25 Years Ago Concorde Completed The Fastest Transatlantic Crossing

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Yesterday marked the silver jubilee of the Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing. Flying from New York to London in 1996, the British Airways flight shattered the record and remains faster than any flight today. But did you know the whole flight was planned in an attempt to break the world record?

British Airways G-BOAD
The Concorde has had a long and storied history in the British Airways fleet. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Historic

While the supersonic jet had already cut the flight time between New York and London by half, February 7th, 1996 marked a milestone. The Concorde successfully made the journey from JFK to Heathrow in just 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds. The plane covered 6,035kms at a staggering speed of 2,010km/hr.

However, the flight didn’t just get lucky, but rather, the record was a product of meticulous planning by the flight deck, according to an account in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Captain Leslie Scott, First Officer Tim Orchard, and Engineering Officer Rick Eades all planned out the ideal time to beat the record. February was chosen as the right month to make the attempt since it offered optimum upper air temperature and wind velocity.

The crew would also take advantage of the prevailing jet streams (which causes eastward flights to be faster) to further increase their speed. Once the plane took off, it would have to reach Mach 2 quickly and remain there for as long as possible.

A British Airways Concorde
Breaking the record took careful planning and needed a lot to go right. Photo: Getty Images

However, the record-breaking flight took a lot more than just planning on paper. The pilots had to informally speak with ATC in both London and New York to ensure there were no delays during take off or landing. Additionally, safety had to remain paramount and the mission could have been abandoned at any moment.

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Quiet it about it

Only a handful of people knew about the attempt at beating the record. Among those who didn’t know were the passengers and cabin crew onboard. The pilots wanted to complete the feat before announcing it to the world.

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When the day of departure become, the crew’s calculations were accurate. The flight took off from New York and quickly reached Mach 2 on its way to Heathrow. After a high-speed cruise, the flight faced a landing approach issue. The planned landing runway had all flights approaching from the east, but the Concorde was coming from the west.

British Airways Concorde G-BOAD
The pilots decided not to tell anyone onboard about their plans, opting to complete the flight first. Photo: Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons

ATC at Heathrow was hesitant about letting the flight approach from the west unless it was truly a record-breaking flight. The pilots convinced them it would be if they were to land on time. Minutes later, the G-BOAD touched down in London Heathrow as the fastest transatlantic flight in the world.

Close

Nowadays, transatlantic flights from New York to London take anywhere between six to seven hours. Even with a tailwind and jet stream, reaching anywhere near the Concorde’s speed is inconceivable in a subsonic aircraft. However, last year did see another notable record marked by a British Airways flight.

British Airways Boeing 747-400
The closest anyone has come to beating the Concorde’s record was a BA 747 last year, making the flight in just under five hours. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

On February 8th, 2020 (notice the date), Storm Ciara in the UK allowed a British Airways A350, BA 112, to fly from New York to London in just 4 hours and 56 minutes, a subsonic transatlantic record. While not close to the Concorde, it’s nice to know there are still a few rare ways to get across the Atlantic in under five hours!

Did you ever have a chance to fly the Concorde? What’s the fastest flight you’ve taken across the Atlantic? Let us know in the comments!

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