Concorde last take off

  • British Airways operated its final commercial Concorde flight on October 24, 2003, from New York’s JFK International Airport to London Heathrow. 
  • It was the last commercial passenger flight for the Concorde in a career that began in 1976.
  • A total of 14 Concordes entered service with British Airways and Air France
  • Co-developed by the British and the French, Concorde was the first and only effective supersonic commercial airliner, while talk of new supersonic planes have generally not been commercially viable since.
  • The Concorde could cruise at Mach 2.02 or around 1,340 mph at fly comfortably at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For a fleeting thirty years during the 20th century, supersonic commercial air travel was a reality. But on October 24, 2003, that era came to an abrupt end.

That day, British Airways operated its last commercial Concorde service from JFK International Airport to London Heathrow. Air France pulled its Concordes from service a few months earlier. Thus, it would be the Concorde’s last ever commercial flight in a career that started in January 1976. 

The Anglo-French Concorde was co-developed by BAC, a forerunner of BAE Systems, and Aerospatiale, now a part of Airbus, and has a storied history

The Concorde was never the commercial success for which its creators had hoped. Environmental and operational limitations of the Concorde hampered its commercial appeal among airline customers. Only 20 of the planes were ever built, and just 14 of them were production aircraft. The Concorde saw service with only two airlines — Air France and British Airways — on just two routes. 

However, its lack of commercial success doesn’t diminish its role as an icon of modern aviation and as a technological marvel, one which planemakers and aerospace start-ups still talk about replicating.

In fact, 16 years after its last flight for British Airways, the world is still without a viable form of supersonic passenger service. 

Here’s a look back at the awesome history of the Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde supersonic airliner: 

This article was originally published by Benjamin Zhang in October 2018. It was updated by David Slotnick in October 2019.

SEE ALSO: The incredible history of the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet, which went from airline status symbol to reject in just 10 years

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As soon as Chuck Yeager crossed the sound barrier in 1947, commercial aviation companies began planning to take passengers past Mach 1.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

On November 29, 1962, the governments of France and Great Britain signed a concord agreement to build a supersonic jetliner, hence the name of the plane that resulted: Concorde.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Together, Aérospatiale — a predecessor of Airbus Industries — and British Aircraft Corporation agreed to produce a four-engine, delta-wing supersonic airliner.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

At the same time, engineers in the US and the Soviet Union were working on supersonic airliners of their own. The American Boeing 2707 never made it past the drawing board, while the Soviets’ Tupolev TU144 made it into service but was quickly retired because of performance and safety problems.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

As part of the agreement, the Concorde was built in the UK and France.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Here’s a Concorde under construction at BAC’s factory in Bristol, England.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The engine selected to power the Concorde was the Olympus 593 turbojet, developed by Rolls-Royce/Bristol Siddeley and Snecma.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Olympus engine’s afterburners gave the Concorde its signature smoky takeoffs. Each engine produced 38,000 pounds of thrust.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Concorde had features found on no other Western commercial airliner, such as the double delta wing and …

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

… an adjustable drooping nose that gave pilots better visibility on takeoffs and landings.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In normal flight, the nose and visor were raised.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Concorde was operated by a crew of three: two pilots and a flight engineer.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In 1967, the Concorde was presented to the public for the first time in Toulouse, France.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The first Concorde prototype made its maiden flight in March 1969.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

On October 1, 1969, Concorde made its first supersonic flight.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The sleek supersonic jet captivated the public immediately.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

More than a dozen airlines from around the world placed orders for the jet.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

But the Concorde soon encountered opposition.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

One of the byproducts of supersonic flight is the sonic boom, which can be unpleasant or distressing to those on the ground. As a result, the Concorde was limited to routes over water, with minimal time spent soaring over land.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In addition, residents near airports that were home to the Concorde fleet protested the amount of noise generated by the plane’s four massive turbojet engines.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

As a result, Concorde flights were further curbed.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Because of environmental and economic concerns stemming from the 1973 oil crisis, most of the Concorde’s customers dropped their orders.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

This left British Airways and Air France as the plane’s only operators.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In total, 20 Concordes were produced. Six were prototype test planes.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Of the 14 production Concordes, seven entered service with Air France and …

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

… seven entered service with British Airways.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

On January 21, 1976, two Concordes — one from each airline — took off simultaneously to mark the plane’s first supersonic passenger flight.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Air France flight flew to Rio de Janeiro by way of Senegal, while the British Airways plane flew to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Later that year, British Airways started scheduling transatlantic flights between London and New York.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Cruising at more than twice the speed of sound and…

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

… At an altitude of up to 60,000 feet, the Concorde could cross the Atlantic in just three hours.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

That was a major improvement over the seven hours it took for a conventional jumbo jet to make the crossing.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In the beginning, the 100-passenger interior was simple and a bit austere.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

But as the clientele became more posh, so did the decor.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Soon, the Concorde became the preferred airborne choice of the rich and famous.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Every day, the Concorde fleet was stocked with fine Champagne and Beluga caviar.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

After all, it’s what the planes’ clients would expect.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In the 1990s, the Concorde welcomed the world’s biggest stars, such as supermodels Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, along with tennis star Andre Agassi.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Here, rock legend Sting serves Champagne to Piers Morgan.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair looks as if he had a good time on board.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Concorde even served as the Queen’s royal transport.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

For most of its career, the Concorde had a sparkling safety record.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

That all changed on July 25, 2000, when an Air France Concorde burst into flames and crashed shortly after taking off. The plane caught fire after a blown tire ruptured the Concorde’s fuel tanks, and 113 people died in the crash.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

All 12 remaining Concordes were immediately grounded and retrofitted with stronger fuel tanks.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Though the Concorde fleet returned to service in late 2001, the business never recovered.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

By Spring of 2003, Air France and British Airways announced their intention to permanently retire the Concorde fleet.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

British Airways executives blamed cuts to Wall Street’s travel budgets post-9/11 and skyrocketing maintenance costs for its decision to ground the plane.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Source: The Guardian

Air France operated its last commercial Concorde flight from New York to Paris on May 31, 2003.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Here’s the Air France Concorde powering out of JFK International Airport one final time.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

After completing a farewell tour of the US, British Airways operated its last commercial Concorde flight on October 24, 2003.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Here is Concorde’s final departure from New York.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Onlookers wave goodbye to the Concorde as it climbs out of JFK Airport.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Over the skies of London, the flight out of New York joined up with two other Concordes. Together, the three supersonic jets celebrated the occasion by landing in succession at Heathrow Airport.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Touch down!

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Concordes reconvene on terra firma.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

In 27 years of service, British Airways’ fleet of Concordes made 50,000 flights and carried more than 2.5 million passengers.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Now, the Concordes have become museum pieces. Here, an Air France Concorde joins its Soviet rival, the TU144, as a showpiece.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

Despite being a financial flop, the Concorde’s status as a technological marvel remains unblemished.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

For many, the end of the Concorde represented not just the end of an era, but also a step backward for mankind. We no longer cross the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. And we may never again.

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

The Concorde made its final flight 16 years ago and supersonic air travel has yet to recover — here's a look back at its awesome history

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