The life of the most glamorous plane ever built, as told by the people whose lives she touched. Narrated by Sophie Okonedo.
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'Three, two, one, now.'
A technological masterpiece,
Concorde turned heads throughout her magnificent career.
It was this amazing triumph.
I mean, it was a triumph.
She flew on the edge of space at twice the speed of sound,
outrunning even military jets.
Then the back boiler went on and... Yeeeah!
Inside her luxurious cabin,
passengers savoured haute cuisine and vintage champagne.
-Did you enjoy yourselves?
It was an opportunity to step into another world.
I looked around, and there was Ronnie Wood, there.
He went, "Hello!".
Behind the glamour, Concorde's journey was one of intrigue,
backstabbing and catastrophe.
'The world's most prestigious aircraft crashes.'
It was an accident that should never, ever have happened.
This is the story of an aeroplane
that went beyond pure mechanics
to become a dream in the sky.
It's undeniable that it is the most glamorous and the most exciting
and the most brilliant aircraft in the world.
'This is the story of an aeroplane. An aeroplane that doesn't exist.
'If it flies,
'well, flying in it will be like putting granny in a missile.
'Just seven years from now.'
In November 1962, two nations, France and Britain,
came together with a plan.
One that would set their course for the next 40 years.
They wanted to build a supersonic airliner.
A dream held since the end of the Second World War.
'If the gamble comes off, it could win a billion-dollar market.
'If it fails, we'll be left with a great, big, white elephant
'with its feet stuck firmly on both sides of the English Channel.'
The very first discussions about Concorde
took place in the late 1940s.
That's amongst British engineers.
They were dreaming of a future that was far, far,
far from the world that they actually lived in,
which was a world of bankrupt Britain, a coal-driven Britain,
ration books, a sort of black and white, sooty world.
Yet, here were these men, dreaming up this glorious Dan Dare world.
When the Americans succeeded in flying faster
than the speed of sound in 1947,
a worldwide race began to build the first supersonic passenger plane.
PLANE ENGINE ROARS
The Nazis had made significant strides in aircraft technology
during World War II.
Now British scientists seized those ideas and took them forward.
In the course of our work, this sort of shape was evolved
as the most likely shape for an aeroplane doing about Mach 2,
flying at twice the speed of sound across the Atlantic.
It's rather a lovely shape.
You really feel if God meant aeroplanes to fly,
he meant them to be this shape.
Britain now had the makings of a supersonic airliner.
But it was going to cost £100 million to realise.
Across the Channel, France was making progress on an idea
that looked suspiciously similar.
'They unveiled a model of a super caravel, a supersonic caravel,
'apparently, the first supersonic airliner in the world.'
Rather than compete, the two countries agreed
they would combine their designs and share the costs.
'At Lancaster house, the Aviation Minister,
'Mr Julian Amery, in company with the French ambassador almost crooned
'in admiration over the brainchild of their two countries.
'On behalf of their governments,
'they signed the agreement for the joint development and production.
'A foretaste, perhaps, of common market co-operation.'
They agreed to build one in Toulouse, France,
and the other at Filton in Bristol.
Once they had the political backing, the political clearance,
the funds were there, or so it seemed, well, it shouldn't take long
to get into the sky - five years and it would be off.
This was a treaty between two centuries old rivals
so suspicions were high.
Our politicians, I think this was the way it went,
didn't trust the French politicians,
and so they insisted that if ever anybody went out,
then the other side would have to pay the total
until it was fully developed.
So that meant that we couldn't pull out either.
This clause would dog British politicians for the next ten years.
For now, it was time to dig out those phrase books
as engineers in Britain and France began work.
How often do you go to Bristol?
Erm, I go into Bristol every two weeks and I stay for three days.
It does depend on the work.
Of course, we had the language problem.
A lot of the French spoke some form of English,
whereas very few of the English spoke any French.
Do you speak French?
Very little. Just enough to get by for food and suchlike.
SHE SPEAKS FRENCH
Both sides of the operation organised language classes
for their workers.
HE SPEAKS FRENCH
The French part of the aircraft drawings were in French
and we all learned what a drill was or what a bolt was...
or nuts, or split pins.
We kind of got used to the French terms.
France's Concorde workers take their lunchtime break
and here at the Sud Aviation works at Toulouse,
it's very different indeed
from the British Aircraft Corporation's canteen at Filton.
There's about 1,000 people in here and, as you can tell,
there's a good lot of din.
And most French workmen like to take a glass of wine with their lunch.
The British engineer had to be careful
that a lunchtime tipple didn't jeopardise delicate negotiations.
The technique was quite good,
because they would stonewall all morning,
then give you a good lunch,
and then they'd expect you to accept their proposal in the afternoon.
Which didn't work all the time.
Well, I think it seldom worked.
Might have done with the production people.
I never found out from them, but that's scurrilous, I suppose.
Teams of engineers from France and Britain got on very well together.
They liked a bit of raillery and they liked pushing each other.
The French teased the British, the British teased the French.
So that competition amongst the engineers
and the national prides involved led to a very successful machine.
