I was there
Fifty years on from Concorde’s first supersonic flight
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)