Concorde to be grounded forever - both the Air France ones and the British Airways ones.
It was a great dream, but the entire project was hideously over-budget, and design compromised; the Anglo/French concorde of the project was fraught with a lack of détente; it was designed at the taxpayers’ expense, yet from the word go it was available only to the privileged.
One of these (due to my wife’s airline connections rather than our riches) was me. I was fortunate enough to get a ride in an Air France Concorde in '99, from Shannon to Paris. The plane was returning from New York where it had ferried Irish lottery winners over for a shopping spree (they returned on the QE2). It had to land in Shannon because Dublin airport’s runway isn’t long enough.
We drove down from Dublin the night before, stayed in the airport hotel, and got up at dawn. Irish coffees were served to the bleary-eyed passengers in the terminal as we met the crew, and then, fortified with caffeine and whiskey, we boarded.
Sleek, beautiful, plush, but tiny inside. After taxiing to the end of the runway, and a pregnant pause, the engines roared, and a serious blast of acceleration pinned us back in our seats. Then the nose came up, and we climbed at an intense angle - I don’t know what it actually was, but it felt pretty near vertical at the time. And we climbed, and climbed, and climbed, for something like ten minutes, accelerating all the time. We hit our cruising altitude of around 58,000 feet. The acceleration seemed very controlled, much more so than regular airliners - almost like the pilot would choose a target speed, then hit a button to get us up to it. I felt a slight jump as the pilot took us from subsonic to supersonic.
The pilot flew us into the Atlantic south-west of Ireland so that we could really get up to speed. Another tiny jump as we hit Mach 2, then eventually Mach 2.9 - didn’t cross the next barrier, unfortunately. The pilot had told us that at speed, the plane stretches 6 inches due to wind resistance - and when I went to the toilet at the back, I saw that the bulkhead, which had formerly been up against the final row of seats, was now three or four inches from them.
At one point I saw a tiny little plane way, way below us, that we were overtaking at a huge rate. I looked again and was blown away to see that it was a transatlantic 747. At this altitude, we were way above any clouds, the sky above us was a deeper blue, almost purple, and curvature of the earth at the horizon was very obvious.
Eventually we turned around, and headed for France, returning to a regular aircraft speed. Suddenly the experience became more like riding in a cramped commuter jet. The seats were first-class and leather, but they hardly reclined at all, and the fuselage curved low over them. Our champagne was served in thick-bottomed tumblers to avoid spillage with all the acceleration and steep angles. The cockpit was tiny.
We spent the day hanging out in Paris, and returned to Dublin on a regular, distinctly unmagical, plane.
All good things must come to an end. In 2000, I heard the sad news of the crash. Turns out it was the same plane we’d flown in a year before. Same crew, too. Alas, the dreams of supersonic commuting were never going to happen. Was it an idea before its time? Or is supersonic travel for the masses always going to be a pipe-dream? Whatever, now Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and all those other stinking rich are going to have to join the rest of us grunts on normal planes from now on.
Au revoir, Concorde, you were pretty damned lovely.