Unlike their engineers, the politicians did fall out.
Harold Wilson was furious with President De Gaulle
for adding a letter E to the word Concorde,
so he removed it.
But De Gaulle put it back.
In Bristol and Toulouse, the workers didn't give a flying fig.
-Why is it immaterial?
-Well, some say Concord, some say Concorde.
I don't think it makes any difference at all.
I don't care what they call it, as long as it's, erm... successful.
So long as it's got the craftsmanship in it
and the ability of the men that's working on it to fly.
I think we may as well be together and put an E on
and make the damn thing and get on with it.
They can put ten Es on it if they wish.
I think it was Tony Benn that said, "Look, let's put the E on Concorde
"and let's not worry about the little things."
And I thought the 'E' actually did the aircraft a favour.
It was, erm... just a nice little touch.
People were working together for the betterment of the aircraft industry.
A year on from the Anglo-French treaty,
the first designs of Concorde were released.
A wooden mock-up demonstrated the interior
and the hi-tech heat shield.
The orders came in very early, the aviation industry was very excited.
Supersonic flight was in its early days but it was thrilling.
I think it thrilled everyone. It thrilled airline executives.
Hard to imagine today, airline executives being thrilled by
the poetry of flight, but they were then.
Concorde was the way forward. Everyone knew that.
Airlines across the world responded with great excitement,
16 airlines ordering some 75 aircraft.
Many of the orders were by airlines in the US,
which infuriated President John F Kennedy,
so he announced a plane that would be bigger,
faster and travel even further than Concorde.
And we are talking about a plane in the end of the '60s
that will move ahead at a speed faster than Mach 2
to all corners of the globe.
America simply wasn't going to be left behind.
They were worried already because there's another player involved -
the Soviets, who also had supersonic technology developing apace.
They also had former Nazi German engineers and designers
working on aircraft and other military machinery,
so, naturally, the Americans were worried.
Now that it had customers, Concorde had to be turned into reality.
Everything was built from scratch,
stretching existing materials to the limit.
It's the biggest international project, air project,
After the American space programme and the Russian space programme,
this is probably the biggest of its kind in the world.
What made it even bigger was that they were building
two identical planes, so every part had to be manufactured twice.
One for the French prototype and one for the British.
Duplicate sets of drawings, you've got duplicate sets of management.
Duplicate sets of engineers.
Boy, the fact it worked was wonderful,
but the costs were racking up all the time.
'The Concorde's basic design features have been established
'and its performance defined.
'A cruising speed of Mach 2.2 or 1,450 mph.'
To be able to fly at more than twice the speed of sound
required huge leaps in aircraft design.
The wings were perfected
through months of exhaustive wind tunnel testing.
The engines, taken from a military aircraft, were completely rebuilt,
making them more than twice as powerful.
We changed almost everything in that engine.
Even the fuel system was changed by the time we'd finished.
The long, streamlined nose was designed to cut through the air
faster than any other passenger aircraft.
But engineers had to come up with an ingenious solution for take-off
People are always fascinated by the droopsnoot
but, I mean, the reality is that it was actually, really,
very much necessary.
The whole object of the exercise of the droopsnoot
was to get that long needle nose out of the pilot's line of sight
so that he could see the runway in front of him.
large sections of the aircraft were being shipped from factories
on either side of the Channel.
'Then bang on time, the first French-built component
'for the second prototype reached Filton.
'The vehicle and its load had travelled direct from Toulouse
'by road and cross-Channel car ferry.
'This is the normal method for moving Concorde components
'between Toulouse and Filton.'
I remember the very first sections of the aircraft being delivered
from the various production sites.
The nose section was one of the first.
Security in those days was not as you would expect nowadays.
It was such a sensitive project,
so I would spend a lot of time during the day
coming down with a little clipboard with something scribbled on.
I was down here every day, just about, just looking round.
I'm sure my bosses used to think, "Where's Nigel?"
"Oh, yeah, he'll be downstairs with his clipboard."
It was a passion and a pride and privilege to be actually working
out here and see this aircraft, which was being built from scratch,
to something which would become an icon of the 20th century.
'Visiting the British aircraft Corporation factory
'at Filton near Bristol, the Queen was to see for herself
'how the Anglo-French Concorde project was shaping,
'To the delight of the crowd.
'But it was during her tour the news came
'that increased costs for developing the 1,500 mile an hour jetliner
'had rocketed to an estimated £500 million.
'While Her Majesty was showing keen interest in the work,
'parliament was expressing concern at the project's soaring expense.'
Concorde had cost five times its original budget.
To make matters worse,
the airlines who'd ordered it were asking for expensive additions.
It was impossible, really, for Concorde not to go over budget
because the original idea was that Concorde would be this lightweight,
supersonic dart zipping across the Atlantic, or around the world.
Because it went so fast, VIPs on board wouldn't need much more,
from an English point of view, than, sort of, a sandwich,
a cup of tea and a glass of whisky.
But when other airlines looked at it, particularly the French,
they said, no, this is a luxury aircraft.
Its passengers would want champagne, Bordeaux wine and haute cuisine.
