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The End of Supersonic Flight


October, 2003


     By Mark Bendeich LONDON (Reuters)     Three Concordes flew into 
        London on Friday in a spectacular finale to the era of supersonic travel. 
        To tears and cheers from thousands of aviation fans, the 
        needle-nosed jets touched down at London's Heathrow Airport in a carefully 
        choreographed curtain-call. The flights -- from Edinburgh, around the 
        Bay of Biscay and finally from New York -- touched down at two-minute 
        intervals to bring a close to one of commercial aviation's most exciting 
        -- and expensive -- experiments. Aboard the last transatlantic Concorde, 
        Pilot Mike Bannister told the applauding passengers: "Concorde was born 
        from dreams, built from vision and operated with pride." "Concorde is 
        a fabulous aircraft and it has become a legend today," he said after soaring 
        for the last time to the edge of space and flying at twice the speed of 
        sound. Champagne and vintage wines flowed during the flight as passengers, 
        including actress Joan Collins and model Christie Brinkley, enjoyed lobster, 
        caviar and smoked salmon. "It's the best office in the world," said Cabin 
        Service Director Tracey Percy as the planes taxied in with their captains 
        waving Union Jack flags from the cockpits. David Hayes, who paid $60,300 
        in a charity auction to fly with his wife on the historic flight, said: 
        "I started crying and my heart was racing. It was time to say goodbye." 
        Heathrow Flight Controller Ivor Simms said: "I was a trainee in 1976 when 
        I departed the first New York flight, and it makes me very proud that 
        26 years later I was in control as the last New York flight landed." "My 
        overriding feeling is one of relief that it all went to plan and nothing 
        went wrong. It was nice to see all three of them together. That has never 
        happened before," he added. Concorde had set the standard for transatlantic 
        air travel. Now the drop-nosed Queen of the Skies is headed for a sedentary 
        life in aviation museums. Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who took 
        the first Concorde flight in 1976 and was now on the last, said: "I don't 
        think we will see it again -- at least in my lifetime." For many it was 
        a sad moment. British motoring correspondent and self-confessed speed 
        freak Jeremy Clarkson, who took the last Concorde flight, said: "Getting 
        off this plane will be one giant leap backwards for mankind." Back in 
        the mid-20th century, Concorde's Anglo-French creators had hoped it would 
        become a standard-bearer for a new generation of airliners. But the high 
        running costs, deafeningly loud engines and sonic booms turned environmentalists 
        against it and the plane quickly became little more than an exclusive 
        toy for superstars. The beginning of the end came in July 2000 when an 
        Air France flight crashed outside Paris, killing 113 people and grounding 
        the entire French and British fleets. Concorde resumed flying in late 
        2001 in the teeth of a severe downturn in transAtlantic air travel that 
        followed the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities that year. Then plane-maker 
        Airbus said this year it would stop supplying parts and maintenance, sealing 
        the jet's fate. Veteran British television presenter David Frost, who 
        has flown the supersonic airliner up to 500 times, said Concorde "was 
        the only way you could be in two places at once." And he concluded with 
        an epitaph echoed by the other saddened passengers: "It is a great invention 
        and a shame it has had to stop." (Additional reporting by Jason Neely)
        
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