The friendly banter and jokes ceased abruptly as the door closed with a loud thunk. Now it was all professional and serious as the checklists were called off and completed.
In my place of great privilege, I realized the need for me to become almost invisible. I could at least be totally silent and still as I observed the well-coordinated activity as we began to move.
The atmosphere had become not tense, but one of complete concentration and attention to detail. Apart from the outside roar, and the occasional calls of my three companions, it was totally silent.
Then we arrived at the appointed place and there was a momentary pause before I heard the words:
“All set? Three, two, one, NOW” and with an ear shattering ROAR we hurtled down the runway, our speed building rapidly and the co-pilot calling “speed building, 100 knots, V1…rotate….V2” as we shot into the air, like a bullet from a gun, banking steeply to avoid the noise monitors and climb away from the populated areas and out over the sea, flying parallel with the south shore of Long Island.
Sitting on the flight deck, I’d been obliged to wear a shoulder harness as well as the seat belt, but as I felt myself propelled forward by this incredibly powerful aircraft, I was held firmly in my seat.
Never before had I felt such power or such passion!
Everyone involved with Concorde shared a particular passion for her, no matter what their unique input might be. They were like a special club or guild, maybe, and everyone in that group was treated equally by all the others. Captains and baggage loaders, engineers, operations officers, load controllers, cabin crew and gate agents and all the others. We all loved that magnificent aeroplane.
Each afternoon I got off duty at just the time the later flight was pushing back, on her way to London, and I would wait in the parking lot to see her take off. It never ceased to excite me and make me want to cheer.
On my days off, when I lived in Long Beach, I would listen for the familiar roar coming from nearby JFK, then I would go out to my balcony and watch as Concorde climbed up and turned to come along the beach. Then I would wait till she was out of sight.
Was I particularly in love with Concorde because I was one of the “team”? Because I had a lot of good friends who crewed the aeroplane? Maybe, but Concorde excited people the world over. To this day people flock to lectures about the supersonic lady that halved the duration of trans-Atlantic travel.
Concorde did not only operate scheduled flights.She was frequently chartered to carry wealthy groups of people and there were numerous round-the-world charters. Crew members from charters and from regular flights as well have endless amusing tales to tell. Some not so amusing but with Concorde everything always seemed to be astonishing.
Though Concorde was always synonymous with luxury, the cabin was cramped and the seats, while comfortable, were nothing special, but by the time you’d had a meal, you were preparing for landing. No time to become uncomfortable!
And Concorde did not only carry wealthy passengers. BA operated many short “flight to nowhere” that carried people who simply wanted the experience of flying on this wonderful aeroplane.
The pilots who flew Concorde were especially in love with her. She was the other woman in their lives. She was built with “old” technology. She was an aeroplane to be flown by aviators. She was not computer driven and her pilots considered her to be a magnificent creation.
Having said she was “the other woman” in her pilot’s lives, I should mention that BA did have one woman Concorde pilot, Barbara Harmer, who seemed equally enthralled with the aircraft.
(Air France also had one woman pilot Beatrice Vialle.)
Like all aircraft, Concorde had her share of technical problems, but she seemed to be an amazingly tough lady. At one time, for some reason, she went through a phase of problems with the rudder.
Specifically, large bits of it fell off in flight. Yet the pilots were not aware of this alarming fact until notified after landing by some other astonished pilot watching as she taxied past. She flew just fine without a rudder! Once, this happened to a flight which landed at JFK and as Concorde was a quite rare bird, obtaining parts wasn’t always easy. However, at JFK we had the luxury of begging help from Air France.
A friend of mine took this picture of Concorde Alpha Bravo after it was returned to service.
Air France kindly allowed us to make repairs using part of one of their rudders, but given time constraints and all sorts of other technical reasons, it wasn’t possible to apply the BA logo.
As far as I know, the passengers never even noticed, even though the Concorde lounge had a full view of the aircraft.
This was in the late 1990’s, I can’t remember when, specifically.
It wasn’t long after the rudder incident that I found myself compelled to transfer my job to Seattle where the below photograph was taken of Concorde Alpha Golf on her final approach to Boeing Field where she lives in her retirement.
When I think back to the move I made in 2000, which was completely unplanned and totally impulsive, I wonder how I did it, how I moved away from everything I knew and was familiar with, to take a job that was equal in pay and status, but could not, in fact, have been more different. There should have been so many draw backs.
But the one I never thought of, which may well have restrained the impulse, was Concorde. I loved being part of the Concorde operation, even in my small way and I missed her terribly in Seattle.
But, as I’ve said before, it was my good fortune to be away from JFK during the years 2000-2001.
The Concorde which crashed on 25th July, 2000 belonged to Air France, but those of us who had been involved with the aircraft one way or another felt the loss deeply. Somehow, being far away in Seattle gave me a detachment I could not have had working at JFK.
The following year, I watched in horror on TV the events of 9/11. Many of my friends could see the twin towers from the terminal where I worked, from the Concorde Lounge, in fact. It would have been even more devastating, that close.
What prompted this nostalgic little tale?
Yesterday I mentioned the power of a storm. What I should have added was passion. I certainly had the thought in my mind.
The power and passion of a big storm has so much energy, so much “fire”, and that was the feeling I had when I sat in that seat behind the Captain, roaring down the runway for take-off.
It’s the feeling I had each time I saw the aircraft coming and going whatever logo she bore.
She was special. I am so lucky to have known her.