November 26th – Last Flight of the Concorde

A British Airways Concorde in flight

A British Airways Concorde in flight

Welcome to the first post in my blog “What Happened Today in History”! Everyday I hope to write about an interesting historical event that occurred on this date. I will try to remain unbiased towards any specific cultural or nation’s history, and seek to present a diversity of events. Hope you enjoy!

On this date in 2003, the Concorde (or le Concorde en français) took its final flight and flew, effectively, into the history books. For those who do not know what the Concorde was, it was the world’s most famous supersonic commercial airplane. I do say ‘most famous’, and not ‘only’, because there was one other supersonic commercial airplane: the Russian built Tupolev Tu-144.

As a supersonic airplane, the Concorde was capable of flying faster than the speed of sound, reaching a cruising speed of Mach 2.04 (2173 km/h, over twice the speed of sound) and flying at an altitude of 60000 feet (over 11 miles high)! Interestingly, as the Concorde reached supersonic speeds, the body of the Concorde would stretch anywhere from 6 to 10 inches due to the immense heat of the plane’s frame. The speed of the Concorde also accorded for the fastest time recorded for a transatlantic flight: from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 minutes! This record holds to this day!

Beginning commercial service in 1976, primarily with British Airways and Air France, a total of twenty Concordes were built. The Concordes remained in service until 2003, with the final commercial flight flying from New York’s JFK Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). By 2003, the Concorde fleet had proven expensive to upkeep and the state of the commercial airline industry post-9/11 dictated the retirement of this aircraft. The last ever flight of the Concorde took place on November 26th from Heathrow Airport to an airfield in Bristol – the very airfield where it was built.

Interesting fact: While the plane was originally called Concorde, the British prime minister at the time of constructing the aircraft, Harold MacMillan, officially dropped the –e from the end of the name, to make it appear “less French” (Concorde vs. Concord). Under the succeeding government to MacMillan, Minister for Technology Tony Benn reinstated the –e, much to chagrin of British nationalists. Benn quickly rectified the situation by claiming the ‘e’ stood for “Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (as in the Entente Cordiale of 1904)”. Scots quickly took protest to Benn’s pronouncement however, stating that parts of the Concorde were in fact made in Scotland, not solely in England. Benn then announced the ‘e’ also stood for Écosse, the French word for Scottish. Who knew the name of a plane would cause so much trouble?

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