But all this excess was causing Concorde to put on weight,
adding even more to the bill.
The French never cared about the cost at all.
It escalated substantially.
When we mentioned this to the French minister, he'd hold up his hands.
These things, when you get to this scale, they're political.
They had to be decided politically.
As far as the French were concerned, it was the grandeur of France,
as far as the Treasury was concerned,
it was, can you make a quick buck for tax cuts for the rich?
That was the difference between the British and French attitude.
But I'm proud that I stopped it being cancelled
because the Treasury wanted to cancel it
and the Cabinet wanted to cancel it.
The future of Concorde will be decided by Concorde
in the course of this year.
They couldn't do this
because, one, the French were committed to it,
and if the British had truly pulled out,
had done a, kind of, Concorde Brexit,
what would have happened then is the French would have sued the British.
It's an extraordinary thought, but a country can sue another country.
Britain would have had to pay a fortune to France.
None of this seemed to matter
on a glorious winter's day in 1967,
when Concorde 001 was unveiled in France.
'And the guests watch as the great hangar doors opened
'to reveal 001 - the first Concorde prototype.'
The atmosphere was one of wild optimism
and excitement for the future,
where even the flight attendants were dressed for space travel.
All this, and the plane hadn't even left the ground yet.
'And here, a touch of symbolism,
'the two ministers jointly cut the ribbons
'to release the aircraft for its ceremonial roll-out.'
Here too was a chance to meet the brave test pilots
who would risk their lives flying the prototypes.
For the French, former Air Force Major Andre Turcat.
And holding up the British end of things, Brian Trubshaw,
a former World War II bomber pilot.
Awkward, camera shy, but practical.
You don't worry very much about the danger?
No, I don't think you can be a person
who worries very much about the danger,
if that danger is really there anyway.
You've got to have some fear,
otherwise you'll just go at the thing like a bull-headed animal
and I think some degree of fear
is a fundamentally required quality in a test pilot.
I first met Brian Trubshaw in 1968 and he actually had an office
next door to the department where I worked.
We had to dress him sometimes, in some of the gear,
because initially on Concorde they had to wear parachutes,
pressure suits, as if they were flying a fighter plane.
It's very hot.
When you're a test pilot and you're going to fly an aeroplane
which is an unknown force, there's a lot to think of.
You don't want people fussing. You just want to get on with it.
And a lot of people try to make a fuss.
Trubshaw hated press scrutiny.
He was used to being in control.
Would you turn around before you go up, sir?
Who's going to make the final decision
-as to when you do actually take-off?
-I do, and nobody else.
Trubshaw might be in charge at the British end,
but the French Concorde would be flying first.
He'd be reduced to watching from the sidelines
when, on March the 2nd 1969,
Andre Turcat took Concorde 001 on its maiden flight.
The main thought is, will everything keep going?
That was me. That was the kind of thinking I did.
Other people shut their eyes, I think,
in case it went wrong.
I certainly watched the maiden flight out of Toulouse
and I think Raymond Baxter's commentary
still makes all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
It was a brilliant piece of commentating by him.
'Rotate any second.
'Nose wheel well up. Smooth rotation continuing.
'Nose come up to 20 degrees. She's airborne.
'Concorde flies at last.
'As Mr Turcat goes off to face the hazards of a press conference...'
The flight at Toulouse was a great success.
But Trubshaw wasn't happy with the media circus
and was now threatening to ban everyone from the British attempt.
This performance which surrounds this first flight of 001
is, erm, wrong...
I don't agree with it.
And I realise that in saying that to you, I'm stating it publicly.
But I am absolutely opposed to this.
And it is possible
that I shall refuse
to allow a similar activity for 002.
As the big day drew near,
it was clear that this would be a huge public event.
The whole length of the field was filled with people - employees.
Up on the hill there there were people watching.
I chose to stand down where the aircraft was
so I could hear the engine start up.
Smokey Joe, she was called at the time,
because they were early production engines, quite smoky,
and dark smoke out the back.
The colleague I was with said, "We'd better move back,
"because we are going to be affected by the jet blast",
but I said, "No, I want to stay here and I want to smell the kerosene and I want to get blown over."
The noise when she actually got to the runway, opened throttles,
full power, with reheat, it was a magnificent sight.
Concorde 002 flew for a whole 22 minutes...
..touching down at RAF Fairford 50 miles away.
Here, the pilots were greeted by an even bigger press corps.
It had been a wonderful first flight.
Trubshaw's place in history was guaranteed,
whether he liked it or not.
Concorde now embarked on a rigorous programme of flight testing.
And for those with the right connections, here, at last,
was a chance to have a go at the controls.
As someone keen on conservation, what did you think of the level
-of noise and smoke?
-I was inside and I wasn't smoking.
Joking aside, Concorde's smoky engines were a concern.
Even more worrying was the noise created
when she flew faster than the speed of sound.
Anyone on the ground would hear two very loud bangs,
known as the sonic boom.
I mean, when a supersonic aircraft flies over a town, a suburb,
or a city, it will smash loose windows. It just does.
