Concorde!

Photos from Heathrow, October & November 2003

This page last updated on 2 November 2005

Contents

Introduction

In October 2003, as Concorde reached the end of its life in active service, my awareness grew from “Oh, it’s Concorde” to a compulsion to visit Heathrow on purpose to see it take off and land, at all costs. At the eleventh hour I came to appreciate it especially for its unique shape and fantastic noise!

This page isn’t intended to be exhaustive in any way; the best place on the Web for all things relating to Concorde is this:

Gordon Roxborough’s superb site, Concorde SST, at http://www.concordesst.com/.

On this page is the publishable fraction of the smattering of amateur photographs, movie-clips and sound-recordings that I took of Concorde in and after its last weeks of revenue operation.

On the ground

[PHOTO: Concorde G-BOAD outside the hangars, nearly head-on (295kB)]

Above: G-BOAD basks in morning sunshine outside the south side of the Maintenance Area hangars at Heathrow on Tuesday 22 October 2003. A film crew is apparently making a documentary in front of it. (See below for footage of its last-ever flight.)

The parallel approach

[PHOTO: Concorde at 8,000 (8kB)]

At 17:57 on Wednesday 22 October 2003, two Concordes landed simultaneously at Heathrow. One was the scheduled arrival of BA002, the daily service from New York JFK; and the other was the return of a special “farewell tour” which had gone to Manchester for the day (via a supersonic blast round the Bay of Biscay). The Manchester aircraft—flight number BA9021—arrived in the Heathrow area a few minutes before the other; I saw it heading northwards over the west end of the airfield at approximately 8,000 feet (see photo) several minutes before the final approach. Then, the pair of Concordes landed on 09-L and 09-R at the same time. I was at the western end of 09-L (near the start of the realigned perimiter road where the T5 works begin) and saw both craft approach. Although it was getting dark on a heavily-overcast evening, I decided to push the ISO (ASA) setting up to 400 on the Canon Powershot G2 digital camera and make the best of it.

[PHOTO: Concorde approaching runway at dusk (307kB)]

Above: This is Concorde coming in to land on 09-L; it was the return working from Manchester, operated by G-BOAG. Captain Adrian Thompson was flying it, and has since appeared on the Forum at the ConcordeSST website (see above) to tell us about it; apparently he got told off for doing this! Should Captain Thompson or any other Concorde flight-crew be reading this, do please get in touch… ;-) The same forum also contains a transcript of the Air Traffic Control diaglogues by which the two Concordes and LHR arranged this event; these make for very interesting reading.

[PHOTO: detail from previous photo (183kB)]

Above: This is a detail from the 2272x1704-pixel original. Visible in front of the tail-fin decoration is a lamina of condensation just above part of the leading edge of the port wing; this occurs due to a region of low pressure in the vortex generated by the delta-wing.

This craft, Alpha-Golf, took off from Heathrow for the very last time on Monday 3 November 2003; it went to New York’s JFK airport, whence it will continue the following Wednesday to its resting-place at The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

[PHOTO: Concorde approaching far runway at dusk (336kB)]

Above: G-BOAD (on the return working of Jetinder’s flight to JFK!) was returning on the other runway. Not a brilliant photo but you get the idea of the parallel approach, with the near runway visible at the foot of the shot and the T5 works in the middle distance. Jonathon Beddoes writes in to tell me that he was on that flight, that the flight crew were Captain Andy Mills, First Officer James Bedforth and Flight Engineer Peter Carrigan. He continues,

“The parallel landing may never have actually occured if it hadn’t been for a car-crash on the Van Wyk Expressway to JFK that morning. On my way to the airport I got stuck in traffic and only managed to check in an hour before the flight, though I needn’t have worried as the crew were right behind me. Alpha Delta was held at the gate for a while to enable passengers booked on the flight to get to the airport, and we eventually took off at 09:38 New York time, with only 66 passengers on board.

“As a result we arrived in the Heathrow area at the same time as the Manchester Concorde, and some clever person in BA Ops co-ordinated with the tower at LHR to arrange the simultaneous touchdowns.

“As far as I am aware this had never happened before at LHR. I was speaking to a Concorde flight-crew member at the Concorde auction at Olympia who didn’t think this had happened before either. He also said that if two aircraft are inbound on the parallel runways at the same time, then generally ATC would ‘stagger’ the arrivals.

“It was quite an emotional experience to see the other aircraft flying alongside, and even the seasoned purser on my flight who had been on the Concorde fleet for 20 years was excited about what was happening and gawping out of the window straining to see the other aircraft.

“I’m very pleased others were around to watch this wonderful event, and capture it on camera/video.”

In May 2005, out of the blue I received a message from First Officer James Bedforth, who corrected Jonathon’s account slightly:

“Just came by way of your website — it was nice to re-live what is sadly becoming an old memory now.

“Just out of interest, it was not a clever chap in BA Ops Control who steered events. We were operating the 002 in ‘OAD (I was the FO on that flight) and we heard the Manchester charter as we decelerated into the UK — the FO on that flight (a very good friend of mine called Mark Jealous, now a 747 Captain) called us up on a discrete frequency and mooted the idea since our ETAs at Ockham (the arrival fix for LHR) were almost the same.

“Luckily ATC ran with the ball and did a brilliant job of sequencing our arrivals onto 09L&R. It took a little throttle-play for us in ‘OAD to catch up with the other boys, but we did it and it was fun to think that we came up with something which would be remembered.”

Many thanks for this insight, and for setting the record straight!

