The Last Goodbye
There are probably those in aviation who will really, really
hate Friday. That's the day the Concorde flies for the final
And probably no one will miss it more than pilot Christopher
Orlebar. He remembers "the magical moment you’re cleared to
climb and accelerate, and the air slips beneath you. You’re
on the threshold of space, and even the clouds, which are now tiny
beneath you, seem to slip by more quickly."
He also remembers the moment he would push the throttles forward
and take the aircraft supersonic. "There’s just the tiny
burble of turbulence, just a ripple," the retired pilot said.
Occasionally, he'd look down toward the Atlantic Ocean and "be
rewarded by the sight of a jumbo jet wending its weary way."
But the Concorde's might sonic boom will be no longer heard after
the end of the week. British Airways retires the last of its seven
supersonic passenger aircraft on Friday. As the world celebrates
the Century of Flight, Orlebar will be mourning the passage of what
might arguably be civil aviation's finest achievement.
When it was developed in the 1960s, the Concorde's French and
British designers hoped it would bring about a new era in
supersonic passenger traffic. But on Friday, the elegant,
needle-nosed, narrow-bodied aircraft will pass into history without
Sure, there's talk.
There's even hope. NASA is researching ways to quiet the sonic boom
that accompanies supersonic aircraft like the Concorde, an auditory
shock wave that caused a lot of commotion back in the 60s. Boeing
was working on its Sonic Cruiser -- which would have flown close to
the speed of sound. But plans were shelved when times got tough and
Boeing opted to develop the 7E7 first. And there's still a lot of
speculation about hypersonic aircraft, which could travel from New
York to Sydney, Australia, in a matter of hours. But until better
engines are developed, it remains just that -- talk.
The Concorde's epitaph was written on July 25, 2000, when an Air
France flight suffered damage on takeoff and burst into flames. The
resulting crash killed 113 people and forced the Concorde's
grounding until completion of an investigation and resulting
modifications. Ironically, the Concorde returned to service two
months after the September 11th attacks -- just in time to be mired
in the global aviation slump.
Former Concorde pilot Orlebar understands all this. That doesn't
make him any happier about the airplane's retirement. Without the
Concorde, he says, "the world will be a bigger place."