And when tests were made in Britain,
boy, the complaints that poured in were legion.
By 1972, Concorde was still far from ready to enter service
and the cost of the project had broken £1 billion.
Desperate to add to the 75 planes already ordered,
the prototype was sent on a sales tour
with a small army of engineers in tow.
My role then was to walk beside the aircraft
to make sure it got to the taxi point safely
and then we would start the engines and help it on its way.
We did all the maintenance that we could,
helping the inspection with looking at tyre pressures,
hydraulic levels, lots of stuff like that.
Trying to sell the plane on behalf of the Government
was the suave new Minister for Aerospace, Michael Heseltine.
One of the first stops was Iran, where the Shah, a keen pilot,
seemed a likely customer.
It was designed to be the peak of the first sales trip
and, hopefully, I would secure his agreement to buy it.
It all went reasonably to plan.
well, not quite.
We went on board and he came and sat alongside me
and I had 45 minutes flight in which to persuade him
to buy and to allow us overflying rights.
The plane took off, he got up, said, "I must go on the flight deck."
That's the last I saw of him
until we had landed.
Back on the tarmac, the Shah casually agreed to the deal
but without a witness it was far from binding.
Then, to my huge relief,
somebody said, "Your Majesty, the Times, London,
"are you going to buy it?" "Yes", he said. "Two."
"Your Majesty, the Times again, if you will,
"will you give us overflying rights?" "Yes, I will."
My job was done.
Tehran had gone well but now the sales tour backfired.
Rather than winning new orders, they began to lose them.
The black smoke produced by the prototype engines
horrified the Japanese.
They cancelled their order for three aircraft.
Things continue to go badly down under.
'En route from Darwin, 002 has made Concorde's first sustained
'supersonic flight over land.'
When Concorde visited Australia, people were very concerned
about the noise disturbing aboriginal homelands.
There was a sense of this aviation colonialism.
That the British and French were using this machine
to overfly poorer peoples who would never be able
to fly on Concorde themselves.
The sonic boom was becoming a global issue.
For example, they were banned from flying down the seaboard of India
because the Indians were saying,
"Well, why should we be disturbed by this noise?
"Are we less important than British and French people?"
Concorde was heading home
having had its first taste of a turbulent future.
But for those lucky enough to be on board,
it was an experience to remember,
particularly the last leg into Toulouse.
That was the longest supersonic flight it had done.
And the whole length of the Mediterranean, we could see Africa
on the left-hand side and Europe on the right-hand side,
as we flew at 58,000 feet.
The three of us that flew on the aircraft
just couldn't stop talking about it, you know.
It was amazing.
On its return home, Concorde was given the royal seal of approval...
..but the truth was, its future was far from certain.
Across the pond,
America's project was struggling even to get off the ground.
When Boeing first showed its supersonic airline,
it showed it in the form of a gigantic life-size model.
'Good afternoon, gentlemen. The Boeing company takes great pride
'in presenting to you the United States supersonic transport.'
The Boeing design was too complex. They had a swing wing
and they had a double droopsnoot -
the nose bent in two places, not just in one.
And also, the Americans were facing much greater economic challenges.
They were running the Apollo programme
and also they were embroiled in the Vietnam War,
which was sucking up huge amounts of money.
Having spent 1 billion with little to show,
the US government pulled the plug.
The Russians appeared to be faring better.
Their plane, nicknamed Concordeski, was poised to enter service.
I was very struck by the similarities of the design
to the Concorde, which leads me to believe there was certainly
industrial espionage going on.
Having said that, I suspect the industrial espionage
worked both ways.
The Russian project was actually quite brilliant in one way,
in that Concordeski was the first supersonic airliner to fly.
The thing worked, it flew, terrific.
What a wonderful public relations coup for the Soviet Union.
There was one little problem in that the aircraft was rushed.
In many ways it was crude compared to Concorde.
Its interior, boy, if you think flying on certain
modern airlines is unpleasant, you should have tried Concordeski!
Lavatories wouldn't work, lighting would stop,
there was no hold for luggage under the aircraft,
the seats were very flimsy things.
It had been too rushed.
And, of course, it proved to be quite self-destructive.
In June 1973, on a demonstration flight at the Paris Airshow,
Concordeski suffered a catastrophic failure.
'She was diving and about to crash.
'It tore itself to pieces and exploded
'and only a rainfall of bits and pieces hit the ground.'
All six crew and eight people on the ground were killed.
Concordeski would fly just 55 commercial flights
inside the Soviet Union before being grounded in 1978.
Concorde's superb engineering made failure far less likely,
but now, ready to enter service, it had problems of its own.
This was a bad time. Remember the early '70s?
Gosh, 1973, '74, it's the time of the great oil crisis.
Fuel costs rocketed.
And, more than that, it was also the time
when the environmental lobby becomes vocal.
We dread one flight over our heads.
If the French and British made a mistake with this plane,
we're sorry for them.
Concorde is no longer the darling of the skies,
it's being seen as a dark prince.