G-BOAG taking off for Manchester, 2003 October 22

On the morning of the parallel approach, I took both a movie and a sound-recording of G-BOAG taking off on 09-R. Because of the lesser fuel-load, the white bird had already soared to quite a height by the time she reached Hatton Cross Underground Station, but it was an impressive sight and sound nonetheless.

My Canon Powershot G2 camera (1) is capable of taking video-clips as well as still photos. Predictably, as well as my camera I also brought my MiniDisc recorder with me when going to watch Concorde.

Here is the sound-file (MP3):

And here’s the video (sorry I was busy looking with my own eyes as well as using the camera; but note coach 32 from the fleet I used to drive passing near the start!):

G-BOAD flies for the last time, 2003 November 10

[Movie-capture PHOTO: Concorde taking off (1 of 4) (27kB)]

Here is the video, with my MiniDisc-soundtrack dubbed over the camera’s own:

Following the cessation of public services, the five airworthy craft have been flown out of Heathrow for their last-ever flights prior to decomissioning and transformation into museum exhibits. They went to Manchester, Seattle, New York, Barbados, and Filton (see ConcordeSST for full details). Since I had only seen the one takeoff at close range, I was keen to see another—and preferably a noisy fully-fuelled and fully-laden (with BA staff having a final fling by invitation)—takeoff bound for New York’s JFK airport. Monday 10 November 2003, and G-BOAD’s departure for New York, was my opportunity.

[Movie-capture PHOTO: Concorde taking off (2 of 4) (17kB)]

At the suggestion of a friend, we viewed runway 09-R from the other side of the A30 in a field by Myrtle Avenue; a mound there provides enough height that the full length of the runway is visible. Around 100 spectators were in the field, and hundreds more elsewhere in the vicinity of Hatton Cross. A nearby enthusiast had an airband radio connected to a loudspeaker, allowing some of us to hear the Air Traffic Control dialogue. Some 20 minutes after the scheduled time of 1500, “push-back” from the stand at Terminal 4 was approved for flight BA 9095C; I noted that this number was never used for the callsign, instead it was Speedbird Concorde Alpha-Delta or part thereof. Finally, at 1535:

Tower: “Concorde Alpha Delta, for the last time I’ll do this, cleared takeoff nine-right, wind is three four zero at five knots.”
Captain Mike Bannister: “It’ll be the last time this aeroplane will do it, cleared for takeoff nine-right, Alpha Delta.”

After what seemed many minutes, but in fact was about twenty seconds, the familiar droop-winged bird began creating that plume of yellow exhaust, and Alpha-Delta blasted towards us. She only climbed off the runway right near the end, and then quite suddenly was flying right past us at very low altitude, pitched back and reheats ablaze, making the most phenomenal amount of noise I have ever witnessed (this includes a bunch of Formula One cars at Silverstone)! Being fully laden as we had hoped, and perhaps with the Captain not particularly desperate to ensure that Noise Abatement procedures were carried out on this final occasion (!), Concorde seemed not to climb sharply but dropped out of sight beneath the top of the hedge behind us at the edge of the field. The crackling roar of the engines as it passed was felt on one’s chest as well as heard, and I found myself shaking afterwards.

[Movie-capture PHOTO: Concorde taking off (3 of 4) (15kB)]

The sound-recording of it taking off is below, available in 20kHz 16-bit stereo WAV, and also the 44kHz version encoded with MPEG-3. I recommend that you wear headphones, as the general ambience and the stereo effect are best appreciated; however, don’t hold me responsible for ear-damage! Two seconds into this clip a two-tone car-horn on the nearby A30 sounds; to give an idea of the natural sound-level that we witnessed, you need the volume set high enough that you can hear this horn fairly clearly. Be ready to pull the headphones off though!

Just to bring home to my readers the staggering noise-levels involved, I also encoded a few seconds of the previous aircraft—a 747—taking off. The recording equipment was on the same “take” and not touched between the two clips. I made very sure to encode it in the same session and in the same way so that the relative volumes are preseved.

Try listening to this one at a good volume, before returning to the Concorde recording… then grin!

[Movie-capture PHOTO: Concorde taking off (4 of 4) (16kB)]

Technical notes on the sound and video files

The sound-recording I made of the parallel-approach landing didn’t come out very well, partly because the microphone appears to have suffered electromagnetic intereference from some sort of security loop in the perimiter fence in which I had propped the mike; so it hasn’t made it onto the web for now.

To improve the video-clips I used Windows Movie-Maker to cut out extraneous material at the start and end, and equally-importantly to replace the camera’s third-rate mono soundtrack with the stereo one from my MiniDisc. The soundtrack was encoded as a .wav at 16-bit 44kHz sampling-rate using Creative WaveStudio; this was fed into the Movie-Maker, and also converted to 20kHz sampling-rate for use on the web. Proper MP3s will be provided shortly (as at November 2005, but still waiting in June 2008) but at present some MP3-encoded WAVs are available, these should still play on many machines (and of course are 110 of the file-size).

Feedback on how these sounds come out would be welcome. Additionally, these large files are being correctly hosted at a free webhost (to avoid my having to pay for your bandwidth-usage!); should they become unavailable, I would be very grateful if you could drop me a few words in an email to let me know.

Enjoy!

(1) — Okay, I lied; although I had a Canon Powershot G2, its movie-clips could only last 30 seconds. Using my powers of foresight I borrowed my brother’s slightly-better G3 for 22 October, which can take 3½ minutes at a stretch!