1 APRIL 2019
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The story of Concorde has a parallel in the politics of today. It was supported by Tony Benn, in his day as much to the left of the Labour Party as its present leader, but far more pragmatic.
Yes, Concorde was being assembled near his constituency of Bristol South East, but he saw the aircraft as good for the country. He worked with his Parliamentary opponents to ensure that it happened.
BTN believes Concorde has been pathetically forgotten about by BA (except for a couple of lounges), with a failure to support a Science Museum initiative and the near-abandonment of G-BOAB at Heathrow. BA prefers to make its largesse felt by promoting 100 years of British airlines, an honourable concept and an improvement on its original stance that BA itself was 100 years old. Perhaps BTN was being read by the board – BA was created 45 years ago today (1 April 1974).
BTN still believes the acquisition of Iberia (another word for the creation of IAG) was a mistake, diverting resources, finance and effort but that is largely history unless there is a Brexit complication.
The British Concorde flew for the first time 50 years ago, next Tuesday week.
Captain Jock Lowe, Concorde director, personifies the aircraft and will be at Brooklands for a double celebration (See BTN 25 March)
He said: “For me, 9 April 1969 was just an ordinary birthday. True, I was at a crossroads in my career and then in the afternoon something happened which changed my life – Concorde 002 took off from Filton. It looked beautiful, fast, built for the future and I naively thought 'yes, that's what I'll do; I'll fly Concorde'.
"Now in a blink of an eye it's 50 years later and I still have no regrets about that spontaneous decision. It's been a real privilege to be associated with this magnificent machine, a machine that turned into a dream for a whole generation of would-be passengers and spectators alike.
"And that is why it was built! The politicians of all parties for once agreed that Concorde would serve as an inspiration, an aspiration for the entire country – it's difficult to argue that this objective was not achieved. Top of most lottery winners' lists was a flight on Concorde. Eventually the schedule and charter flights would make this an achievable dream for all.
"The most elaborate tests ever schedule, lasting from 1969 to 1976, threw up many challenges, all of which were overcome by the dedication of the engineers and pilots.
"It's almost impossible to pick out one success but the variable engine air intakes probably take the prize. To slow intake air by 1,000mph in the space of just 10ft in a controlled and efficient way would tax designers today, even with the assistance of super computers.
"For me, the Concorde was summed up by the pilots of an American spy plane. They told me that they had been frequently flying at 60,000ft over Cuba, kitted out in their space suits and bone domes. Then one day ATC asked them to move to the north to allow a Concorde with 100 passengers in shirt sleeves to pass by. It was, in their words, surreal.
"Fast-forward from 1969 to 1976 and the first commercial Concorde flights took off simultaneously from Heathrow and Paris. The British Airways operation was to Bahrain – the only place on the network that would welcome the arrival of supersonic passengers. Eventually the USA would take Concorde at Washington, then New York and Miami.
"The supersonic experience was addictive, but it took a few years before a small profit was made. However, such was the allure of Concorde that even when fares were increased, passenger numbers continued to grow and in total in its lifetime produced more than half a billion pounds of clear profit for BA.
"What was it like to fly, to operate it safely? Ask any of the Concorde pilots and their eyes will glaze over a little as they try to conjure up the right words. In short, it was fantastic – the controllability, the excess power, the view from 60,000ft, seeing a westerly sunrise and seeing the contented look of the many passengers who visited the flight deck.
"Like all good things, it had to come to an end but as the CNN reporter said on the day of the last commercial flights as he gazed out at the gleaming Concorde fleet: “It looks like the launch of a brand new aircraft, not the wake of an old one".
In a way, that says it all. It was at least a generation ahead of its time and it achieved everything those politicians of the sixties hoped for – it represented a fantastic technical achievement, it became an aspiration for billions of people around the world and is unlikely to be repeated for a long long time, if ever. It made us all proud. And we did it!!
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Henk Heiden, The Netherlands
Although Tony Benn supported Concorde, the Labour government of premier Harold Wilson in which Benn in 1964 was Secretary of State for Industry,tried to stop the further development and construction of Concorde because its costs were high rising. The French however were completely against this and pointed out that the 1962 government agreement between France and the UK did not contain an escape clause My further comment on this: Luckily for Concorde.