Concorde bows out in style

The world's only supersonic passenger aircraft bowed out in style today.

Three Concordes landed at Heathrow airport in rapid succession just after 4pm, watched by cheering crowds.

The final Concorde to land was the celebrity-packed New York flight which touched down on the north runway at 4.05pm.

It was preceeded by a Concorde from Edinburgh with competition winners on board, which landed at 4.01pm.

Another jet carrying invited guests who enjoyed a trip from Heathrow out over the Atlantic and back touched down at 4.03pm.

The Concorde from New York entered British airspace for the last time at 3.15pm dropping below the speed of sound off the west coast of Ireland.

Among those on board the flight which left Kennedy Airport at 12.30pm were film star Joan Collins, ballerina Darcey Bussell, broadcaster Sir David Frost and Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Speaking ahead of the plane's departure, chief Concorde pilot Captain Mike Bannister, aged 54, said he would look back with pride as he powered her engines down for the last time.

"What we have tried to do is to make the retirement of Concorde a celebration - something that both the public and the airline can look back at with pride," he said.

"I am proud and privileged to be flying the aircraft today. When I power the engines for the last time at Heathrow I shall be thinking of all the people in BA who've kept this plane flying successfully for 27 years."

Miss Collins said she was honoured, excited and sad to be on the final flight: "The fact that is going to be phased out is quite tragic."

Sir David, who has been on the plane several hundred times, said he was such a fan because it was the "only way to be in two places at once".

Supermodel Jodie Kidd joked that it would be "horrendous" spending much longer making the flight in future on a subsonic aircraft.

British Airways chairman, Lord Marshall said he was "extremely proud of what Concorde has achieved over this past 27 or 28 years".

But he admitted that it marked the end of supersonic commercial flight "for some considerable time".

Today's final flights bring to an end a supersonic story that began in 1956 when Britain and France began working separately on an aircraft that would fly at twice the speed of sound.

The two countries decided in 1962 to work jointly on the project but as the original cost ballooned, the "deadline" for the first passenger flight slipped alarmingly.

The first flying test of Concorde was completed successfully in 1969 but it was not until January 21 1976 that passenger services began, with BA flying from Heathrow to Bahrain and Air France taking Concorde form Paris to Rio de Janeiro.

The last three Concordes to land today were being taken to join two other BA Concordes at a hangar at Heathrow where there will be a party tonight for BA's Concorde staff.

A series of serious setbacks for the supersonic aircraft began in July 2000 when an Air France Concorde crashed just outside Paris with the loss of all 109 people on board as well as four people on the ground.

BA will be making an announcement soon about what will happen to its seven Concordes.

From the ground, Concorde fans at Heathrow saw the distinctive silhouette of the

first plane just before 4pm as it flew into view over central London.

As it made its final approach, the engine's thunderous roar reverberated around the airport.

Two minutes later it was followed in by the second Concorde which had ventured partway over the Atlantic before returning home.

Finally, at 4.05pm, the third and last passenger Concorde, from New York, made the final landing.

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