Popular Science

Behind the supersonic rise and fall of the Concorde, 15 years after its final flight

Now NASA and Lockheed Martin are trying to bring supersonic flight back to the masses.
concorde british airways flight

A British Airways Concorde performs a landing approach at Farnborough Airshow in 1978

Here’s how the typical storyline of technology goes: something new is invented, then it becomes old, and then we replace it with a more advanced version. But in rare instances tech is so advanced that we’re not actually prepared to replace it by the time it ages out of fashion. Case in point: the Concorde. It was a plane ahead of its time—quite literally, as a flight from Paris or London to New York was so fast it’d actually land more than two hours before it took off: something that’s only possible today if you cross the International Date Line. The supersonic jet was supposed to usher in a new age of transportation, but just 27 years after its inaugural commercial flight the futuristic aircraft retired with no successor—15 years ago today, in fact—and supersonic passenger travel ceased to exist.

The reasons were manifold, but typically distilled into two major problems: the Concorde was not economical, and the sonic boom it produced was such a nuisance to people on the ground that it could only fly over water. The first and last generation of Concorde reached old age before anyone had managed to solve those problems, so nobody unveiled a shiny new model to replace it. But there’s hope on the horizon. In 2016, NASA announced a new program to develop a quieter supersonic aircraft and awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin, meaning that the

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