Poor Concorde, shown at the right time,
in the optimistic days of the late '60s
and got to the market at exactly the wrong time.
By the end of 1973, a year after the world tour,
almost every one of Concorde's orders had been cancelled.
The dream of selling hundreds of aircraft was sunk.
Not even British Airways and Air France were interested.
They did not want Concorde in the least.
They had no interest in the aeroplane whatsoever.
I'm talking about the management of the airline.
They just said, "We don't want them. We don't want them."
Well, that was humiliating.
So I negotiated, what, in fact, was a gift on profit sharing conditions,
which meant no cash flow until the thing made a profit.
That was the basis on which I did this humiliating deal.
But at least I got a sale!
British Airways had acquired five aircraft worth £22 million each.
So there was no holding back
when it came to launching their first flights.
A huge publicity stunt
involving international superstar Shirley Bassey.
# Till love
# Touches your life
# You drift
# And you wander and you roam... #
In 1977, flights to New York began.
Anyone able to stump up £431 for a single fare
could cross the Atlantic in three and a half hours
rather than eight.
And they would discover that from the very first moment of arriving
for a Concorde flight,
this was a unique and very special experience.
The great thing about the Concorde flights was that
the Concorde Lounge happened very quickly, so having got a ticket,
you went through the Concorde doors and you were in a, kind of,
rather nice hotel type reception.
It was like going to a big feast.
There were hors d'oeuvres and canapes.
Everything all laid out.
It was just drink as much... you know, whatever.
Help yourself at the bar.
George had a G&T because he's the G&T king
and I had a coffee.
Good morning. Nice to see you.
We would look at the passenger list and if we knew they were regulars,
we'd call them by their name.
They loved that familiarity of coming on and knowing the crew.
Most people think, Concorde, that's a great, big, huge aeroplane,
but when you get up close to it, it wasn't that big an aircraft.
And especially when you get inside, it's quite narrow inside.
The ceiling was low and the windows were tiny.
The windows were not like windows on a normal plane,
they were a little, tiny portholes.
I'm searching to avoid the word cramped.
But it was cramped, in fact.
You were tight and the seat in front was close.
You know, there was no space.
'Clear off to starboard.
'OK, New York, here we come.'
Before take-off, while we were taxing out,
we would take a bar order, we would try and offer champagne.
Hot towels would be offered, as they are in first class,
and we managed to get all that done while the aircraft was taxiing.
It was just wonderful, wasn't it, George? It was romantic.
-It was so romantic.
I don't know why I use that word, but it was.
Just fantastic, you felt...
I felt like a film star.
They made you feel like that.
I was quite scared.
I think David Frost was on it and I knew David
and I said, "I'm a bit nervous about this, David."
He said, "Oh, darling, don't be. I do it three times a week."
The sensation the passengers would be aware of
more than anything else would be during the take-off.
'Three, two, one, now.'
The acceleration, you could really feel it.
This great, sort of, surge of acceleration
in the small of your back and you knew that the aeroplane
was accelerating rapidly down the runway.
The tray table in front of me fell down,
so I was leaning forward trying to get this tray back.
I don't know why I was caring about the tray but...
And I couldn't get forward.
I felt like I was being pushed back in my seat.
I think when we took off, we took-off about a 30 degrees angle.
But when he pressed the button and put the afterburners on,
you're practically stood on the tail.
I thought, "Oh, what a flight."
And it was so thrilling.
There was a wonderful moment where you just watched London go...
..into a little dot, which was just fantastic.
I was white-knuckling it and then, as soon as it took-off,
it was fantastic.
Thanks to the sonic boom controversy,
Concorde was only allowed to fly supersonically over the sea.
But now the throttle could be opened up.
And then the back boiler went on and... Yeeeah!
And it just went on and on and on
and you could see the numbers ticking up on the speed.
It was quite hard to comprehend because there was some point
where you think I'm actually now going faster than a bullet.
When the Mach counter registered twice the speed of sound,
I decided I'm going to the loo.
And I went to the loo at Mach 2.
I was invited to go into the cockpit
and I was quite scared
because I'd heard so many scary things about Concorde
and, to me, it was a bit like going into space.
It was surreal, it was amazing,
because all you could see was the blue sky.
And you couldn't really see anything else.
And it was just as smooth as lying in bed.
You had no sensation of speed at all.
You were sitting up there at 55,000, 58,000 feet,
in this very calm, tranquil atmosphere.
You're above the thunderstorms, you're above the jet streams,
you're above everything that causes turbulence.
You almost felt that you were just hanging there,
suspended in space.
I never got used to it.
I pinched myself in disbelief. We were doing 23 miles a minute.
We're actually flying at twice the speed of sound, to be precise,
1,341 miles per hour.
11 miles up.
And this is how smooth it can be.
at more than twice the speed of sound.
Now at cruising height, the aperitifs and canapes consumed,
passengers could start ordering from the menu.
But this was not just any food.
This was Concorde food.
The champagne flowed, the caviar came out
and the smoked salmon.
We would start the meal service with a pre-plated cold hors d'oeuvre,
then there was a choice of three hot main courses and a cold one.
