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1969: The Concorde's Hopeful First Flight


On March 2, 1969, Aviation Week’s Donald Fink was on hand to witness the first flight of the supersonic Anglo-French Concorde in Toulouse, France.

A technologically innovative product of an era when just about anything seemed possible, Concorde entered its flight test program just three weeks after the first flight of Boeing’s enormous 747, then the world’s largest airliner, and one day before the launch of Apollo 8 – one of four manned U.S. space missions to take place in that year alone. It was truly a remarkable period of advancement in air and space when new records for speed, altitude, distance and payload were being broken on virtually a weekly basis.

Although the Soviet Union’s Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic airliner had flown the previous December, the relative secrecy of the Russian effort meant world attention was heavily focused on the Concorde program as the leading airlines of the world confidently planned for a supersonic future.  As history shows, however, this was not to be.  While the British Aircraft Corporation/Sud-Aviation project was banking on speed, Boeing – and the rest of America’s civil airliner industry – was betting on the efficiency and economics of a new generation of subsonic widebody jets.

Even as chief pilot of the Concorde 001, Sud Aviation Flight Test Director Andre Turcat, happily described the success of the first flight, the storm clouds were gathering over the program. Already more than a year late to enter flight test, Concorde was to fight perpetual headwinds for the rest of its existence. Successive environmental, political and financial challenges would ultimately sink the program from a commercial perspective, despite the aircraft’s undoubted technical success.

But all this, including the cancellation of Boeing’s competing 2707 supersonic project in 1971, was still in the future as Fink provides us with a classic Aviation Week description of the first flight – including very specific details down to headings and bank angles. Fink also reveals the crew encountered a tense moment when a warning light for the drag chute – with which the early Concordes were equipped – came on in-flight. The problem turned out to be a false alarm and the aircraft landed safely after a 28-minute flight.

► Read Fink's pieces from the March 17, 1969 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology:

First Concorde Supersonic Transport Flies

Concorde Enters Flight Test Phase

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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