Concorde ready for take off
From Salisbury to New York on Concorde.
As Concorde celebrates its 40th birthday, read how one Wiltshire man's dream came to life, as he bought supersonic travel to Wiltshire for the first time.
First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercially for 27 years. With a cruising speed of 1,350 mph, its unmistakable roar and sleek, sexy lines the Concorde became an icon of aviation history. Flying at record speeds, often in less than half the time of other airliners, meant jet-setting celebrities and royalty were regular flyers.
The pianist entertaining the travellers
Due to the thrust and weight of Concorde many runways weren't long enough to allow the plane to take off. But Boscombe Down near Salisbury has two runways, one measuring 3.2 km in length and the second 1.9 km, perfect for Concorde.
Stephen Bath from Salisbury was a travel agent in the hay-day of Concorde and decided he wanted to charter a Concorde to fly from Boscombe Down to New York. Not easy as the MOD rarely open the aircraft testing airfield to the public, let alone a plane full of excited tourists. Stephen said:
"I rang the MOD and was quite keen not talk to a junior member of staff who would say no straight away, so I spoke to the most senior person I could and immediately, to my delight they said they would move heaven and earth to make it happen. Because everyone in the aviation business loves and admires Concorde."
Boscombe Down began aircraft testing at the airfield when the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment moved from RAF Martlesham Heath in August 1939. The site has witnessed many significant developments in the British aviation industry, including trials of many aircraft flown by the British armed forces since the Second World War. But has never been used commercially and in 1998 didn't even have public toilets. Stephen said:
The Boscombe Down Concorde itinerary
"As the base was totally private, we had to sort out our own check-in. So I drove to the Boscombe Down area to take a look around. I went to see owner of The Inn at High Post and asked if we could use his pub as a check-in, and he said yes."
A return ticket from London to New York cost around £6,000, so when Salisbury travel agent, Stephen Bath put together his package it was an instant sell out. The trip included a flight from Salisbury to New York on Concorde, four days in New York with a sight seeing tour, then a return journey home on the QE2 for £2,895.
In 2009 Stephen still thinks the package would sell out in a matter of hours. He said: "If we could have Concorde again we could name our price and it would sell out. As soon as Concorde was grounded supply rose ten fold, and people were cursing that they had never got round to flying."
But the Concorde nearly didn't take off!
The Concorde flight took off on August 12th, the BA staff dressed in their blue and red uniforms stood behind the bar at the Inn at High Post, a black-tie pianist, surrounded by candles welcomed travellers to the pub and a coach was waiting to whisk passengers through the gates of Boscombe Down, straight on to the plane.
For security reasons no photographs were allowed to be taken but at the last minute the trip was nearly abandoned as temperatures began to rise. Stephen said:
"Security took longer than usual and the coach had to fight its way through the media pack that had gathered to capture the moment. As the temperatures rose throughout that sunny Wednesday morning, the captain radio-ed us to say if we don't take off in the next half an hour, the plane's engines would be too hot to take off.
"Because jet engines like cold air coming in the front, when it gets too hot it reduces the power, so we got away with it by about 30 minutes!"
This was the first time Concorde had ever taken off in Wiltshire, the package was a great success and Stephen organised a similar trip on Wednesday 7th July 1999. In total 440 people flew from Boscombe Down on Concorde.
last updated: 17/04/2009 at 12:16