"The moment as Concorde spreads her wings over Britain for the first time". That was how Flight International described the historic maiden take-off of the UK-built Concorde prototype in our 17 April 1969 issue.
The first flight of Concorde 002, from the BAC production plant at Filton, near Bristol, took place on 2 April, ending less than 25min later with a landing at Fairford. Although the UK-built Concorde 002 had been flying since 2 March, it didn’t take away any of the excitement and anticipation around the event in the UK.
"Outside the airfield, crowds ranged themselves along the length of the runway; the police had a hard time controlling the traffic; and with the temperature in the seventies the ice-cream vendors did good business," reported Flight.
At the controls for the maiden sortie were BAC chief test pilot Brian Trubshaw and co-pilot John Cochrane (above). The 002 crew was completed by flight engineer Brian Watts and flight-test observers Mike Addley, John Allan and Peter Holding.
"Suddenly a buzz of excited comment from the crowds indicated that Concorde was rolling. Would this be the take-off? After a run of as little as 4,000ft to 4,500ft daylight appeared under the wheels," wrote Flight. "Concorde was airborne at 2.24pm at a weight of about 240,000lb and lifted gently and smoothly away, climbing less steeply than 001 did on its first flight at Toulouse."
The delta dart was flown straight out over the Severn Estuary, climbing at 220kt (415km/h). It then made a gentle turn to the right and set course towards the east. It then levelled out at 9,000ft with the Canberra chase aircraft close by.
Concorde 002 on final approach
"Turning on to finals, speed was reduced to 170kt for the approach. Both radio altimeters failed to operate and the pilot had to judge the height entirely for himself. The braking parachute was streamed and wheel brakes were used only at the end of the run," Flight reported.
Cochrane, who sadly passed away in 2006, recalled to Flight International in 2003 his memories of 002's first flight:
"This was the first time I'd flown on the aircraft. While Trubshaw was down in Toulouse taking a trip on 001 with Turcat, I was banging out the engine runs on 002 at Filton.
"My main memory of the first flight from Filton to Fairford was how uncomfortable it was, as we were decked out in safety equipment – hard hats, parachutes and the like. The major drama was on the way into Fairford when we nearly blew it as both radio altimeters failed. These were very necessary pieces of equipment because of Concorde's large pilot-eye-to-wheel height of about 42ft (13m) – when we touched down I thought we were still at about 200ft."
After landing at Fairford, Trubshaw confirmed to Flight the good low-speed qualities noted so far, praising in particular the very precise nature of the pitch attitude control.
Dr Archibald Russell, chairman of the BAC Filton, was upbeat about performance, saying: “We do believe the aircraft are performing even better than estimated at this stage. We are very confident."
Cochrane, who went on to play a key role in the Concorde flight-test programme, recalled some interesting trials in the UK pre-production aircraft 101, which joined the programme in 1971: "When testing the intake control system on 101 we carried out horrendous manoeuvres to prove it could endure a jet upset and the engines wouldn't surge. That involved doing push-overs at speeds well in excess at Mach 2; push-overs to zero g, combined with sideslips of up to 5s held for periods of about 20 to 30s, and then trying to milk the aeroplane out of the horrific dive that we were in.
"Nobody had ever certificated a civil supersonic aeroplane, so we wrote the rules as we went along, and exposed the aircraft to abuse testing of the most extreme sort in order to prove to the authorities that the aircraft could withstand situations far beyond that in which any airline pilot could find himself."
Watch the video of Concorde's nose-and-visor mechanism in action here