When I was flying, the chefs who designed the menus, in particular,
were the Roux brothers and, in fact, we had them on a flight one day
and we were very nervous that the way we cooked the food
lived up to how they had designed it.
It was silver service.
And the menu, I mean, we had lobster and chicken.
You know, I don't go out and buy that very often!
And to wash it all down,
a wine list worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The guy comes past with the wine, and I'm sort of, "No, thanks",
and then I look and it's a Chateaux Forts de Latour, which is,
like, one of the really, really great, erm, French wines.
And I was thinking, I've never had a Forts de Latour.
The wine was excellent, as was the food.
I mean, really, really, good.
I had some more and I had some more and I had some more
and by the time I'd actually arrived in New York,
I had a ten o'clock meeting, I suddenly realised that I had drunk,
probably about half a bottle of one of the finest clarets on Earth.
Concorde was expensive and prestigious,
with an in-flight service aimed at those with class.
So there really was only one type of passenger.
Those who could afford it.
Investment bankers, fund managers,
where absolutely regular users of the aeroplane.
They used it as a commuting tool.
When I'm doing it every week,
I truly can just regard it as commuting to work.
Speed is what it's all about for me.
The ability to avoid these overnight flights, get to the other end fresh.
That's what this great plane does.
The next category were your film stars,
celebrities, pop musicians
and the whole atmosphere on the aeroplane was completely different
from the atmosphere you get on a subsonic aeroplane.
All these guys were constantly flying across the Atlantic
They all knew each other and it was a, sort of, sociable event.
This particular time in the '80s, I was doing a lot of travelling.
I was working in LA on a series
and I wanted to come back to London a lot to see my family.
So it really made a huge difference in my life,
being able to go on Concorde.
It was a very expensive, erm...
but, sometimes, it's worth investing in things that make you happy.
But there was another type of passenger.
Those who had saved up to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
They often got more than they were expecting.
I looked around, and there was Ronnie Wood, there.
He went, "Hello!"
I said to George, "It's Ronnie Wood."
As soon as I said that,
another four came down.
It was Mick Jagger.
So he came down...
"Hello", and he shook our hands
and I said, "George, I've got to go to the loo. I won't be a minute."
With that, Mick Jagger got up and he followed me.
Anyway, we waited outside, this person came out
and he said to me, "Go on, Gwen."
So I said, "No, no, you go first."
I didn't like to call him Mick. It seemed a bit presumptuous.
So I said, "You go in first." He said, "Are you sure?"
I said, "Yes."
So he went in, came out, I went in,
of course, it was still warm!
Oh, my word! I came over quite unnecessary.
No matter how exciting things got,
all too soon the seat belt sign would light up
and Concorde would begin its descent.
Very many passengers would get off the aeroplane
feeling really sorry that the flight had ended, you know.
Couldn't it go on a bit longer? They were enjoying it so much.
By the time you'd had a few drinks and something to eat
and maybe a tiny snooze, there you were in London.
In the rain.
Concorde had struck a chord with passengers and crew alike.
But it was haemorrhaging money.
By 1981, after just five years in service,
British Airways and Air France had recorded losses
in the tens of millions on their Concorde operations.
It was too expensive a service to operate
and it was just too limited, that was the problem.
The only route it could fly successfully
was New York-London, London-New York.
And a bit of Paris-New York, London-Paris.
What Concorde needed was to charge a hell of a lot for tickets
and to make it very exclusive indeed.
British Airways put up Concorde prices
to nearly double those of first class on its other flights.
So now, in the mid-1980s, Concorde was, at last, turning a profit.
But with only one successful route, London to New York,
most of the fleet was sitting idle.
The answer was to allow Concorde to be chartered.
Anyone with the money could hire the whole plane
and take it wherever they wanted.
Many of my friends said they would like to fly in on Concorde,
and they thought that I should organise it for them.
So I thought, well, why not?
So I rang up and I said, "Could I charter Concorde for my friends,
"supersonic for an hour and a half?",
so he said to me, "Well, you can charter it for £17,500",
so that worked out to £175 per passenger.
And I filled two Concordes. I could easily have done a third.
The charter market exploded
as a host of entrepreneurs, Concorde fan clubs
and travel agents cashed in on the new demand.
Those charter flights took Concorde to over 250 destinations
around the world.
76 of those were in the USA.
So that enabled Concorde to be used as an experience,
the trip of a lifetime experience for many people, but, also,
a major marketing tool for British Airways.
One popular destination was a day trip to Egypt.
You could visit the pyramids at Giza in the land of the Pharaohs
and still be home in time for tea.
-What did you like best?
-My dinner on the Concorde coming out.
I've loved it all, but that was lovely.
We're flying now down the Adriatic and, as we approach Egypt,
someone from the front said, "If those on the left-hand side,
"if you look out slightly to the front,
"there's the pyramids and there's the Sphinx."
He said, "I feel sorry for you, those on the right."
He said, "Oh, sod it" - that was his words.
He did a figure of eight so those on the other...
And I thought, lovely.
