I first saw Concorde when she flew in the Toronto air show
in the mid 1970s. It was magic. Ever since that moment I marveled at the technology
and the concept one could fly so high so fast, but even more, she was
absolutely stunning. The curve of the wings and the long slender body, nothing
compared. Absolutely nothing.
Time passed and other than TV, I never saw her but remained addicted. I promised myself I would fly on her for my 40th birthday present or before. No 747 or L1011 could compare and no military plane short of a Spitfire had elegance close to her. Once my work changed to where I travelled, I found myself shuttling to London on a regular basis to work. There I would find myself sitting in the hotel or lounge at the airport and her distinct sound echoing through the air. I would rush to the T2 parking garage, Perimeter Road, or Hatton Cross to watch the evening flight. There was something about her that you breathed deep in admiration as you saw her roll and lift off.
I took my 80 year old mother to France in 2003 to see where her father fought in WW1 and we were walking through CDG just after the AF Concorde retirement. The last AF Concorde was at the terminal and I stopped, and stared. She looked at me and she said “you are going to fly one aren’t you?” She knew it would be one of the biggest regrets if I did not.
I planned to jump a LHR/JFK flight and was arranging it. August 14, I was on a flight to Bermuda and I read the morning paper as we boarded, there was a news article, Concorde was to make a last flight to Toronto October 1. BA announced that this would be the one and only time Concorde would fly a regular scheduled flight (BA0097), normally a 777 or 767, with a Concorde. I routinely flew the BA0097 to Toronto for work. This would be the only time she would fly as a regular flight supersonic over Canada. Yes she did charters, but not an actual scheduled flight. I grabbed my mobile, called my agent and said get me on that flight no if ands or buts, no price too much. The plane I was on started to move, I turned off the phone and 3 hours later, I phoned back. She said “Hi, yes, I got you a seat” – and then ‘poof’ no more. This was the day of the great power failure in the NE North America and the line went dead. Those were all the words I heard and all that mattered.
I flew to London the week before Oct 1 on business, flew back to Toronto for a day and back to London Sept 30 for this flight. I went to the parking garage the night of September 30 and watched the arrival and departure of her. You know the roar, the flames out the back, the almost silence after she leaves. How pedestrian all other planes look after her.
October 1 came. I got dressed in my downtown London hotel. I wore my tuxedo. As I said to people, “there is business class and first class and then there is Concorde class and nothing short of a tuxedo is appropriate to respect the teams who built her, maintained her and flew her”.
You know the thrill of the special check in, the lounge
(sorry the “Room”). It is this mounting overload of excitement that this is
real, I am not a spectator. Every little thing was class, like the boarding
procedure and the way you boarded from the lounge. First class has no class to Concorde. With the
people in the room all excited, the air was electric. I had pictures with the
crew, me in front of her, G-BOAG, at the gate, on and on. Keeping my composure and not busting out in tourist party craziness, was difficult as the Room was more than a buzz.
I sat in my seat with the anticipation of the most unbelievable
experience really happening as we taxi and our route explained.
As those words from the crew “ladies and gentlemen sit back and be prepared for the most exciting experience in civil aviation, a Concorde take off…3, 2, 1” hit my brain, you wanted to scream with joy, that in 2003, that high school kid staring into the sky in the 1970s is actually sitting in one, going to fly home. How do you top that set-up? As the lady in the video says “every bone in my body was smiling”. The thrust of the afterburners (reheats), the speed of take-off, the banking right after as we headed for Bristol. I desperately tried to soak in every little sound, view inside and out… everything was happening at light speed.
Yes crossing the sound barrier, being at M2, looking out at
the near dark of the sky….I could list for ever the magic. I laughed as I was in the washroom thinking I just pee'd at Mach 2!.
I looked at my watch and 3 hours after take-off, we crossed
over Algonquin Park which is a 4 hour drive north of Toronto. I looked at the
display and we were still at Mach 1.3. I had my picture taken infront of the
display as at this moment, I knew this experience was more than anything imagined, no more pinching myself needed. Seems
Transport Canada gave Concorde a one-time clearance to come in as deep as
possible in Southern Ontario supersonic. I heard when BOAG retired, they gave
her a similar one time shot to cross North America to Seattle to set a speed
record.Thank you Transport Canada.
The landing, as we tilted back and looking out to see every road along the flight path jammed as far as the eye could see of people stopping to watch, you knew this was even more than special.
Canada Customs came on the plane to clear us, no terminal for us. We parked at a special hanger with BA arranging drivers. Just more of those extra touches of class.
After I left my seat, I stood beside her on the ground looking up at the wing, engines, the nose. My smile is something I cannot repeat or replace. She crackled as she cooled. She was alive, no museum piece. Elegant in her stance and full of power. I did it. Words cannot capture what I felt. I had flown across the Atlantic and arrived 45 minutes before I left. I had just experienced something that so few in life have or will. Oh yes, there may be a supersonic passenger plane in the future. But this is the first. Concorde captured style, class, engineering that no one else will repeat. She was built at a time humans dared to dream and pursue it, using the most basic of design technology. Flying to the moon and Concorde. That Christmas, the president of my company came to me at a party, grabbed me by the shoulders and said “you did it. You flew her. That is the most !@#!#@ coolest thing, don’t you ever let anyone tell you different”. I know. It was.
Standing beside her October 1, 2003, in the setting sun in Toronto, I walked back into her for one final look. The mess of the flight still there, she had taken me to a place I dreamed. I walked down the stairs, shook hands with the crew thanking them for a very special day and said to myself, “what a way to spend a birthday”.
I turned 41, the next day, October 2.