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Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
End of a French national symbol
Concorde
A marriage of French elegance and technical prowess
By our Paris office

In France, the disaster of flight F-4590 was more than the crash of an aircraft. It was the end of a symbol.

Concorde was conceived in France. Its first test-flight from Toulouse on 2 March 1969 came in the dying days of the government of General de Gaulle, and seemed to represent the country's re-launch into a modern, technological future. Test-pilot Andre Turcat became a national hero.


The technical achievement was also an aesthetic marvel, binding form and function in a single line

Liberation newspaper
More than that, the design seemed a perfect French marriage of the aesthetic and the hi-tech.

"Not only did it embody a certain conception of a victorious France (Britain's role conveniently forgotten), but above all it symbolised modernity - triumphant in all the refined elegance of its curves," commented Liberation newspaper on Wednesday.

"The technical achievement was also an aesthetic marvel, binding form and function in a single line." The tilting nose, one wag put it, was like Cyrano de Bergerac's.

Commerce vs national prestige

Concorde - as is well-known - was never a commercial success. Its first flights for Air France and British Airways coincided with the 1970s oil-shock, which for an aircraft that burns off 90 tonnes of fuel each flight, was a cruel blow.


Concorde will never roar past with the same air of triumphant insouciance. Suddenly it is like any other plane

And when the United States decided in 1973 the aircraft was too noisy - it was only allowed to fly to New York in 1977 - Concorde's future as a prestige travel-toy for the leisured and the super-rich was assured.

But in France commercial concerns are rarely allowed to over-ride questions of national prestige, and in any case Concorde was - and is - seen as a worthy showcase of the country's technological prowess.

"When people abroad think of France, they always speak of foie gras, perfume and tourism. But that's not the image we necessarily want to project. It's certainly not the message our embassies are spreading. They're talking about fast-trains, Airbus - and Concorde," said a French Foreign Ministry official.

Collective grief

Grief and shock, obviously, were the paramount emotions in France as elsewhere after the spectacular disaster.

After Wednesday's weekly cabinet meeting President Jacques Chirac expressed the "collective emotion" of the government, and promised that all would be done to uncover the reasons behind the crash.

But when the horror has faded and time dulled the pain of families, what will be left is a sense of parted glory. Concorde will never roar past with the same air of triumphant insouciance. Suddenly it is like any other plane.

"The accident has a dark echo, because this plane was different," said Liberation. "What crashed at Gonesse was also a beautiful dream - swift and shimmering like the wings of a Concorde."

The Concorde Crash

Return to the skies?

The investigation

The crash

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

FORUM

FROM THE ARCHIVE

AUDIO VIDEO
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