First flight of Concorde - Concorde 001
Sunday, March 2, 1969 was an emotional day for the men who had planned and built the Concorde. On this first flight, Concorde 001 carried the hopes and aspirations of thousands of people who had contributed to the most ambitious technological project in Europe's history. Airline guests and hundreds of journalists from all over the world had gathered in Toulouse for the occasion. TV cameramen and commentators waited to transmit the flight to millions of viewers throughout Europe and the other five continents.
The flight had had to be postponed the previous day because of heavy mist. On the Sunday morning the mist seemed as heavy dank and chill as ever. But the meteorologists and the pilot of the Mirage chase plane who took off to report on conditions "up above" were confident that the sun was going to win this time.
And soon it did. Loudspeakers informed the waiting crowd that Concorde's crew were aboard and pre-flight checks in progress. One by one, the four Olympus engines came to life. Fire tenders and rescue vehicles moved into position. Special trucks, fitted with raucous klaxons, raced up and down the runway, scaring away great flocks of birds. The aircraft moved down the perimeter track and turned slowly to line up on the runway.
For what seemed an age the engines rumbled on. Then came a crescendo of sound, and, brakes released, the white aircraft on its tall undercarriage started to move along the runway, slowly at first but gathering speed. A lot of breath was held, a lot of fists tightly clenched. The nose lifted and there was daylight under the nose wheel.
"She flies, she flies." Millions of television viewers in Britain heard commentator Raymond Baxter's excited shout. In cold blood there may seem something faintly ridiculous about his choice of words - what was Concorde meant to do but fly - but at Toulouse that morning there were not many cold-blooded onlookers.
The crowd watched as she climbed into the blue sky, trailed by her attendant Mirage. Twin plumes of dark smoke marked her passage. She dwindled to a white spot and then was gone. People looked at each other and said trite things to mask the fact that they were deeply moved. It was a short flight, only 40 minutes, but it gave Andre Turcat and his crew a foretaste of what flying a Concorde would be like. Afterwards he was to report that the aircraft handled better than the simulator had predicted.
Over on the grandstand the journalists were in touch with the control tower and received word when 001 was on the approach. She came into view and for the first time, they saw that characteristic "sea-bird" swoop in to land A puff of smoke told that the main bogies were in contact with the runway, the nose-wheel came down, reverse thrust was engaged and the tail parachute broke from its housing to balloon out behind the aircraft.
Safely down! Around the airfield there was a rattle of clapping and applause. Everywhere there were wide smiles of relief There were lumps in some throats and tears in some eyes, including those of experienced journalists who one would have thought had "seen everything."
"Zero-zero-un" taxied to a halt in front of the airport building and passenger stairs were run into position. Within a few minutes the tall figure of Turcat appeared at the top of the steps, followed by his crew. From the crowded terraces there was a roar of cheers and shouts of "ChieŁ" Andre Turcat looked up and waved briefly to his wife on the airport balcony and then went down to accept smilingly the embraces and the handshakes of the Concorde leaders waiting to
Text by FG Clarke