I was there

Fifty years on from Con­corde’s first su­per­sonic flight

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - — In­ter­view by So­phie Fos­ter

I wanted to be a pi­lot from the age of seven. In April 1969, when I was 19, I was study­ing for my fi­nals at pi­lot train­ing col­lege and saw Con­corde’s first Bri­tish-as­sem­bled flight. I said there and then: ‘I want to fly a Con­corde.’

In Oc­to­ber that year it went su­per­sonic, and it was spec­tac­u­lar. Be­ing able to main­tain that speed meant Con­corde was do­ing some­thing that a mil­i­tary air­craft couldn’t. You could get from Lon­don to New York in three and a half hours.

I went on to be a co-pi­lot with Con­corde from 1977 to 1989, then chief pi­lot from 1995 to 2003. I have around 10,000 hours fly­ing Con­corde – 7,000 of which were su­per­sonic. When I first broke the sound bar­rier I was as­tounded be­cause it was sen­sa­tion-free. Ev­ery­one ex­pects the plane to shake, like in black and white films, but it doesn’t.

In this photo [bot­tom], I’m sit­ting on board Con­corde G-BBDG, which is the aero­plane that ac­quired the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for Con­corde to go into ser­vice. It cur­rently lives at the Brook­lands Mu­seum and you can take a vir­tual flight in it. Be­hind me is the flight en­gi­neer’s panel, which con­trols things like the in­takes and pres­sure. My hand is on the throt­tle, which con­trols the four Rolls-royce Olym­pus en­gines, and be­low my hat is the au­topi­lot. It’s a chal­leng­ing aero­plane to fly.

Pre-9/11, we didn’t have locked flight deck doors, so any­one could come and speak to us. Our pas­sen­gers were a cross­sec­tion of so­ci­ety: from peo­ple on the trip of a life­time to roy­alty, and the rich and fa­mous. I met quite a few stars: golfer Tom Wat­son, St­ing and David Frost.

But it was Princess Mar­garet who I re­ally re­mem­ber. I was bring­ing her and Lord Snow­don back from Bahrain and while all the se­nior mem­bers of the Royal fam­ily have flown in Con­corde, they don’t usu­ally visit the flight deck. To our sur­prise, the Princess came in for land­ing. We were over Wind­sor Cas­tle and she looked out of the win­dow and saw that the Royal Stan­dard was fly­ing. She said: ‘Oh, I see my sis­ter is home.’

Every­body – from roy­alty to busi­ness­men – was ex­cited by fly­ing Con­corde be­cause of the unique views. If you flew from Lon­don to New York in au­tumn, on an evening flight, you trav­elled so quickly you could see the sun set twice. Some­times, you could see the cur­va­ture of the Earth.

In 2003, I piloted Con­corde’s fi­nal flight, and though you’d think there would be sad­ness, it was a real party at­mos­phere. The peo­ple on board were happy to have been a part of the Con­corde fam­ily; the crew felt proud and priv­i­leged. My daugh­ter, who is also a pi­lot, has al­ways said she wants to fly su­per­son­i­cally – and maybe one day she will.

Mike Ban­nis­ter on board Con­corde G-BBDG; and on Con­corde G-BOAG in Seat­tle in 2003, as it takes its last taxi (above)

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