Memories of Concorde
by Echo Irving
I have always had a cool relationship with engineering: cars are useful things that get you from a to b, computers are helpful and a plague, ditto cellphones. However, for some reason I have regarded 'Concorde' in different terms. She was both amazing in technological terms and a thing of great beauty in artistic terms.
I am only a West Country woman by adoption, being London born and bred, but,
along with the Brunel Suspension Bridge, Concorde was a local marvel. So, when I learned that she was to do her final lap of honour over the Suspension Bridge, I felt I must see the two together for one last time.
With a friend, I was up on the Downs by 10.00am. It was already crowded, with 600 on the bridge itself, so we climbed up near the Camera Obscura and waited. It alternately rained and shone on us. All around people were popping champagne corks, drinking coffee, eating takeaways, and some were circulating handbills saying 'Save Concorde'. The atmosphere was warm and friendly - we had all come to worship at the shrine of the 'Great White Bird'.
Eventually she came over the coast like a silver dart, she swept up the Gorge and banked over the bridge so that we all got that marvellous view of the flying triangle, then she turned and headed towards Filton to be grounded! That, of course, was the extra magic of 'Concorde' - she appeared to have a personality - she even landed like an eagle, feet first!
It was really one of those 'I was there' days. I know that I could have stayed at home and seen her fly over my house but I wanted to see her in juxtaposition with the bridge. Be proud, West Country, be very proud - when it comes to engineering, you're the tops!
Reflections on Concorde - and the SS Great Britain
From Ruth & Roy Robson
Having just read Echo Irving’s report of the last flight of Concorde brought back happy memories when we went to Filton on 9th April 1969 in the hope that we would witness a truly remarkable event, the first flight of the prototype Concorde 002 on its way to Fairford for its testing flights, piloted by Brian Trubshaw.
When we lived at Winterbourne we were under the flight path to Filton and for months we had watched the Vulcan bomber fly over our roof-tops with the Concorde engines bolted underneath.
We positioned ourselves towards the end of the runway and with hundreds of others, waited with bated breath. Then she appeared in a lot of black smoke & noise, as she neared us she lifted off- what a sight, truly breathtaking. Then we were off to Filton Post Office with our postcard of Concorde together with the Concorde stamp to have it hand-stamped with the Filton postmark.
Then in September 1978 we went to New York. Washington, Toronto & Niagara Falls and were lucky enough to fly home from New York on Concorde. We arrived at JFK and checked in at the special designated desk & were then ushered into the special departure lounge to be served with champagne or what ever took your fancy, freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee & danish pastries and there was Concorde with her nose right up tight to the window.
Then it was time to board, we believe we had the best seats, non-smoking, second row just in front of the wing. She is very small and the windows are also small but when you are so high up there isn’t a lot to see. The sky is very dark blue due to the lack of atmosphere and you can see the curvature of the earth like looking down on a ball.
Due to the friction the fuselage expands 11” during the flight. The meal was wonderful, 6 courses, served on Royal Doulton china and served with all the drinks to complement the food in crystal glasses and silver cutlery (this changed to plastic after 9/11) not the usual aircraft meal. Smokers were presented with a cigar and non-smokers a pack of Concorde playing cards (ours still have the cellophane wrapper on).
We had taken our card with the Filton postmark and asked the steward if the crew would sign it. When he brought it back with the signatures, he said “Captain’s compliments would you care to join him on the flight deck” Would we? (This was long before the terrorist struck).
It was very small and the walls and ceiling were covered in clocks and dials, the crew didn’t have much room either, a truly remarkable experience. A couple of weeks later we each received a nice certificate with the date of our flight. We miss standing in the garden on a fine evening waiting for the vapour trail to appear over Mendip and 2 or 3 minutes later she was overhead.
Another memorable experience springs to mind was: I think it was 5th July, 1970 when together with the Jefferies family we took up positions on the banks of the River Avon under the Bristol Suspension Bridge to await the return of the SS Great Britain on its return from the Falkland Islands on a pontoon. It was in a very sorry state, and in those days not too many people knew much about the Falklands but that all changed when the Argentineans invaded.
Last November we went on a 31 night cruise on the QE2 to South America with the southernmost port of call to be Port Stanley. Apparently one of the original masts from the Great Britain is still on the quayside. But they’ve made a really good job of restoring her now, another tribute to Bristol’s history & expertise.
One of the lecturers on board was Sir Rex Hunt who was Governor at the time of the conflict. He was going to lead the Remembrance Sunday service, but, unfortunately mother nature took a hand with a terrific gale so we were unable to anchor, let alone land which was a great shame not only for the passengers, some of whom had taken Poppy Wreaths that they had to throw into the sea, but for the islanders who missed out on a great deal of business which wouldn’t be easy to replace.
We had to make do with a slow by-pass about 5 miles out. A few of us went up on deck but it was bitterly cold even though we were well wrapped up. The captain had no option but to head for the next port of call Rio de Janeiro 2 days later, where we were given a fabulous welcome from the small boats, ferries, aircraft and fire boats & the scenery was wonderful with the sun starting to go down behind the mountains and the famous statue.
Hope you enjoyed this reminiscence as we did.
Ruth & Roy Robson