Concorde was one of only two supersonic transport (SST) aircraft in the world, and the only successful one at that. A four-engine narrow body, it was designed and built by France’s Aerospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation (BAC; now BAe Systems).
SST studies began in 1957, as a French government inspired SST requirement to which Sud-Aviation, Dassault, and Nord-Aviation, in association with Air France answered.
Their first design was a seventy-seat, delta-wing, Mach 2.2 airliner based on the S.E.210 and dubbed the Super Caravelle. Meanwhile, at the same time in the UK, a similar airline/manufacturer programme was underway, headed by BAC and Hawker Sidderley. Their design was a four-engined, 100-seat aircraft known as BAC223. Both designs were coming closer and closer to the point that the British and French governments agreed to pool their efforts under an agreement signed in November 1962. This historic Anglo-French supersonic aircraft agreement had a unique ‘no-break clause’ meaning that each side was commited to completion of the project with virtually no chance of cancellation. No small amount of time was expended on finding a name acceptable to both parties.
Meanwhile, a competing US SST program was cancelled and the USSR had developed the Tupolev Tu-144 SST, the only other SST ever to fly, but after an early crash the type was grounded.
The French Concorde 101 was rolled out of Toulouse on 11th December 1967, first flying on 2nd March 1969.
The British Concorde 102, assembled at Filton (near Bristol) first flew on the 9th April.
The Anglo-French team foresaw a market for 200 Concorde’s. In May 1963, Air France signed for 5 aircraft. Commitments for 80 aircraft were won from 18 other airlines but this interest subsequently lapsed. In the end, they sold 16 to Air France and British Airways.
The Concorde entered service on 21st January 1976 flying from London and Paris to New York.
When British Airways was privatised in 1984, the UK government ‘sold’ the Concordes, which had been paid for by the taxpayers, to the airline complete with an eighth ‘spares ship’ for £9.3m.
Air France scrapped one airframe in 1994 for spares ‘canabalisation’.
In the early 1990’s British Airways carried out a major investigation to iron out some serious complications with rudder failures and structural problems.
In July 2000, the Concorde’s first fatal crash cast a shadow over future operations and all were grounded until the cause was identified. Millions was spent in rectifying design flaws in the fuel tanks and tyres. In the end Kevlar sleeves were fitted around the new self-sealing tanks and enhanced tyres introduced to the type. Ultimately it was in vain as passenger traffic never reached the same levels preceding the accident except for the final few months as people tried to buy tickets for the last time. Ironically this was the only time Concorde made a profit for its operators.
Several technology development projects are underway to develop a larger successor aircraft, but sadly it appears that for the next decade or two at least, passenger travel will only be at sub-sonic speeds.