Posted by - GDB - 18 Nov 2003 – 21:52:27
G-BOAE’s last flight
November 17th 2003
· Aircraft – Concorde
· Aircraft Reg - G-BOAE
· Flight number - BA9095C
· Flight from LHR (London Heathrow) –BGI (Barbados Grantely International)
· Number of Passengers - 75
BA staff involved with Concorde have been allocated seats on the delivery flights of the
5 flyable aircraft, to the various museums, along with a number of staff soon to retire who stay behind and decommission the aircraft prior to display.
I was to fly on G-BOAE to it's final resting place a new facility to be built on the grounds of Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados, a route BA found to be very profitable for Concorde, if a technical and flight management challenge. BGI is on the limit of the aircrafts range, though the cooler air temps at 58-60,000 feet in the tropics increased engine efficiency, thus making it possible.
My most recent Concorde flight, back in August (2003), was also the last ever Concorde Engineering Test Flight, on as it happens, G-BOAE.
Of course the BGI delivery would be my 7th and last Concorde flight, I had always wanted to do a BGI on Concorde, though not in these circumstances.
BGI can be tricky to get back from, on staff standby tickets like quite a few on this flight, I could not be away long. I am on a project to extract information from BA's Concorde Engineering Archive, to give to museums, first flights, special flights, record breaking flights, stuff like that.
I am enjoying it, it's fascinating, but soon I will be in an uncertain situation, not losing my job with BA, but where I will go next in the company, however I'm one of many in this situation.
Others are on courses for other fleets too.
However I am eligible for one 'Free Firm' ticket per year and looking at the loads on 777's coming back (to LGW) I found the BA1214 for the 17th November had only 9 seats in Club World sold so an easy choice to make. 'Free Firm' tickets also mean that if some reason you cannot get on they have to put you up in a hotel until you can, unlikely as that would be for this flight, so a no-brainer really.
Flight to BGI
An overcast day on 17th November at LHR, as instructed I put my ticket in the self service machine in T4 only to find that I was standby for the Concorde not only me either but a BA customer service lady was on hand and I chose to sit in 26D, the last row in the rear cabin as it had a window seat still available.
There would be 75 pax (passengers) on this flight.
Concorde to BGI has a 80 pax restriction due to the range and on commercial flights, the fact that as a vacation destination there is usually a lot more luggage than the New York flights.
We would have no gate and no access to the lounge, so after all meeting up a gate 1B, we were bussed to a remote stand.
When we got there, OAE was having a main wheel change and only one fuel bowser for a high fuel uplift. So a delay, no matter, a chance to savour, photograph the outside of OAE, meet and greet colleagues departing this historic flight.
As drizzle fell, most got on board, as expected a few empty seats down the back, so a double seat for me, a colleague who was one of those transferred out of Concorde last year was in seats 26A/B.
In front of him, a Concorde First Officer who was purely a passenger for this flight, in fact not many from Engineering, but a lot from other Concorde areas like cabin crew.
In front of me was a lady who's husband worked for BA, they had won a draw for BA001 or BA002 flight on standby back in April. Like many they had not been able to get on or make the last 'round the bay' on G-BOAF on the last day of Concorde services on 24th October but only one staff or relative on these delivery flights. As her husband had flown on Concorde before she had his ticket and he flew out subsonic ahead to Barbados so they could make a holiday out of it.
The crew for this flight was Capt Mike Bannister in the left hand seat, Capt Les Brodie acting as 1st Officer for this flight, the Flight Engineer was SEO Bob Woodcock. On his last flight before retirement an extra SEO, Warren Hazelby, was to act as 'narrator' over the PA for this special flight. Along with 6 cabin crew.
Mike informed us of the delay, told us to enjoy and celebrate this sad but special event, the last ever international Concorde flight, as the very last Concorde flight on G-BOAF will be to the birthplace of UK Concordes, Filton in Bristol.
