2 March 1969. The eyes of the 400 journalists and thousands of onlookers massed on the perimeter of Toulouse-Blagnac are glued to the spindly outline of the prototype “Concorde 001” at the far end of the runway.
For more than six years- since the signing of a cooperation agreement on 29 November 1962 - the Franco-British supersonic aircraft programme had fascinated the entire world. The design and construction had been successfully carried out by Sud-Aviation and British Aircraft Corporation. That of the jet engines by Rolls-Royce and Snecma. Among other headaches, the challenge of overheating structures at supersonic speeds had to be dealt with and they had overcome it.
001 was presented to the world in late 1967, at which point testing could be accelerated, overseen in Toulouse by chief test pilot André Turcat - then in-flight test director at Sud-Aviation -, who was naturally chosen to pilot 001. Alongside him was an elite crew comprising co-pilot Jacques Guignard, navigator-engineer Henri Perrier and Michel Rétif, the chief flight engineer.
At 3:40pm, the aircraft began its run, its four afterburners sending it roaring up into the skies above Toulouse, flying a wide loop escorted by a Gloster Meteor which transmitted live TV images of the aircraft in flight. After 28 minutes in the air, Concorde touched down before the cheering crowds, with a smiling André Turcat telling the press, in his characteristic understated manner that “the aircraft flies well”.
The big white bird was up and away... Its commercial career was to start seven years later, in the colours of Air France and British Airways (1976-2003).
Concorde - figures and facts
- "Concord" or "Concorde"? The word means “agreement” in French and English. In 1967, British Secretary of State for Technology, Tony Benn, decided that Concorde would take a final “E”, which stood for “Excellence”, “England”, “Europe” and “Entente cordiale”!
- January 21, 1976 - first commercial flight between Paris and Rio de Janeiro via Dakar.
May 31, 2003 - last commercial flight between New York and Paris.
- June 30 1973 - chief test pilot André Turcat, followed the total solar eclipse at the controls of the F-BFVA (Concorde 001 - first serial aircraft delivered to Air France in 1976).
- In his book about the supersonic aircraft, André Turcat emphasized that “the housewife’s Teflon frying pan, fiberglass offshore rig bearings, machine tools or pleasure boats, push bars and connecting rods in the automotive industry have widely benefitted from the Concorde’s technical advances”.
- 1976 - to celebrate the supersonic jet’s arrival, the design of a new uniform - intended for the Concorde stewardesses - was entrusted to the Jean Patou fashion design house.
- Concorde is synonymous with style and prestige. No fewer than three prestigious designers took it in turns to design the cabin’s interior - Raymond Loewy, Pierre Gautier-Delaye and Andrée Putman. The CDG lounge seats were designed by Le Corbusier and the in-flight tableware was signed by Christofle.
- In the collective memory, Concorde connected Paris New York in 3 hours 45 minutes. But Concorde also flew to Havana, Rio de Janeiro, Dakar, Caracas, Mexico, Washington, Dallas, to name but a few.
- In 1992, Air France carried the Olympic flame between Greece and France, by Concorde! The flame thus broke a record by maintaining the speed of 600m/second between Athens and Greece for 55 minutes. Enclosed in a container, the flame was kept alight by a special fuel designed by Air France to avoid any risk of accident.
- Concorde’s father, Lucien Servanty, died in Toulouse in 1973 at the age of 64 without having ever flown aboard this plane.
- The Concorde in a few figures:
Capacity: 100 passengers
Length inside the cabin: 2.63 metres
Speed: 2,200 km/h, i.e. twice the speed of sound (Mach 2.02)
Total length: 62.19 metres
Wingspan: 25.56 metres
Wing surface: 358.25 sq. m
Empty weight: 79.265 tonnes
Cruising altitude: 16,000 to 18,000 m
Noise level on take-off: 119.4 décibels
Consumption per passenger: estimated at between 14 and 17 litres per 100 kilometres flown (four times higher than a current passenger aircraft - 4 litres/100 km on average -)
Air France flight hours: 90,087
Air France landings: 33,183
Number of passengers carried by Air France: 1,414292