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The rise and fall of Concorde

Grace and speed, but subsonic planes proved a better bet for operators

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Will passengers ever get to fly supersonic again?

Yes, soon
Yes, but not for many years

(CNN) -- An Anglo-French project, Concorde entered service in 1976, the world's only supersonic passenger aircraft.

It was trumpeted as a new age in world travel as two of the sleek planes arrived in New York and drew up to kiss noses on the Tarmac.

Crossing the Atlantic in three hours at 1,370 miles per hour -- twice the speed of sound -- passengers from Europe could beat the time difference and arrive earlier than they took off.

Although quite cramped inside, Concorde became synonymous with champagne travel, a status symbol for the rich and famous.

It was developed throughout the 1960s by British and French aerospace engineers, using a revolutionary dart-shaped design.

The first Concorde, the 001, was rolled out in 1967, but it took two more years of testing and fine-tuning its powerful engines before it made its maiden flight on March 2, 1969, over France.

Only 20 were ever built, although the original plan was for 300.

In 1972, the plane's future looked bright. More than a dozen airlines had placed orders and the French and British governments expected to recoup their $3.5 billion development costs.

But a year later, the Arab oil embargo prompted a steep rise in fuel prices and the thirsty Concorde looked less appealing. Prospective buyers dropped out.

The world's desire to go supersonic was surpassed by the reality of subsonic flight in planes able to carry more people more cheaply, like the Boeing 747, or "jumbo jet," which first flew for PanAm in 1970.

Eventually, the British and French governments were forced to write off the cost of Concorde's production and virtually give the plane to British Airways and Air France.

Concorde in flames
The doomed Concorde takes off from Paris.

For 24 years Concorde had a perfect safety record, with services from London's Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle in Paris to New York's JFK.

Before its inaugural flight in 1976, Concorde had 5,000 hours of testing, making it the most vetted aircraft in history. A test pilot sent by the U.S. government said it "could be the safest airplane ever built."

But the July 2000 crash near Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport which killed 113 people was the beginning of the end.

Services were withdrawn until November 2001, but confidence among passengers was never fully restored. And the downturn in the airline industry, which had started before the September 11 attacks, made Concorde an expense its operators could not afford.

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