About an hour late, we taxied, some pax had been moved forward because of the centre of gravity requirements differing for a BGI flight, but us in the last two rows stayed put, in fact the F/O was allowed by cabin crew a special treat, he could sit on a crew seat in the rear galley, to really experience the acceleration, noise and sprightly take off of a Concorde, in contrast to his flights in the cockpit.
By now the heavens had opened, with heavy rain and the Capt announced that we'd had permission to use the Northern runway to allow us to take off past the offices of BA's Operations Centre. I bet that caused some scrambling around of the large crowds of enthusiasts who had gathered to see us off!
At 12.15, two engines were air-started from ground vehicles, visible by me from the rain splashed window, pushing back at 12.19, then as normal, air was bled to turn the other two, Warren Hazelby told us that we would have a Centre of Gravity of 54%, achieved by shifting fuel around Concordes complex fuel tank system. We would have an angle of 14% on take off with the usual noise abatement procedure of turning, cutting off the reheats and reducing engine power by around 15%.
Soon enough, we were rolling, with the so wonderful roar, feeling of pure power and rapid acceleration of the 4 Olympus engines with reheat (after selection it comes on automatically at 85% power).
Of my previous 6 Concorde flights, all but two of them were in the rear cabin, but I can tell you that the noise and sensations from the very rear pax seats is something else!
It's always a thrill, but this was tremendous, I can see why many of those who flew on Concorde in the last few months of service just for to experience it, chose the rear seats, or 'Rocket Class' as they dubbed it.
In the pouring rain we rotated at 12.41, with heavy amounts of condensed and wet air forming of the wings outside my window.
We shot into the air, then 6 minutes later, still in solid cloud, we were at Mach 0.78 at 14,000 feet with a ground speed of 540 mph, heading out towards our and this aircrafts last ever acceleration to supersonic flight.
Before that we would as usual settle into our speed of Mach 0.95 (as Warren reminded us still 100 m.p.h. faster than the cruising speed of all other airliners) and at 28,000 feet, before over water and the transition to supersonic flight.
As usual the 'Marilake' LCD displays of the bulkheads at the front of each cabin faithfully recorded that Mach speed, altitude, MPH speed and alternatively the outside air temp and distance to go to our destination.
As you can imagine, when we attained Mach 1 (you felt the reheats come on in pairs more than usual right at the back), the cameras and camcorders in the cabin went crazy!
I was filming the displays with my digital camera (15 frames per second) with this happened, as I was standing up in the aisle forward of my seats, I nearly toppled over! Fantastic!
We attained Mach 1 with the usual utter seamlessness of Concorde, a great tribute to those who designed and built her.
With this aircraft’s amazing performance, yet smoothness and stability in this period of flight, (although with a high angle of attack) you have to study the Marilakes to see how fast you are accelerating.
There was a real party atmosphere in the cabin so I cannot give a running commentary on the timings of these figures as I've done on previous reports on more normal Concorde flights, I was too busy savouring this never to be repeated experience.
However by 13.10 (UK time) we were at Mach 1.44/39,000 feet, just 2 minutes later the magic figure * Mach 2 *, faster than a high velocity rifle bullet, 23 miles a minute. At this stage we were at 50,500 feet.
We only got out of the think cloud and saw blue sky at 30,000 feet, 20,000 feet later the sky is dark blue so different to normal flying and yes I'm savouring this too I don't expect to see it again, ever.
At 13.25 (UK Time), Distance to go (DTG) flashed up as 3630 miles.
With the great joy of the passengers all moving around, chatting, filming, the crew had a difficult but cheerful time with the service. They were wonderful and of course a sad day for them too. They with the flight crews represented the very best of British Airways and civil aviation in general.
As the medication I have been taking to control my Rheumatoid Arthritis precludes me from alcohol since early 2000, (meaning 5 of my previous Concorde flights have been 'dry' so I've very clear recollections of them). I stick to orange juice, starter for me was a selection of sliced fruits and grapes with rolls with a cake for dessert later, the main course was pasta and mushrooms.
