On Jan 21, 1976, the first Concorde supersonic jets took to the air from London, England, to Bahrain and from Paris, France, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To mark this landmark in aviation history, here are five things you didn't know about the Concorde...
Two Flights Took off Simultaneously Most airlines are happy when their first jet takes off, but Concorde got a double-dose of that happiness: Two planes took off at 11:40 a.m., one in London and one in France. These were the first commercial flights for the company after years of testing. The supersonic speeds cut air travel time substantially, but the cost of fuel at the time—and the amount of fuel that the planes consumed per flight—made the tickets expensive. The plane became a symbol of wealth and privilege.
Only One Photo Exists of the Concorde Flying at Supersonic Speed The Concorde flew at an average speed of 2170 kph - that's twice the speed of sound. A Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado once asked if it could practice an intercept of the Concorde, chasing it all the way out over the Atlantic, eventually giving up. On another occasion, the Concorde purposefully slowed down so the pilots of the fighter jet could snap a photo, said to be the only one of the plane flying supersonic.
The Concorde’s High Altitude Interfered With Spy Planes The Concorde could cruise at about 60,000 feet, which is much higher than a normal passenger plane, and passengers could look out and see the curvature of the earth. The United States Air Force high-altitude SR-71 Blackbirds, which are reconnaissance planes, were flown at about the same altitude with their pilots on oxygen and in spacesuits. At least once, air traffic control had to ask the Blackbird pilots to get out of the way, so the supersonic jet could land at JFK Airport in New York.
The Concorde Was Much Faster Than Other Commercial Planes It took eight hours for a regular commercial jet to fly from New York City to Paris. However, the supersonic Concorde could make the same trip in less than 3.5 hours. Its maximum cruising altitude was 60,000 feet at a speed of 1,220 mph, which was over twice that of a normal subsonic aircraft.
The Russians Built a Copycat Version of The Concorde While militaries of the United States and Russia raced to the moon, civil aviation companies raced to supersonic flight. Dubbed the Tupolev Tu-144, this Russian plane was, unsurprisingly, a spitting image of the British/French Concorde creation. The Russians actually beat the West to supersonic flight on the 26th May, 1970, becoming the first commercial plane to exceed Mach 2. The primitive prototype was shortlived, however, following a horrific crash at the 1973 Paris Airshow when its pilots attempted to show up the Concorde in a head-to-head face-off for aerial superiority. This all but sealed its fate and saw the Concorde victorious commercially.