Memories of a special flight on Concorde - shortly before it was grounded forever
- Credit: Archant Library
It’s almost 50 years since Concorde’s first flight from the UK, on April 9, 1969. John Alborough, who is a veterinary publisher and lives near Eye in Suffolk, took a special flight on the iconic aircraft towards the end of its life.
John flew on Concorde shortly before the famous aircraft was grounded for good in 2003.
He said: “When I used to watch Concorde take off from Heathrow Airport I, and others, would always refer to it as ‘Concorde’. Never ‘a Concorde’. It’s odd that they were always ever referred to in the singular.
“I have always had an interest in ‘firsts’ and ‘lasts’. Even as a boy I took the last passenger train out of Claydon Station and the Evening Star featured me complete with photo under the caption ‘Train spotter John is in at the death’. Apart from the Evening Star reporter and photographer I really was the very last passenger! I was determined to watch the very last film at the Ipswich Gaumont (now Regent) and in more modern times I also took the very last crossing of the Atlantic from New York to Southampton on the QE2 as it began it final journey.
“When it became obvious to me that the Concordes were to finish, I just had to take a flight!
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“Even though this was just a few short weeks before they finished, my whole flight experience was very much ‘ordinary’. British Airways had a special Concorde Departure Lounge. This was really just a small first-class lounge. There was one middle-aged lady who was clearly there for the same reason as me. We exchanged a few words of conversation and other than that I settled into third from the front pair of seats on Concorde flight number 004. All other passengers seemed business, or very wealthy, routine travellers.
“There were about a dozen empty seats.
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“The interior seating was very small by the standards of today. Just two plus two across. As we headed for take-off the pilot warned us (in that very reassuring public school British accent) that he has to take off conventionally for lift-off, but then once well clear of Heathrow he will open up the afterburners and we may feel ‘a bit of a kick’ as the plane picks up speed. And my goodness, we did.
“The flight was memorable for so many reasons. It was so high it was possible to see the curvature of the earth. The view upwards was black. The view downwards was blue, then white. I sat in an aisle seat but I could feel the heat radiating into the cabin from the outside of the plane – such was the speed. There was a speed indicator in front of the cabin which showed how fast the plane was flying. “I decided to purchase one example of every item of flight memorabilia and I have it all still boxed to this day
“I knew that I would never again be able to fly at over twice the speed of sound and such a very high altitude. No one will. unless they become a jet fighter pilot.
“When I landed at New York I checked into an airport hotel and without having any sleep at all I caught a sub-sonic flight back. This was at the start of British Airways installing lie-flat beds in first class. They are nice and were clearly installed so as to further demonstrate that Concorde, for all its speed, wasn’t really necessary. I profoundly disagree. How can it be right that technology moves in reverse? The Concorde were beautiful aircraft and so much more could have been developed on top of that technology.
“There is one final, rather sad, point I would like to make.
“I was alone. The seat next to me was unoccupied. I had no one to nudge and say “this is good, isn’t it?” But then perhaps that would have been rather impolite in such a prestigious aircraft.”