I cannot give you the exact sauce it was coated in, it was fine, but in truth I was focused on the whole flight experience and filming and photographing it, in fact to tell you about the food I had to check photos I took on my camera's smart-card!
Frequent chats with other passengers too punctuated by often humorous chats from Warren from the flight deck naming some Concorde people on board of particular interest (the F/O seated across and in front of me was described as a "great pilot, interesting to talk to, and a good looking lad!").
As well as asides about the flight and cabin crew along with anecdotes, in truth the PA was hard to hear at the very back, with the extra noise, no matter, I chose this seat for a reason!
I told the lady in front who's husband had given her his ticket, what to look out for, what to expect, as this was her first Concorde flight.
Myself and the former Engineer opposite me had long and interesting chats with the F/O with us, he's a great guy, a relative of a UK politician and minister who was one of the few who had steadfastly supported Concorde in the early days, and even long after he left government and in more recent years Parliament.
Before becoming a pilot with BA (always with the hope of flying Concorde one day), he had been a lawyer amongst other things. We agreed on who was to blame for the aircrafts demise, including one or two within BA, as well as what it means for BA in a broader sense, also various technical issues and the great spirit within the Concorde family.
He is going for becoming a Capt on 747's. He encourages all Concorde people to take the 'Concorde spirit' and apply it elsewhere in work, leisure and life in general, every time he met anyone on the flight from Concorde Maintenance he always shook hands and had fulsome congratulations for all the work we've done.
He had a very real understanding of Engineering issues and challenges, with a sharp scientific mind.
Capt Les Brodie, a very well liked and much respected member of Concorde, spent time in the cabin, meeting, greeting, swapping stories, shaking hands, being photographed with pax, being kissed by the ladies!
People like him will be as much missed as the aircraft itself for all the hard work, enthusiasm he and others brought to this fantastic aviation adventure.
With the flights to Barbados being longer than the North Atlantic routes, (usually around 4 hours and 10 minutes), the aircraft lightens as the fuel is burnt.
On New York routes this means a top of descent of 58,500 feet, on flights to BGI and back however, you usually reach 60,000, this is just before descent and deceleration, we spent a long time at 58,000, then 59,000, 59,500 and eventually, as announced from the flight-deck, 60,000 feet. Cue intense filming and photographic activity again!
Outside, you could almost be an astronaut, with the dark sky, my view was framed at the bottom by the wings, elevons and through the window behind me the engine nozzles/reheat buckets.
While many had cases for their stay at Barbados, I travelled light for my brief stay, just a small holdall, however no luggage seemed to be in the holds, we had plenty of room in the wardrobe areas in the forward cabin, and much more in the wardrobes between the cabins, saving time and hassle both at LHR and BGI.
End of the flight
I don't know the exact flight time yet, I suspect it was under 4 hours, after top of descent as announced, the descent and deceleration, every bit as fast and the climb, the figures on the Marilakes had to be seen to be believed.
Below us was the clear blue sea, for the most part I was on the wrong side of the cabin to see the lovely island of Barbados below, however the commentary from the flight was funny and informative, along with recommendations for hotels and beach resorts.
At one stage Warren declared he could see people on the beaches below, Bob Woodcock interjected "that's Michael Winner down there!" to much laughter (this UK film director, a big, portly man, always spoke up for Concorde and was a common sight on board, especially on the Barbados flights).
As we prepared to land another busy time for the hard working crew, I got to see some of the island below. Then on finals, then the higher (than conventional airliners) attitude, a thud and we are down, then the nose wheels hitting the tarmac along with the tremendous roar of the thrust reverse which I am right in front of, so for us at the rear even more spectacular that usual. With the jarring and incredible reduction in speed the reverser and carbon brakes being used for the very last time on this masterpiece of aviation.
