Remembering Concorde, 50 years on
The name alone conjures images of glamor, prestige and above all, speed. Fifty years after its maiden flight, Concorde still captures the imagination, even though the supersonic plane has been out of service for years.
Elegant and fast...
Known for its sleek design, delta wings and a characteristic lowerable "nose," Concorde brought a vision of the future into the present. It was most famous for its remarkable speed — it could reach a cruising speed of well over 2,000 kilometers per hour.
...but a tad hard on fuel
The problem was that it was all too good to be true. Too expensive, too loud and with a kerosene consumption rate that would make a cruise liner blush. Concorde guzzled 25,600 liters of the stuff per hour, but could only carry a maximum of 128 passengers. Economically, it just didn't make sense.
From Paris to New York in 3.5 hours
French pilot Andre Turcat (pictured) was at the helm of the first Concorde flight on March 2, 1969. Eight years later, Air France and British Airways used the planes to fly their New York routes. It took just half the time conventional planes require today.
Stars in the sky
Concorde became associated with the rich and famous, with jet-setters like Cindy Crawford (left), Andre Agassi (center) and Claudia Schiffer (right) becoming regular users of the extremely expensive service. Tickets typically cost several thousands of dollars.
Room with a view
Here's the cockpit of a real Concorde plane, currently on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.
A tight squeeze
Space was rather limited in the passenger cabin, as seen here in this picture from 1968. But with such short flight times, people were willing to accept a little less roominess.
A race with the Russians
By 1954, Britain had begun to develop a supersonic aircraft for passenger travel. France, the US and the USSR soon followed. On New Year's Eve 1968, the Russian supersonic aircraft Tupolev TU-144 flew its maiden flight, two months ahead of Concorde, which in the end was developed in a joint British-French venture. The Tupolev (pictured in 2009) was in the skies until 1977.
On July 25, 2000, everything changed for Concorde with the crash of Air France Flight 4590. When taking off, the aircraft struck debris on the runway, which blew out a tyre and subsequently punctured a fuel tank. The resulting fire and engine failure caused the plane to crash into a hotel two minutes after takeoff.
The beginning of the end
The plane exploded when it hit the hotel, killing all 109 people on board as well as an additional four people in the hotel. The crash, combined with existing doubts about Concorde's longer-term viability, accelerated the aircraft's demise. Concorde flew for the last time in 2003.
Explaining the X-Plane
In 2018, NASA commissioned the aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company Lockheed Martin to design and build a new supersonic aircraft called the X-Plane, which in this artist's impression is a bit of a ringer for the old Concorde design.
An X-Plane prototype is expected to be completed by 2021. To date, relatively little is known about the project but it may well ultimately revive the kind of supersonic travel times that many thought ended with Concorde.