- Concorde was the first supersonic jet to enter commercial service with its inaugural flights in January 1976
- Revolutionary jet travelled from London to New York in just over three hours at Mach 2.04, twice the speed of sound
- It was retired by British Airways and Air France in 2003 in a decline accelerated by a fatal crash and rising costs
These vintage photographs reveal the beginnings of one of the most famous aircraft of all time before it took its first commercial flight 40 years ago.
Black-and-white images show how the Concorde – the world’s first supersonic passenger jet – was designed and built for record-breaking long-haul journeys to destinations such as New York, Singapore and Rio de Janeiro.
Nearly 13 years after its final flight at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2.04 or 1,354mph), the revolutionary plane used primarily by British Airways and Air France remains a beacon for designers and manufacturers who are hoping to build the next supersonic airliner.
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Airline pilots and flight attendants pose in front of the Concorde at an official roll-out ceremony at a factory in Toulouse, France, in 1967
Cleaners work inside the stripped fuselage of a Concorde prototype at the British Aircraft Corporation factory at Filton, Bristol, in 1967
A team of designers examine the interior of a Concorde prototype in 1964. The supersonic airliner made its first flight 12 years later
The Concorde underwent several years of design and testing in the UK and France, including this vibration test at Toulouse in 1967
Queen Elizabeth II and British Aircraft Corporation officials during a tour at its facility in Filton, Bristol, in September 1966
The Concorde made its first commercial flights on 21 January 1976 on two routes – London Heathrow-Bahrain and Paris-Rio de Janeiro
Through a partnership between British Aircraft Corporation and Aérospatiale, Concorde aircraft were manufactured at Filton, Bristol, and Toulouse, France, in the late 1960s.
At the two factories, employees built a full-scale wooden model and two prototypes that made their first successful test flights in 1969.
Photos show the era show workers installing seats and cleaning the stripped interior of a prototype, while other shots show Queen Elizabeth II’s 1966 visit to the Filton factory and crew members posing in front of a finished Concorde in late 1967.
After years of testing around the world, the Concorde made its first commercial flights on 21 January 1976 on two routes – London Heathrow-Bahrain and Paris-Rio de Janeiro.
At British Aircraft Corporation’s facility in Bristol, employees work on a full-scale wooden model of the Concorde in October 1963
In February 1996, British Airways had a record-breaking flight time from London to New York, at two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds
Media were given an opportunity to view the full-scale wooden mock-up of the Concorde at British Aircraft Corporation’s factory in 1967
Carrying up to 128 passengers, including the rich and famous, the Concorde added New York flights when a US ban on the aircraft was lifted a year later and was able to make the transatlantic journey in just three-and-a-half hours.
In February 1996, British Airways had a record-breaking flight time from Heathrow to JFK Airport, at two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
Twenty Concordes were built until the aircraft was retired in 2003 in a decline caused by a deadly crash in 2000, high operating costs and the fallout from the September 11 terror attacks.
Of those, 18 have been preserved and are displayed at locations such as the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s facility in Chantilly, Virginia, and Musee de l’Air in Le Bourget, France.
Twenty Concordes were built until the aircraft was retired in 2003 in a decline that was accelerated by a deadly crash in 2000
A model line-up of the various designs suggested for the shape of Concorde, with the eventual deign is at the far end of the row
This model of the Concorde was displayed for the public at the Farnborough Air Show, in Hampshire, in September 1962
Now, the first ever Concorde to land on American soil is opening to the public at the Delta Museum in Orly, just outside of Paris.
The prototype plane, which helped convince US authorities that it was safe, was decommissioned in 1975 and has spent the last decade sitting on the tarmac at Paris Orly Airport.
Once an empty shell, the interior is being restored to its former glory with the help of British donors.
THE ENGINEERING ICON THAT FLEW PASSENGERS FROM LONDON TO NEW YORK IN JUST THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS
Sunset: Concorde was retired in 2003 due to a general downturn in the commercial aviation industry after the type’s only crash in 2000
Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet that was operated until 2003.
It had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph at cruise altitude) and could seat 92 to 128 passengers.
It was first flown in 1969, but needed further tests to establish it as viable as a commercial aircraft.
Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years. It is one of only two supersonic transports to have been operated commercially.
The other is the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which entered commercial service in 1976 and ran for a much shorter period of time before it was grounded and retired due to safety and budget issues.
Concorde was jointly developed and manufactured by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty.
Concorde’s name, meaning harmony or union, reflects the cooperation on the project between the United Kingdom and France. In the UK, any or all of the type are known simply as ‘Concorde’, without an article. Twenty aircraft were built including six prototypes and development aircraft.
Air France and British Airways each received seven aircraft. The research and development failed to make a profit and the two airlines bought the aircraft at a huge discount.
Among other destinations, Concorde flew regular transatlantic flights from London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to New York-JFK, Washington Dulles and Barbados.
It flew these routes in less than half the time of other airliners. Over time, the aircraft became profitable when it found a customer base willing to pay for flights on what was for most of its career the fastest commercial airliner in the world.
The aircraft is regarded by many as an aviation icon and an engineering marvel, but it was also criticized for being uneconomical, lacking a credible market, and consuming more fuel to carry fewer passengers than a Boeing 747.
Concorde was retired in 2003 due to a general downturn in the commercial aviation industry after the type’s only crash in 2000, the September 11 attacks in 2001, and a decision by Airbus, the successor to Aérospatiale and BAC, to discontinue maintenance support.