They did Christmas Santa specials,
flying from Bournemouth to the north of Finland, to Lapland,
to meet Father Christmas.
They did little tours, jaunts around the Bay of Biscay,
for very little money indeed.
I had the surprise on my 50th birthday, which was in 1999,
they said, "Dad, we've got you a present,
"We don't really know what to get you, but would this be OK?"
I opened the envelope - this envelope here,
I got with my boarding pass.
The prestigious Concorde experience was at last being enjoyed
by the very people whose taxes had paid for it.
It didn't matter who you were, you treated them all the same,
because they were flying this aircraft
and they were getting the service that was expected of you.
And there were some unique experiences
that only Concorde could provide.
The sun would set, but we're flying...
sort of, north-west across towards Italy, and he said,
"We're going so fast, the sun is coming back up.
What an experience, to see the sun coming back up.
And as we got to Heathrow,
the music stopped and someone started, and he had a good voice...
..and he played the Queen, and we sang God Save The Queen.
And that was the end of a glorious day.
Concorde was becoming a national icon
and the plane was to be found at the heart of major public events.
It seemed like the dream would go on forever.
I was retired and I'd been on the bus to Farnborough.
As I got on the bus, someone said that Concorde has crashed in France
and I told him not to be so bloody silly.
It was July the 25th, 2000,
and the unthinkable had happened.
'The world's most prestigious aircraft crashes.
'More than 100 people are dead.'
I couldn't believe it.
It can't, it couldn't crash. It was too magical to crash.
Do you know what I mean? It sounds childish, but in your mind,
it was just forever.
And to think that people had died, it was just dreadful.
'According to Air France, of the 100 passengers, two were Danish,
'one was a US citizen, the rest were German.'
The crash at Gonesse shocked the world.
Now every detail of the final moments of flight 4590
It was a crash that was a classic aircraft accident.
It was a whole series of events
and it was the cumulative effect of each of the errors
in this error chain that led to the final overwhelming catastrophe.
It was a hot July day in Paris
and the Air France Concorde was on a charter flight,
taking 100 passengers to New York to join a cruise ship.
It was fully laden.
The aeroplane had been over fuelled.
All the fuel tanks on the wing had been filled up completely full.
19 items of baggage were put in the rear cargo hold,
which were never weighed.
The net result of all this was that the aeroplane
was over the maximum structural weight.
They were running late, so there was a lot of pressure on the crew
to taxi out and take-off as quickly as possible and to get to New York nonstop.
By the time it had got to the runway threshold,
it had only burned 800 kilos of the 2,000 kilos of taxi fuel
that he had allowed for.
And what he should have done was to have burned off all that taxi fuel
before he got airborne.
As they went down the runway, the aeroplane encountered
a piece of metal - a piece of metal lying on the runway
that had come off a Continental Airlines DC-10.
There was a piece of metal left on the runway,
but there were also maintenance errors on the part of Air France
in the left-hand undercarriage, which had been worked on
by Air France a couple of days before the crash.
They'd failed to put back in a component called the spacer.
Without that spacer,
the wheels can wobble around like wheels on a supermarket trolley.
The tyre encountered the piece of metal
when the aeroplane was travelling at 185mph.
As the piece of metal cuts in, but it didn't puncture the tyre
in a conventional way, what it did was scalp the tyre.
That flew up and hit the underside of the aeroplane
with a tremendous amount of energy.
It set up a shock wave in that fuel tank.
There was no air space in the fuel tank to absorb the energy
of that shock wave.
It blew out a piece of metal, not a rupture from inside to out,
but a mini explosion from inside
and out came 100 litres a second of fuel.
A really massive fire, generating a lot of smoke
and a lot of unburned fuel, which goes into the engines.
A fire warning went off for the number two engine
and the flight engineer, without any discussion with the captain
or the first officer at all,
just went straight into a fire drill and shut that engine down.
The pilot rotated the aircraft 15 knots early to try and climb away,
it went off to the left-hand side of the runway,
hit a runway light before getting airborne.
Sadly, staggered into the air,
it never remotely reached its in-flight safety speed,
which was 220 knots.
It tried to climb away, got to about 200 feet,
but couldn't climb any more. But the real damage was done.
The real damage was this massive fire.
This dreadful blowtorch of fuel,
flaming fuel, pouring out of tank number five,
causing the centre of gravity to move further rearwards,
and this led to the aeroplane just rearing up.
Once that had happened, really, sadly, the aeroplane,
and all those on board were doomed.
It was an accident that should never, ever have happened.
The official French crash report concluded
that the piece of metal on the runway had exposed
vulnerabilities to Concorde's fuel tanks and tyres.
Air France and British Airways grounded their aircraft
while expensive safety modifications were made.
They were relaunched in November 2001,
but the world had moved on.
Two months before,
the attacks on New York's Twin Towers had claimed 2,700 lives.
Air travel lost its appeal
and demand for business flights into New York plummeted.
Concorde was crossing the Atlantic almost completely empty.
Added to that, maintenance costs were soaring,
and so in April 2003, Concorde's retirement was announced.
