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On this day in Engineering History (October 24) in 2003, the world witnessed the end of an era in aviation history as the iconic Concorde made its last commercial flight. The supersonic marvel had captured the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and travellers for nearly three decades, and its farewell marked a bittersweet moment in the history of flight.

The Birth of a Supersonic Dream

The story of Concorde began in the 1960s when British and French engineers joined forces to create a supersonic passenger aircraft. The result was a technological masterpiece, capable of flying at over twice the speed of sound. In 1976, Concorde made its debut, offering travellers an unprecedented way to traverse the Atlantic in just three and a half hours.

Concorde quickly became a symbol of luxury and speed. Celebrities, politicians, and business moguls flocked to its sleek cabins and the feeling of breaking the sound barrier. It was not just an aircraft; it was a status symbol, an embodiment of human innovation and progress.

The Final Flight

As the years went by Concorde faced mounting challenges. Rising maintenance costs, declining passenger numbers, and the tragic crash of Air France Flight 4590 in July 2000 cast a shadow over its future. On October 24, 2003, Concorde's last commercial flight, British Airways Flight 002, left New York JFK and touched down at London Heathrow Airport. The era of supersonic commercial travel came to an end.

The final flight was an emotional one. Aviation enthusiasts gathered at the airports to bid farewell to this symbol of innovation and progress. Concorde had served as a testament to human engineering and ambition, but the realities of the 21st century made it unsustainable.

Why the Retirement?

Several factors contributed to the retirement of the Concorde. The aircraft was becoming increasingly expensive to maintain, and its fuel inefficiency was no longer viable in a world increasingly concerned about environmental impact. Additionally, the tragic crash of Flight 4590 raised safety concerns and the airline industry faced a slump following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. All these factors combined to make Concorde's retirement inevitable.

Concorde may have left the commercial skies, but it left an indelible mark on aviation history. Its legacy lives on in the minds of those who marvelled at its speed and luxury. Today, many of the existing Concordes can be seen in various museums around the world reminding us of a time when supersonic travel was a reality.

The retirement of Concorde marked the end of an era in aviation. Concorde's last commercial flight is a reminder of the incredible progress humanity has made in aviation, as well as the challenges and choices we face in a rapidly changing world. It remains an icon of a time when the sky was not the limit, but merely a starting point for our dreams.

Have you visited one in a museum or lucky enough to take a flight on one? Were you an engineer working on Concorde? Share your Concorde stories in the comments!   

  • It is amazing the level of interest that Concorde still holds and for those who like to learn more there is a very interesting book very recently published by Mike Bannister simply called Concorde.    Mike was the BA Concorde Chief Pilot at the time of the Paris crash and he was invited to joint the investigation panel into the cause.    The book covers how he became a Concorde pilot and the whole story of the crash.    Some very good technical information is included about how flying Concorde was different to a conventional plane.Concorde by Mike Banister published by Penguin

  • I've been inside Concorde 101 at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford (and was also lucky enough to get to sit in the cockpit during a private event too Blush) but never had the opportunity (or the funds for that matter) to take an actual flight in one. 

    I've also seen it take off from Heathrow which is an experience that will forever be etched into my memory. A friend had been in the UK visiting from Japan and I was dropping her back at the airport for her trip home. After waving goodbye through the security gate I went up to the viewing platform so I could watch her plane take off. While waiting for her flight, Concorde taxied to the runway and took off. Watching it lift effortlessly into the air and then accelerate and shoot off was a sight to behold! Heart eyes

    I've also been lucky enough in my previous role at the IET to have organised two events with Captain John Hutchinson (ex Concorde Pilot) speaking about his experiences of flying at supersonic speeds. If you ever get the opportunity to listen to John speak, you won't be disappointed! 

  • Growing up on the outskirts of Bristol, it seems that sonic booms were part of everyday life. I certainly remember sitting in the school hall with the television ceremonially wheeled in to watch the first commercial take-off in '76. Funny how all that technology that was juxtaposed with the heyday of Cameron balloons landing in the school field.