Concorde (a story of making meaning)

As I sped through security in my own line and walk into the Concorde lounge, the air was noticeably charged with excitement—and there were only four others there, so far. By the time the lounge began to fill with people and I was snacking on hors d’oeuvres and champagne, the air was electric—the kind small children feel waiting for Christmas morning or for their turn on an amusement park ride. In fact, I felt a giddiness that I can’t really explain and that I haven’t really felt in a long time.

That’s what it was like waiting to board the Concorde.

My attention was interrupted by an audible gasp from an elderly woman sitting near me. I looked to her and then followed her eyes out the window as the plane was towed to the gate. Her reaction was honest and reflexive. I knew by looking into her eyes (her hand was over her mouth) that she had looked forward to this for years—that she didn’t think it would ever actually happen. She had spoken for more than half the people in the lounge who were all peering silently out the floor-to-ceiling windows as this graceful plane was towed into place.

It was just a matter of time, now.

Boarding the Concorde, I was in a bit of a haze. I tried to take in every sensation, inevery sense, and imprint it in my memory. This was the one and only chance I’d have to ride this legend and I felt pretty lucky. The Concorde stopped flying forever just a few weeks later.

Inside, the plane was cramped and small, the leather seats nice but no bigger than standard economy seating. To be honest, I didn’t really notice. Nor did I care that the 30 year old entertainment system carried exactly 7 channels of music—hardly advanced by 2003 standards. None of it seemed to matter. As old as these planes were, as unimpressive the interior styling and accessories, once we taook-off and the afterburners kicked-in, I felt that I was a part of the future—even if it was a retro vision of a future past.

The flight itself? Ordinary.

There was no real sensation of Mach 2. The red LED display ticked past two times the speed of sound but the flight itself didn’t feel any different than any other. The service, of course, was wonderful, as was the food and drinks, but by the time we were finishing-up, it was already time to land in New York. The view out the tiny windows was hazy so I couldn’t even make out the curvature of the Earth.

However, none of that mattered. Nor did it matter that this was an expensive ticket and that it wasn’t even enough to make the flight profitable despite the full airplane. That the sensations of the flight were rather ordinary was surprising but not a disappointment. I think, perhaps, this is the way supersonic travel should be: ordinary, regular, routine. Every flight should be supersonic; should steal time from the Earth’s rotation; should inspire lifetimes of anticipation. Every flight should be this special and this ordinary.

The landing was the only truly spectacular part of the flight. When the plane crossed over land in the USA, barely three hours after leaving London, it made two steep banks and is on the ground in minutes. I know how long the approach takes in a 767, 777, 747, and 757. It’s fairly slow and meandering. Not the Concorde, however. Bank once and when the plane levels you are noticeably lower to the ground. Bank again, and you’re right at landing altitude. A minute later and you’re landing. The entire process was fast and deliberate. You can imagine what the plane looked like as it cuts through the air. People on the ground would still look up and marvel at this beautiful form—unlike most every other plane in the sky.

The first thought that came to my mind as I walk off the gantry: Let’s do it again!

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