Britain and France are both major countries and economic powerhouses. But in the 1960s, they had a bit of an identity crisis. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became the dominant world powers. Britain and France struggled to recover from two world wars. Both countries dreamed of recovering former glories.
Demonstrating their technical abilities would be the way to do it. Both countries independently had started work on a passenger plane that was extremely fast. They realized they couldn’t do it alone, so they pooled their efforts to produce a plane that would fly to New York twice as fast as previous ones had done. It was to be called “Concorde”, which means “agreement” in both languages. (The French spelling with the final “e” was used.)
The plane was fast and beautiful, but it was also noisy. Traveling past the speed of sound created a shock wave called a “Sonic Boom” that reverberated on the ground as the plane flew over. Some of these booms were so loud as to break windows in buildings under the flight path. As a result, the plane was only allowed to fly from Europe to coastal cities in the US including New York and Washington. This restriction put the expensive plane at an economic disadvantage.
Only twelve of the planes were put into regular service, six for British Airways and six for Air France. Orders from other airlines dried up for various reasons. Even though the roughly hundred passenger planes were popular with the wealthy and were often close to full, the airlines lost money on every flight. The planes were technically very different from ordinary airliners and required a specialized labor force to keep them flying.
Long after it was obvious they had made a mistake, Britain and France continued to fly the plane, mostly for reasons of national pride. The Prime Ministers of England and Presidents of France took great delight in arriving at international meetings in these impressive vehicles.
As fuel prices rose, the fortunes of the Concorde sank. It’s perfect safety record was ruined in the year 2000 when an Air France Concorde taking off from Paris hit a piece of metal on the runway which had fallen off another airplane. The metal punctured the highly pressurized tire which exploded, sending parts into a fuel tank which caught fire. The plane crashed into a Paris suburb killing all on board and several people on the ground.
Even though the accident was not the fault of Concorde, its reputation took a big hit. The fleet was grounded for almost two years as changes were made to prevent such an accident from happening again. The final test flight before scheduled return to regular passenger service landed safely at New York’s Kennedy airport just hours before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The airline industry was devastated by those attacks and the Concorde never recovered. British Airways and Air France desperately tried to make the plane viable again, but the inevitable happened two years later when the fleet was permanently grounded.
Two examples of the plane are available for viewing in the US. One is at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum in New York. Another is at the Museum of Flight in Washington State.
If you can’t make it to either place, Johnny-Sells is offering a 1/100 scale model of the plane for sale online. The model was made for travel agent offices and is 25 inches long with it’s own metal stand.
You may no longer be able to ride in a plane that lands in New York at a time before it took off from London, but with this model on your desktop, you can dream that you can.