Richard Clarke recalls the last days of Concorde in 2003 with a tinge of sadness, but with a vitally important message today – we must not lose another great Delta winged aircraft.


Having been fortunate enough to be have an intense involvement with the Vulcan for over 15 years I often compare her to Concorde and think back to the great days when both of these aircraft were flying, alongside such classic British aircraft as the Lightning.

I have always had a great interest in and affinity for both the Vulcan and Concorde and when I first heard the sad and shocking news that Concorde was to be retired early in October 2003 I vowed to try to see her as many times as possible during her last few months of operation and to record her final days in the service of British Airways.

At this time of course exciting plans were gathering pace under the leadership of Dr Robert Pleming to return Vulcan XH558 to flying status, so there was a huge contrast in the future fortunes of these two great deltas, which sadly only ever flew together on one occasion.

So during the last days of Concorde operations I managed to get to Heathrow on a number of occasions to record the unforgettable sight and sound of this incredible aircraft taking off and landing. Highly memorable because of the fantastic acceleration, the noise and power of the Olympus engines, the relatively high landing speed, the ‘preying mantis’ angle of attitude when landing and, most of all, the sheer splendour of the delta shape in the air.  On each visit it was interesting to note that the number of people gathered to view this spectacle increased significantly as the realisation dawned that in the space of a few weeks this was sight which would never be seen again.

The last week of the commercial operation of Concorde came in late October and a Farewell Tour of Provincial Airports was organised by British Airways.

At Birmingham I was stationed in a perfect position to view the landing and to see her taxi in, the noise was incredible; the Olympus engines booming away to amazing effect, with a very different pitch to those of the Vulcan! To add to the spectacle a lone piper, who braved the noise as she came to a halt, welcomed the aircraft to the Airport.

As Concorde prepared for her final ever take off from Birmingham we were once again allowed out onto the tarmac to witness the incredible spectacle of the engines coming to life, the noise was indescribable and I was pleased that I had the benefit of ear plugs! Then as she taxied out and the pilot waved farewell the realisation dawned that this fantastic, futuristic aircraft would never return – a sad and salutary prospect. She took off with afterburners glowing and as a tribute skirted around the City before disappearing into the clouds for the final time.

And so to Manchester, another memorable occasion, all of the media were gathered at the side of the runway to see her land; BBC TV, Sky TV, Granada TV and a host of newspapers and radio stations, far too numerous to mention. There were also huge crowds gathered in the Viewing Park and Concorde posed in front of this area to allow the public to record this event for posterity.

The take off was once again stunning and awe inspiring and accompanied by the sound of hundreds of camera shutters recording this historic occasion as the aircraft disappeared into the darkening skies in a haze of orange exhaust from the four afterburners.

To all intents and purposes this week was the end for Concorde but what may not have been so obvious to the world at large was that the remaining 5 aircraft, which were able to fly, were due to be delivered to their new homes during November. A sight that must have been a great surprise to those living near Heathrow Airport, who must have thought that they had seen the last of her.

I was present to see the aircraft taking off for her delivery flights to New York and Barbados and to see the final landings at both Manchester Airport and British Aerospace at Filton. All of these occasions attracted huge crowds, a tribute which fully demonstrates the level of affection and respect that Concorde engenders from the public.

Being present when she taxied in for the final time at both venues was a great privilege and, indeed very moving, particularly at Manchester Airport where she received a traditional welcome to her new home with a thorough soaking from the fire hoses of the Airport Fire Service.

So that’s it - the end of an era, all good things come to an end, it was good while it lasted etc etc. This great aircraft will never be seen in the skies again, she may have been expensive, inefficient and prohibitively costly to operate, indeed beyond the means of most people, some would say an anachronism, but she was OURS and much admired by all who saw her and consequently will be sadly and sorely missed. Not too many sights capture the attention of SO many people but Concorde did and she will always be fondly remembered by the many thousands who saw her. It is interesting to note that people always referred to her as ‘Concorde’ and not ‘a Concorde’ – almost referring to her as a person and not a machine -  I guess that really sums up the high level of affection that was felt for her and has a resonance which many of us will fully understand and relate to.

There are only two aircraft that I know of that when anyone who has seen them can recall exactly where they were when they saw them for the first time; Concorde and, of course, our magnificent Vulcan, another highly distinguished and popular delta winged aircraft, which is often described as the ‘Mother of Concorde’

I still miss Concorde but am eternally grateful to Robert Pleming and his team for bringing the glorious sight of a delta winged aircraft back to the skies. The Vulcan has become a major part of many people’s lives and it would be a huge loss after all of the work, effort and commitment that has been put into getting her back into the air if she was to be grounded because of a lack of funding.

Sadly we have lost one great delta and we must not the lose another - the World’s last flying Vulcan, which is so dear to our hearts. At a time when the Harrier has recently been retired and the Nimrod will follow shortly, two more excellent examples of British engineering at its best, we must all make every effort to keep this icon of the skies in her rightful place for as long as possible.

Please help us to achieve this by supporting us in anyway that you can. Every penny counts in enabling us to keep XH558 alive and in the skies where she belongs.

Richard Clarke