Photo © Roniel Magtanong
My First Concorde Flight.
BA188 / G-BOAF / 21st November 1993 / IAD-LHR.
When BA brought a stake in USAir, (now US Airways), staff were offered a promotion, for £500, five flights on USAir's internal network, along with a 747 and Concorde to get there and back.
So myself and 3 work colleagues took a BA 747 out to SF0, (cannot remember the reg, it was a -436 and we got Club, I remember a pleasant flight, I actually managed to doze too for once, though that was wine and Jack Daniels induced).
On USAir, all on 737s, we went from San Francisco to Las Vegas, then from there to LAX, after that over to Washington, this involved a stop at Kansas overnight.
All of these flights but one were in Coach, cramped with crap food and what seemed to us a fairly chaotic operation.
The only high point was getting out of Vegas, there were just the 4 of us, in First, no catering but a truly charming FA called Victoria, it was a night flight.
So, after all that, the high point of the flying, Concorde to LHR, at last I was to fly on the ultimate airliner, (at this time I was not working in the Concorde Engineering operation, that started in April 1997).
After all of the hustle and bustle, and 'hurry up and wait' of normal air travel, relaxing in the lounge was a real treat.
But all too soon, boarding, not long as the load was low, I doubt if more than 30 pax were on this flight.
So we each had a double seat to ourselves, in the rear cabin, I was in 16A/B.
How do you convey in words the excitement of the moment when we pushed back?
Then things began to move fast, the taxi was not long and before you knew it, the roar of those impressive Olympus 593 engines with reheat, leaping into the air I was reminded a bit of my first ever flight, a very lightly loaded BA 747-136 (G-AWNE) on a post maintenance test flight in 1983, but this time the acceleration kept on, and on, even when things got a bit quieter as the reheats were cut off.
The Marilake displays came to life at this point, giving the speed in both m.p.h. and Mach, as well as the altitude and outside air temp, sometimes the latter substituted by the 'Distance To Go' reading.
When we boarded OAF, it was clear that this aircraft had gone through a 12,000 hr Major (D) check, these started on OAA in 1988, the last being OAG in 1995.
The first (and as it has turned out last) of these checks included an extensive stripping down (including paint) of the airframe, rewiring in places like the intake control systems, a full structural inspection, replacement of some floor panels with new materials and much else besides.
But of significance to us was the cabin part of these checks, new leather seats, new galleys, interior decor and other improvements, OAF had completed it's Major check in the late Spring of 1993.
I had heard that there was no sensation of going through the sound barrier, the two slight nudges as the reheats were re-engaged two at a time, but the transition from transonic to supersonic was totally seamless.
Only the Marilakes gave it away, you kept your eye on these as the acceleration and climb rate was incredible to see.
It seemed to continue even after the reheats were disengaged at Mach 1.7 and 47,000 feet.
Now the drinks and first part of the meal service, I cannot remember the starter as I did not have it, but chose the steak for the main course.
The steak, that would cause a laugh, despite the low load the attentive stewardess informed Andy, one of my friends, that they were out of steak, I had mine, so did Lloyd, so Andy had something else, fish I think, but to his consternation Lloyd did not actually eat his steak, as we were on our way home on this flight Lloyd wrapped it in a sick bag as a treat for his dog, Lloyd was going to have a 'liquid' meal service.
After the meal, I settled into sipping wine and watching the progress of the marilakes as we cruised at Mach 2 climbing slowly up to 59,000 feet, the slowness being from 55,000 up to our max altitude.
Then the view, that dark sky, was that a hint of the curvature of the Earth?
But we were heading into night, when I say heading it was more like seeing a black wall up ahead of us, then it got dark, very quickly, night literally fell.
During this transition, the contrast between day and night allowed the curvature to be seen, a view almost worthy of an astronaut, stunning, mesmeric, unforgettable, why did I not have a camera on this trip?
Meanwhile, Lloyd, suitably 'refreshed' with Vodka and much else besides, was stretching his legs, conversing with a South African businessman and some minor Saudi Royals down the back.
This was not his first Concorde flight, he had done a two IAD-LHRs in the previous couple of years.
Even with me trying to absorb as much as possible of this experience, all too soon, the very pronounced deceleration and definite feeling of losing altitude arrived, even if the marilake displays had not been there, you would have known.
Before long, out of the window, the glittering view of London at night, as we swooped towards LHR.
I was not prepared for either the roar and very sharp braking when we landed, a spectacular end to a tremendous flight.
Then a quick taxi and we were back at Terminal 4.
In those days, BA had in each seat pocket a lovely manilla coloured folder, containing notepaper, pen, flight certificate and a really nice book, on high quality paper with great pics, technical details and even pictures and short interviews with BA Concorde staff, two of whom would later be colleagues on my shift when I joined the fleet.
I took two, the other being from 16B, in 1999 this package was updated, badly, It was not a part of the 2001 re-launch.
So what happened to our 'merry' friend Lloyd? We basically had to frogmarch him through customs and immigration and out of the terminal, the cold evening air of England in late November cleared his head somewhat!
An unforgettable trip.
(Oh, and the US was great too, loved San Francisco, Vegas, Washington, including the Smithsonian).
A year later, BA dropped the three times a week IAD service, loads were poor, though fairly frequent charters, usually associated with IMF meetings, still took Concorde to IAD until 2000, as well as the odd charter to Andrews AFB carrying the Prime Minister.