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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK

Business: The Company File

Supersonic birthday

Happy birthday Concorde

It is 30 years since the world's only supersonic commercial plane, Concorde, made its first British maiden voyage.

Concorde 002 left Bristol on 9 April, 1969, landing at the Fairford air base, 22 minutes later.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch reports on a supersonic legend
The man at its controls, test pilot Brian Trubshaw, described it as a "wizard flight".

He joined 98 other passengers on Friday for a special anniversary flight from London to Bristol's Filton airfield to commemorate that historic day.

Concorde's French maiden flight actually took place five weeks earlier than the British one, on 2 March, 1969.

[ image: The historic maiden flight]
The historic maiden flight
The distinctive droop-nosed aircraft is four times noisier than a jumbo jet, cost a fortune to develop, but still remains a favourite with the public.

It flies at up to 60,000 feet, more than 11 miles high - on the edge of space.

Commercial passengers had to wait until 21 January, 1976, to experience its charms when the first British Airways flight travelled from Heathrow to Bahrain - and an Air France jet flew simultaneously to Rio de Janeiro.

Since then more than 2m high-fliers have travelled at twice the speed of sound.

Pilot's dream

Pilots lucky enough to have steered the plane vouch that it is quite an experience.

British Airways pilot Terry Henderson said: "The take-off speed is 200 miles per hour and you reach that 200 miles an hour in about 20 seconds with the use of the after-burner thrust.

[ image: Concorde pilot Jock Lowe: It is a technological marvel]
Concorde pilot Jock Lowe: It is a technological marvel
"One of my colleagues who I was learning to fly the aircraft with, reckoned it was the most fun he'd ever had with his clothes on."

Fellow British Airways Concorde pilot Jock Lowe also has vivid memories of the inaugural test flight from Filton.

"It was on my 25th birthday. I was watching televison, I had a private pilot's licence but I had not really decided to go into aviation

"I saw that Concorde flight and thought well that wouldn't be a bad job, little thinking that some day it would actually happen."

Noise pollution

However the prospects for a new generation Concorde appear poor because of the huge development costs and environmental concerns.

David Learmount of Flight International said: "A new supersonic airliner would not overcome any of the environmental problems.

"It still woudn't be anything like quiet enough. It would also be horrifyingly expensive. Airlines simply would not buy it."

The city of New York has considered banning the plane from landing at its airports as part of a US trade row.

[ image: The costs of developing a new generation Concorde would be massive]
The costs of developing a new generation Concorde would be massive
But Jock Lowe believes that the lure of supersonic travel will triumph in the end.

He said: "It is a technological marvel and a wonderful plane to fly. I think some day we will see another supersonic aircraft."

At the moment there are seven British Airways Concorde planes - each one flies three hours per day or 1,000 hours per year.

Many of us dream of one day being able to afford a seat on one of those flights, but fares costing thousands of pounds means it remains the preserve of the rich and famous and those celebrating special occasions.

If you cannot afford a Concorde ticket, you can at least visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, Cambridgeshire where Concorde 101 is one of the exhibits.

It is a chance to see a remarkable survivor who still turns heads, 30 years on.

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Concorde (British Airways)

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