At BGI Airport
As we taxied it became clear that the airport was full of well wishers, people everywhere, in front of our stand once we stopped, the nose/visor was moved up and down in salute and the crew opened the DV windows in the flight deck to show a Union Jack on one side, the flag of Barbados in the other.
An official reception fronted by the Barbados Police band was awaiting us.
I think we landed around an hour later of the scheduled time of 11.35 AM.
Here is an illustrated news item from the best Concorde website on the internet:
Then leaving an operational Concorde, for most of us the very last time, into the humid 85 deg C heat of Barbados, saying thanks and goodbye to the cabin crew and Warren and Bob, "see you in the bar!" Bob told us.
I patted OAE affectionately on the door as I exited (one of the last to do so), down the steps to the crowds, band, officials, camera crews, as in a touch typical of the warmth I encountered on this Island, ladies handing our a local flower as a greeting, the contrast in climate from London could hardly be greater, clear skies with only a few high clouds.
I looked back and recorded the beautiful sight of Concorde G-BOAE on the ramp, looking as new, sleek and purposeful no doubt, as the day it was delivered to BA on the 20th July 1977, it having first flown on 17th March that year, having done (before this flight), 23,372 hrs and 16 minutes in the air, and finally, 8,383 landings.
So just behind G-BOAD as BA's highest time Concorde, which makes it by, a few hours the second highest time supersonic flight aircraft, ever.
We used her well and fully, there is some comfort to be had in that.
Maybe it was the sudden heat, maybe the realization of the significance of this moment, but my face and eyes were wet, I was not the only one I suspect.
Look after this magnificent machine well Barbados, I think they will, Concorde has been as good for them as the route has for us to operate.
As the Tech Log for this aircraft, Gulf, Bravo-Oscar-Alpha-Echo, Concorde 212, on it's previous and defect free flight back from Edinburgh on 24th October said, "She's just too good to be true".
At the bar
As I was (along with a few others), would only here for a brief time, we only ventured outside the airport to some bars opposite the main terminal, time to reflect and swap anecdotes, we met two American Airlines employees, who work at Dallas Fort Worth Airport.
They had flown down to record this event, they say they upload photos on this site, if they are reading this, nice to have met you, (I was the youngest of the group, by far!), you in your own way had the 'Concorde Spirit' to come and do this.
(G-BOAE inaugurated the brief, joint BA/Braniff service as G-N94AE/N94AE between Washington and Dallas in January 1979).
All too soon, time to ensure we were checked in for our flight home, so to the terminal, and air conditioning!
November 17th 2003
· Aircraft - Boeing 777
· Aircraft Reg - G-VIIH
· Flight number - BA2154
· Flight from BGI (Barbados Grantely International) – LGW (London Gatwick)
We were in Club World, I was in 11J, The old Club, but totally OK.
The B777 was very spacious, we pushed on time (past a now floodlit OAE), departed smoothly.
The flight, service and entertainment system was first rate, well done to the crew, as usual I hardly slept but most pax did, a very nice meal selection, I had a prawn cocktail starter, steak, potatoes and veg main course and a dessert, the attentive crew who kept us well topped up with drinks.
Breakfast was a range of choices, once lights were back on around 90 mins before arrival, I had the breakfast fruit selection but the crew provided extra rolls, and later, two bacon rolls each. Plenty of juice and tea too, as well as a bonus banana!
The excellent flight tracking system showed we made good time with strong tail-winds, cruising at on average 37,000 feet through the night, so we got in to LGW around 30 mins early, the first flight in probably.
The shortness of this stage of my report is in no way a reflection on the flight, but you all know why you are reading it in the first place!
Good to see the 'routine' sort of flight being so good.
For me, no problems with the Gatwick Express train to Victoria, then underground to Heathrow, tired but relaxed.
Thanks for wading through my long report, hope I did the whole sad, but spectacular experience some justice.