Europe

Andre Turcat, pilot who flew first Concorde, dies aged 94

  • 5 January 2016
  • From the section Europe
Media captionAndre Turcat pilots Concorde's maiden flight from Toulouse in 1969 - as the BBC's Raymond Baxter reported

Andre Turcat, a French test pilot who was the first person to fly the Concorde, has died aged 94.

As chief test pilot for the programme, Turcat took off from a Toulouse airfield in March 1969 in Concorde 001 - the prototype for the iconic passenger jet.

And he was at the controls again six months later when the jet broke the sound barrier for the first time.

He died on Monday at his home in Aix-en-Provence in southern France.

Cameras captured the moment Turcat piloted the futuristic aircraft out of its hangar. The 27-minute test flight was uneventful, with both the jet's distinctive drooping nose and landing gear remaining down throughout.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Andre Turcat (second from left) made aviation history at Toulouse in 1969

Turcat's life spanned the rise and fall of the famous jet. He was a witness to the excitement that attended its development and the controversy that heralded its decline.

He remained a staunch defender of the plane even after an Air France Concorde crashed near Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in 2000, killing 113 people.

But the crash meant the end of supersonic passenger travel.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Turcat was behind the controls the first time the Concorde broke the sound barrier
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Turcat piloted the prototype at the Paris Air Show in 1969

Born in 1921 in Marseille, Turcat was deployed in 1947 as an air force pilot in the French war in what was then Indochina, before becoming a test pilot.

In the 1950s he became chief test pilot for France's specialised aviation centre. When the Concorde programme - a joint venture between France and the UK - began, Turcat was the obvious choice for chief test pilot on the French side.

He accepted the job in 1964 and held it until 1976. He was later given - along with his British counterpart Brian Trubshaw - the Ivan C Kincheloe Award for outstanding test pilots.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Turcat's opposite number in Britain was test pilot Brian Trubshaw, who flew the first British Concorde

Turcat took early retirement aged 54 and turned his hand to politics. He became deputy mayor of Toulouse from 1971 to 1977 and a member of the European Parliament from 1980 to 1981.

In 2005, Turcat was made a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, one of the highest civilian decorations in France.

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