Rt Hon Tony Benn had direct involvement in Concorde, as a member of the UK Labour governments of 1964-70 and 1974-6. He was minister of technology responsible for aviation in 1967-70 and secretary of state for industry in 1974-5. He was also MP for Bristol and, with Filton in a neighbouring constituency, many of his constituents worked for BAC or Bristol Siddeley Engines (the latter becoming part of Rolls-Royce). He is also credited with accepting the French spelling of Concord with an 'e' for British Concordes.

Concorde was begun under the premiership of Harold Macmillan and one of his motives was to get Britain into the Common Market by developing technological links. But when the Concorde was launched, Macmillan had so little confidence that the French would keep it going that he insisted on a "no-cancellation" clause.

When the Labour government was elected in 1964, it was that no-cancellation clause that prevented it from cancelling it as the Treasury wanted. Of course, the cost escalated immensely, which was just another way of saying that it had taken longer to develop than anticipated.

In my period as minister of technology, I was forever attempting to stop the Treasury from cancelling it and they regarded me as - quite correctly - a friend of Concorde. I flew aboard the fourth supersonic test flight in Concorde in 1970, wearing a parachute and carrying a video camera to record it.

Britain elected the Conservative Party led by Edward Heath into power in 1970 - As a keen European he supported Concorde. But as Labour returned to power in 1974 the entire Whitehall establishment was determined to cancel it even at that late stage and it took me well over a year to prevent that from happening by taking the case to the Cabinet and drawing attention to the fact that a quarter of a million jobs were at stake.

It is the most beautiful aircraft ever built and I could never fully understand the dislike it evoked from so many people who never seem to bother about supersonic bombers but had an obsession with this aeroplane.

If I had been in at the beginning in the early 1960s I am not sure whether I would have picked Concorde, which inevitably was small, over the Airbus, which with mass holiday travel was bound to be the main airliner for the future.

One of my greatest pleasures, after Concorde was saved in 1975 in discussions between Harold Wilson and Georges Pompidou, was to invite the people who had built it on a fun trip round the Bay of Biscay and many of them who had built the aircraft for years had never actually been asked to fly in one before.

Of course, it was an expensive aircraft but many of the technologies have been used in other aircraft designs, just as the engines were for other purposes.

Concorde led the world - and still does since neither America nor Russia with all their skills and resources was ever able to build a supersonic airliner and operate it as Air France and British Airways have done so efficiently. I recognise - very reluctantly - that it cannot go on forever and the last flight will be very emotional for me as it will be for many thousands of scientists, engineers and craftsmen who built it.

Source: Flight International