of 70º F was used. Supersonic status is granted to craft attaining speeds of 4,724 feet per second even though Mach numbers themselves change as speed remains constant due to changes in temperature.
The Concorde and Tupolev Tu-144 (operated out of Russia) were the only supersonic passenger carriers. The Concorde’s last flight was on November 26, 2003 while the Tu-144 was retired 25 years earlier on June 1, 1978. Today, there are no longer passenger SSTs. There are, however, fighter jets capable of achieving supersonic speeds. Most spacecraft, including the Space Shuttle, reach supersonic speeds at some time in their journey. Most modern bullets reach a speed of almost Mach 3.0.
The Concorde was 204 feet in length with a wingspan of 84 feet. The maximum speed was Mach 2.2 or 1,345 mph with a take off speed of 250 mph and a cruising altitude of about 60,000 feet or greater than 11 miles. The London to New York City flight took a little less than 3.5 hours rather than the normal 8 hours. More than 2.5 million passengers were quickly moved around during the 27 years of passenger service. The most frequent flyer was an oil company executive who made about 70 round trip transatlantic flights per year. The Concorde flew almost 50,000 times.
An international treaty between the British and French Governments set up the company for testing of the supersonic aircraft in 1956. The first prototype was produced in Toulouse in 1967. The first flight of a Concorde was on March 2, 1969 with the first supersonic flight taking place on October 1, 1969. The Concorde flew to the US the first time on September 20, 1973 and flew around the world the first time on November 8, 1986 on a flight that covered 28,238 miles in 29 hours and 59 minutes.
“After 25 years, they had one accident. Most planes should have such safety records. I feel safer in the Concorde than in the car on the ride from (London’s) Heathrow Airport.” – Robert Ziff
“Whenever a Concorde flies, people look at it, it’s very graceful, it’s very beautiful, it is a symbol of peace and international understanding.” – Tony Benn
“You would never get away with designing an aircraft as noisy and fuel inefficient as the Concorde in the early days of the 21st Century.” – Paul Jackson
“It was a special voyage. The Concorde was really an important part of my life.” – Francois Girbaud