'It's the end for Concorde after 30 years of supersonic flying.
'British Airways and Air France will retire the plane
'in six months' time.'
It was a shame.
When I heard the story that it was going to be taken out of service,
what a bad day that was.
That was horrible. Nobody liked that at all.
Over the next six months there was a rush to take a last flight
Every seat was sold and more flights were added.
Then a grand tour of the United States, Canada
and the United Kingdom.
Finally, on the 24th of October 2003,
flight 002 left New York for the last time.
-So, we are just about to set course.
The acceleration on the runway is quite something to remember,
as I'm sure will be the rest of the flight.
It was done with a lot of press hullabaloo, as you can imagine.
It's a big, important day, but on board the aircraft,
the top celebrities...
and the big red-faced newspaper editors
and TV presenter type people on board,
spent their time, as far as I could see, getting drunk.
There were a lot of celebrities
and among them was Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson
who had a fight
and they were throwing glasses of water at each other
like great overgrown schoolboys.
This machine, if you could have seen it flying through the sky,
I mean, staggeringly fast, just this thing going.
It never lost its beauty, its poise, its composure.
And inside, the very last flight...
..everyone is so rough...
and drunken and awful.
First one Concorde, then another.
A sight never seen before - three in all, waiting to land.
As we came down, we saw tonnes and tonnes of people all waving
and shouting and flags and banners.
All of the fire engines from Heathrow had their hoses on
and they were spraying water all over Concorde as it landed.
It was very, very moving, because it was, like,
it was totally the end of an era.
It was the end of an era.
The end of the reception, at 10:30pm at night,
I walked out across the tarmac, I was the last to leave,
and there were five perfectly serviceable Concordes
sitting on the ramp
and they would never carry fare-paying passengers again.
And that's the time when it really hit me
and that's the time when there was, literally, a tear in the eye.
The end of Concorde felt to many
as though the supersonic dream was over.
Very sad that Concorde was retired in 2003 with no obvious successor.
It was the first time in aeronautical,
or perhaps technological history,
that we'd actually taken a step backwards
and we'd just gone back to subsonic aircraft.
But in the last few years a new race has begun,
with at least three aircraft in development.
There's a company working
on a 30- to 40-seat supersonic transport for businessmen.
I think that could appear on the scene within the next five years.
As far as a full-blooded supersonic airliner is concerned,
I think we probably are going to have to wait a lot longer for that
and, I think, eventually, we will see, perhaps,
hypersonic sub orbital vehicles that do London to Sydney
in a matter of three hours, something of that sort,
two and a half hours.
A month after the final flights into Heathrow,
the last Concorde ever made returned to Bristol's Filton Airfield
from where Brian Trubshaw flew in 1969.
Concorde was coming home.
Of course, we cried when we saw the Concorde,
the last flight over the suspension bridge.
I'm getting emotional now.
I loved it.
Sadness, because you knew it was going to be the last time, yeah.
I don't know quite what it is.
There's something mysterious about Concorde.
Most extraordinary. Exceptional.
The whole country, in fact, probably the whole world, mourned its loss.
It changed many people's lives forever, I think.
Our whole experience with Concorde flying
and the demise of Concorde has been with us all the time, really.
And it's a tragedy.
But weren't we lucky to have the opportunity to go on it?
Now the star of a new collection dedicated to flight,
50 years after she was unveiled,
Concorde is a museum piece.
Looking for 17A.
Designed for the elite.
This is where I was. I think I bumped my head last time.
Paid for by everyone.
17 years and back to the same seat
on the same aircraft.
Beautiful, fast, noisy, expensive.
Oh, here's the infamous toilet.
Many memories of that one!
A symbol of post-war hope for the future.
Yeah, my seat was always...I always used to be in the engineer's seat
doing engine runs and things but it's nice to sit up here.
Yeah, reverse thrust, reheat and green for go, wasn't it?
Green for go.
Concorde lived a life of superlatives and contradictions.
The white elephant that became a swan.
But just a little too far ahead of her time.
To think this aircraft used to take people 58,000 to 60,000 feet,
The only other people at that height and speed were fighter pilots.
We were just so ahead of the time. There was nothing like this around.
It gets the old memory bank going.
In awe. I'm in awe. Even now, I'm in awe of it.
There'll never be another one like it. It's a shame.
It's a wonderful sight.
I never thought I'd see it again.
MUSIC: Supersonic Rocket Ship by The Kinks
# Let me take you on a little trip My supersonic ship's
# At your disposal if you feel so inclined
# Well, all right
# Nobody's gonna travel second class
# There'll be equality And no suppression of minorities
# Well, all right. #
The life of the most glamorous plane ever built, told by the people whose lives she touched. We uncover rare footage telling the forgotten row between the French and British governments over the name of Concorde which threatened to derail the whole project. On the eve of the opening of Bristol's multi-million pound aerospace museum, a cast of engineers, flight technicians and frequent fliers tell the supersonic story aided by Lord Heseltine and Dame Joan Collins - and we meet the passenger who shared an intimate moment with The Rolling Stones.
Narrated by Sophie Okonedo.