Last Concorde flights touch down
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Three Concordes have touched down in London in a spectacular finale to the era of supersonic travel.
To tears and cheers from thousands of enthusiasts on board and on the ground, the needle-nosed jets landed at Heathrow Airport, west of the British capital, in a carefully choreographed curtain-call on Friday.
The flights -- from Edinburgh, around the Bay of Biscay and finally from New York -- touched down at two-minute intervals, signaling the end to one of commercial aviation's most exciting -- and expensive -- experiments.
On the last transatlantic Concorde, pilot Mike Bannister told the applauding passengers: "Concorde was born from dreams, built from vision and operated with pride."
"Concorde is a fabulous aircraft and it has become a legend today," Reuters quoted him as saying after soaring for the last time to the edge of space and flying at twice the speed of sound.
Champagne and vintage wines flowed during the flight as 100 passengers, including actress Joan Collins and model Christie Brinkley, enjoyed lobster, caviar and smoked salmon. (Full story)
CNN's Richard Quest, who also traveled on the trans-Atlantic flight, said there was a party mood on board. "Champagne was going everywhere and no one minded.
"It was very emotional as we left New York where the plane taxied through an arch of water but my favorite moment was as we flew over Heathrow and we saw thousands watching on the ground."
Tens of thousands of enthusiasts had lined the roads around the airport to see the gleaming white jets land just after 4 p.m. (1500 GMT).
One of the two jets that landed before the last trans-Atlantic flight was filled with contest winners who flew to London from the Scottish capital, and the other carried passengers on a jaunt around the Bay of Biscay, off France and Spain, before returning to Heathrow.
The plane, with its pointed nose -- and £8,000 ($11,000) a seat price tag -- was the choice of celebrities and businessmen, before ordinary passengers were given the opportunity of claiming a ride during its last months.
Concorde, which made its first commercial flight in January 1976, was a joint Anglo-French enterprise. The aircraft has been lauded for its technical innovation, but condemned for being too expensive to make as well as too noisy and uneconomic to run.
Only a handful were ever made, and only Air France and British Airways flew the planes.
Concorde failed to recover from a series of disasters, beginning with a crash outside Paris in July 2000 when an Air France plane crashed, killing all 109 people on board as well as four people on the ground.
Although Concorde was back up and running after an expensive safety overhaul, the timing coincided with the fall in passengers caused by the September 11 attacks, and a general economic downturn.
British Airways' Concorde never resumed its twice-a-day service between London and New York, and was limited to one daily journey.
Air France had five Concordes remaining after the crash, while BA had seven, although only five flew once services resumed in November 2001. Air France ended its Concorde flights in May.
It is believed the Concordes will be distributed around the world to various museums after their retirement, but one might be kept for air shows and fly-pasts.
"The decision to retire Concorde was a tough one, but it is the right thing to do at the right time," said British Airways Chairman Colin Marshall.
CNN's Quest said: "This is the first time in history that aviation history is taking a step backwards. Everyone on today's flight is well aware of that fact."