45 years have now passed since the Concorde performed its first-ever commercial flight. The supersonic jet’s two primary operators, British Airways and Air France, launched service simultaneously from London and Paris respectively on January 21st, 1976.
A Tale of Two Cities
British Airways’ G-BOAA and Air France’s F-BVFA both took off at 11:40 UTC on that winter’s morning. The flag carrier of the United Kingdom’s Concordes were commonly seen on transatlantic operations over the years. However, the first flight took a different approach. It flew on a route to Bahrain. Meanwhile, the national carrier of France flew to Rio de Janeiro with a stop on Dakar along the way.
Heritage Concorde highlights that the flight to Bahrain had some potential difficulties as the route included a subsonic leg over Europe, along with a curved turn over the eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, it needed to pass carefully through a narrow corridor over the Middle East, which was going through instability at the time. Nonetheless, the trip was completed within four hours compared to the 6.5 hours that a standard subsonic aircraft of the time would have taken.
The Air France flight was piloted by Pierre Chanoine. The plane landed in Dakar at 15:27 before taking off again at 16:45. The plane then reached its final destination of Rio at 20:06 Paris time.
Two nations with one goal
The simultaneous flights of British Airways and Air France are symbolic of the collaboration between the carriers and their respective countries with the Concorde project. The type performed its first overall flight just under seven years earlier, and those behind the program then worked intently to enter it into service. Undoubtedly, both the UK and France would have been ecstatic when the plane was introduced.
Queen Elizabeth II spoke about the event with great pride. She placed great emphasis on the partnership between her nation and France.
“On the occasion of today’s inaugural flight by Concorde aircraft of Air France and British Airways, I send you and the French people my warmest congratulations,” the queen of the United Kingdom said, as shared by Heritage Concorde.
“Today’s flights mark the successful outcome of 14 years of close collaboration between our two nations. It is a source of pride that our countries have today inaugurated a new era in civil aviation.”
Air France also expressed how even the name of the aircraft represents the collaboration. The airline noted that Concord and Concorde mean agreement in English and French. In 1967, British Secretary of State for Technology, Tony Benn, concluded that the name of the plane would have the E at the end. This letter stood for Excellence, England, Europe, and Entente Cordiale.
One its way
There were some notable VIPs onboard the aircraft of these two flights. The likes of The Duke of Kent Prince Edward, UK Secretary of State for Trade Peter Shore, and Sir George Edwards enjoyed the grand occasion.
The success of the commercial launch helped to give a promising foundation for the Concorde. Landing rights into the United States were rewarded by the US Secretary of Transportation, William T. Coleman the following month. After a few months of talks, services to Washington Dulles started on May 24th, 1976. Departure times were modified so that aircraft from both operators landed within one minute of each other at the US capital.
When it came to the routes of the initial launch flights, both airlines stopped scheduled services to these destinations by the time the 1980s got into full swing. British Airways’ Bahrain operations stopped in November 1980. After that, Air France ended its South American operations in 1982.
A unique model
Concorde would stop flying 27 years after its commercial debut. Nonetheless, it went on to break records along the way while leaving the public in awe every time it zipped through the skies.
“Concorde used the most powerful pure jet engines flying commercially. The Aircraft’s four engines took advantage of what is known as ‘reheat’ technology, adding fuel to the final stage of the engine, which produced the extra power required for take-off and the transition to supersonic flight. Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing was on 7 February 1996 when it completed the New York to London flight in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds,” British Airways shares on its website.
“Concorde measured nearly 204ft in length and stretched between 6 and 10 inches in flight due to heating of the airframe. It was painted in a specially developed white paint to accommodate these changes and to dissipate the heat generated by supersonic flight. A team of about 250 British Airways’ engineers worked tirelessly, together with the relevant authorities, to ensure safety on board and Concorde was subjected to 5,000 hours of testing before it was first certified for passenger flight, making it the most tested aircraft ever.”
Air France stopped commercial operations with Concorde in May 2003. Subsequently, British Airways withdrew its aircraft in October 2003. The final scheduled commercial trip was BA002 from New York JFK conducted by G-BOAG. Ultimately, all of British Airways’ remaining seven units soon left the airline. They departed to be preserved in Barbados, Edinburgh, Manchester, Hilton, New York, and Seattle. One jet remained at Heathrow.
Altogether, it was an exciting time for aviation as Concorde made its commercial launch in 1976. There were high hopes for supersonic travel. However, this form of transport would not take off as initially expected. Nonetheless, this launch event marks a nostalgic period in airline history. It reminds us that there is still plenty of potential to be had when it comes to aviation activity.
What are your thoughts about Concorde’s first flights back in January 1976? Did you ever fly on the type over the years before its retirement? Let us know what you think of the aircraft in the comment section