I feel that today we took a step back technologically.
First let me point what we all know as the obvious. That is, Concorde was expensive to develop, maintain, and fly. It was also noisy on take off and could only fly supersonically over sparsely inhabited areas.
If only that were the story; I'm going to get a little philosophical here, but please hear me out. Concorde first flew in a year that was full of optimism for the future - 1969. Man walked on the moon... civil rights were becoming a reality and computers were beginning to make a mark in the world of science. And in the space of twenty-five years, man had gone from WWII, when commercial flying was limited to small piston powered aircraft, to supersonic flight. Yes, Concorde's commercial debut was several years away, but hopefully you get my point about the optimism. The Concorde program was also a symbol of European ingenuity and pride, that more could be accomplished when two countries worked together rather than going at it alone. In many ways, Concorde was a precursor of Airbus and other ambitious Anglo-French projects, such as the Channel Tunnel.
It also helped that Concorde was such a good looking machine. Sleek, slender and sexy, it looked different than other airliner before or after (except the tragic Tu-144) and it was instantly recognizable whereever it went. Even today when I saw it in JFK
, it looked great. It still looked futuristic, as if it was from a different time.
Fast forward to 2003 and here we are. Concorde's epitaph will read something like "Technological success; commercial disaster". With less than 20 built, including prototypes, it was well less than what BAC and Aerospatial envisioned. Thank the 1970s oil crises for that - was the program too far along when the oil crunch happened?
But as the last supersonic airliner of our age has landed for the last time, there is nothing on the horizon to succeed it. And there will be nothing for a long time because the lasting lesson from Concorde is that economics eventually rule. If there is a 'next' supersonic airliner, most agree that it will take a major breakthrough of technology to break the economic barrier that eventually thwarted Concorde.
We do not live in a hopeless time. Nobody could have predicted the internet in 1969, or that many people think of boarding an airliner today to be pretty much the same as boarding a bus - it is that routine.
I think a better epitaph for Concorde is simply: "Ahead of its time" (literally considering it landed before it arrived on westbound trans-Atlantic flights!). As is so often the case with things ahead of their time, they were not completely understood by all and were sometimes rough around the edges. I think this is true for my favourite all-time airliner... I only wish I got to sample it before it went away! R.I.P. Concorde: I'll be visiting you in the museum!