Fifty years ago this week, the Concorde took flight. The supersonic jet, capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, traveled between New York and Paris in less than four hours, cutting the average flight time in half (and then some). Of course, the Concorde’s high airspeed and flying altitude was exceeded only by its accompanying high fares.
In these ways, the Concorde is a perfect microcosm of the late twentieth century. As a result of technological advances, the postwar world became smaller and more interconnected, but the benefits accrued first and foremost to those with means.
In a retrospective look at the Concorde, the Associated Press offered a few charming anecdotes:
In the mid-1980s, men dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers to re-enact a Civil War battle in Virginia paused in mid-skirmish to gaze up at a Concorde flying into nearby Dulles Airport.
A Concorde captain raved that the plane flew beautifully, and that the only indication of its speed came from looking down at other jets far below that seemed as if they were flying backward — the Concorde was moving about 800 mph faster.
Jamie Baker, an airline analyst and aviation enthusiast, took the plane from New York to London in 2002. Perhaps because it was a morning flight, the mood was more dignified than festive, Baker says. The ride was so smooth that there was hardly any sensation of flight.
“No turbulence. No sense of motion, save for the clouds passing by below us,” Baker says. “Concorde was a tool devised to outwit time.”