Concorde 001 at its unveiling in Toulouse in 1967

The idea of a supersonic passenger airliner was first discussed in the 1950s. Both British and French governments started independently working on designs, before discovering the remarkable similarities in what the two teams had come up with. It was thus decided that they would work jointly on designing and building the supersonic aircraft.

Originally, the aircraft was called Concord (without an e) in the UK and Concorde in France. However, after much wrangling, the French spelling was eventually adopted on both sides of the channel.

The first prototype was rolled out in Tolouse on 11th December 1967, but the first test-flight didn't take place until 2nd March 1969. The flight lasted just 28 minutes, but established that the aircraft flew perfectly at subsonic speeds.


The maiden flight of Concorde 001, the first prototype

The first supersonic test flight wasn't until seven months later on 1st October 1969 when 001 reached Mach 1.05 for a duration of 9 minutes. Supersonic speeds were ramped up very gradually in subsequent test-flights, until the first Mach 2 flight on 4th November 1970. A second prototype, 002, was also flown during this time.

The first pre-production Concorde, originally designated 01 but later changed to 101 to avoid confusion with 001, was unveiled on 20th September 1971 and first flew on 17th December 1971. This was the first Concorde flight from the UK. This Concorde can now be viewed at the Duxford Air Museum.


The maiden flight of Concorde 101, the first pre-production Concorde

BAC and Aerospatiale were hoping for a great many orders following a round-the-world sales tour with Concorde 002, but in the end only two airlines placed orders. British Airways (then known as BOAC) ordered five and Air France ordered four. The contracts were signed in June and July 1972.

The first passenger-carrying Concorde flights were on 21st January 1976 when a BA flight to Bahrain and an AF flight to Rio took off simultaneously. The first transatlantic commercial flights were on 24th May that year.

Those who think they remember an Air Singapore or Braniff Concorde are not imagining things: BA briefly operated a joint venture with both Air Singapore and Braniff, with the Concordes used painted in appropriate livery. However, these were BA Concordes and not additional sales.

Nor are you hallucinating if you remember this advertising stunt for the Pepsi rebranding in 1996 - it was painted that way for two weeks:

Still expecting futher sales, a total of 20 Concordes were built. These were:

  • 2 prototypes (001 and 002)
  • 2 pre-production aircraft used for further testing, training and sales promotion (101 and 102)
  • 2 production-spec Concordes also used for testing & training and which never entered service
  • 14 production aircraft intended for sale

Of the 14 Concordes built for sale:

  • 5 were sold to BA
  • 4 were sold to Air France

This left 5 unsold Concordes. Eventually, realising that no further sales would be forthcoming, the British and French governments sold them to BA (who took 2) and AF (who took 3) for a nominal 1 French Franc each in return for the airlines taking responsibility for the remaining development costs. This gave each airline 7 Concordes (though AF used one of them only for spares pretty much from the outset).

Air France ceased Concorde operations on 31st May 2003. BA ceased Concorde operations on 24th October 2003.

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