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Concorde Special - The airline pilot - Mike Bannister

Having flown Concorde for British Airways as a co-pilot between 1977 and 1989 and as a captain and chief pilot since 1995, Mike Bannister has been at the sharp end of the aircraft for much of his career. He was deeply involved in the return to flight effort following the Paris accident in July 2000, and will almost certainly be at the controls for the last flight.

When I joined British Airways' predecessor airline BOAC in 1969 as a pilot and flight navigator on the Vickers' VC10 fleet, commercial supersonic travel was still seven years away. That momentous day came on Wednesday, 21 January 1976 and, since then, the British Airways' Concorde fleet has flown over 2.6 million passenger journeys travelling at Mach 2, at up to 60,000ft in a fundamentally hostile environment.

It is an environment whose other occupants dress in space suits, while our customers have been relaxing in lounge suits. That we have managed to do this remarkable feat over a 27-year period is a great tribute to the designers, engineers, test pilots and flight crew who brought a mid-1950's dream to life.

It is also a great tribute to the whole British Airways' team that has operated and supported the aircraft during times that were by turn triumphant and challenging. Times that have seen the rest of aviation develop from the 707 and VC10 to the 777 and A380.

It has been an immense privilege to have flown Concorde for 22 years. If I had to choose just one highlight, it would probably be commanding Concorde for Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee celebrations last year, leading the Red Arrows down The Mall and over Buckingham Palace at 1,500ft. I knew that the flying would be exciting but the team work involved, and the sight of over one million people waving as they packed the Mall, the parks and the bridges, was unforgettable.

Recently, people have started asking me what I will personally miss most when Concorde retires. It would be easy to think of an aircraft that is an absolute delight to handle, a technological achievement that may never be surpassed, a time machine that literally travels faster than the Earth rotates.

All of this is true. But what I will miss most is the people. The customers that I've met and the colleagues that I've worked with will be my lasting memories.

Among flight crew, cabin crew, engineers and ground staff, a special bond has grown over the years. A small, focused team within a large organisation - "The Concorde Family". Among those still within BA and those who have retired this bond is very, very strong. It will outlive the retirement of the aircraft.

Much has been written, said and broadcast about Concorde in the last 27 years. Such is the appeal of the aircraft that I imagine much will follow in the next 27 years and beyond. To have been involved in such a piece of aviation history makes me both proud and humble beyond words.

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