How Fast Did Concorde Actually Fly From New York To London?

Concorde is known for many things but, most notably, its speed. It has gone down in the history books for the fastest crossing between New York and London, but just how fast did it go?

BA concorde take off
BA set the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing – how fast? Photo: Getty Images

Concorde’s record transatlantic crossing

The record for the fastest transatlantic crossing is, of course, awarded to the Concorde. Back in 1996, the aircraft made the fastest ever crossing from London to New York with British Airways. Just how fast? On February 7th, 1996, BA flew the Concorde from New York to London in an impressive two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. The aircraft reached a top speed on its flight of 1,350mph.

On that day, some 24 years ago, the Concorde tested the boundaries of what was then modern flight. Subsonic, or regular, aircraft had never come close to such a speedy flight. This year, British Airways was able to set the record for the fastest non-supersonic Atlantic crossing thanks to Storm Ciara. With strong tailwinds, a BA Boeing 747 left New York and landed in London after just four hours and 56 minutes.

Before that, the record for the fastest subsonic Atlantic crossing was held by Norwegian. It set its record in January 2018 with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on flight DY7014 at a crossing time of five hours and 13 minutes.

Norwegian, Q1 results, Loss
Until this year, Norwegian’s crossing had been the fastest. Photo: Norwegian

How did Concorde travel so fast?

Subsonic jets simply do not compare to the speed of the Concorde. While they travel at an average speed of around 575 mph, Concorde more than doubles that.

Concorde’s speed has traditionally been measured in Mach. It flies at 2.02. In comparison, one of the fastest modern subsonic jets, the Boeing 747-400, travels at just 0.855 Mach. This means that regular jets travel at about 80% of the speed of sound, yet the Concorde flies more than twice the speed of sound.

It has its meticulous design to thank for that. The Concorde is streamlined from its body to wings and extending nose. Its design means that the Concorde can reduce drag. Because the Concorde can cruise at 60,000ft, the forces of nature work with it. The higher up, the less air pressure and consequently less fuel burn.

Air France Concorde nose
A streamlined design helped the Concorde. Photo: Getty Images

On top of this, the Concorde had potent engines. Unlike traditional jet engines, the Concorde had afterburners like the kind seen on military planes. These afterburners are specifically designed to improve thrust and could give the Concorde 50% more compared to not using them.

Why did the Concorde need to go so fast?

Creating a supersonic jet was not in the interest of making it into the history books. Its speed was integral to advancing the aviation industry at the time. The Concorde was catering for those time-conscious passengers who had money to spend on luxurious first class. It needed to go fast to match the needs of its travelers, and it did so successfully for a while.

Queen of Riyadh Concorde BA
Concorde’s clientele needed speed. Photo: Getty Images

Both Air France and British Airways operated the aircraft and made a profit too. Speedy transatlantic crossings were a hit, making the world even more accessible.

Just because we don’t see the Concorde any more, it does not mean that its advantages are not relevant today. The aircraft’s speed is perfect. The next issues to address are its range and cost.

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