When you mention ‘Concorde,’ the image that springs to most people’s minds is the long, dart-like aircraft in either the Chatham Historic Dockyard livery of British Airways or the Tricolour livery of Air France. Some may even remember the classic Singapore Airlines livery that was on the aircraft for a short time. Only a few will think of the garish orange of Braniff.
Whilst the aircraft never actually wore Braniff’s livery, the Dallas-based airline was the only operator outside of British Airways and Air France to operate Concorde with its own flight and cabin crews. This was done as part of a deal with BA and Air France that created a subsonic Dallas-to-Washington route which lasted only one year between 1979 and 1980.
Braniff’s connection with Concorde began in 1966, when the operator secured options for three aircraft to be based at the airline’s hub in Dallas. The vision was to use the aircraft on cross-continental routes, offering links between Dallas, LA, and 13 other key cities within a few hours. This plan was intended to make Dallas the US’s supersonic hub with the rest of the world. But it was dealt a fatal blow in 1973, when the FAA legislated to ban overland supersonic flight. Braniff cancelled their options for the Concorde the same year.
Concorde carried on in BA and Air France service until 2003. The aircraft appealed to a very niche clientele and was becoming commercially unviable for both carriers well before the tragic Air France accident. When Concorde stopped flying, it seemed like the end of commercial supersonic travel.
But in September 2018, the United States Congress passed laws paving the way for a return to supersonic flight in US airspace, and potentially overland. These moves come on the heels of efforts from Boom Aero and Aerion to bring supersonic aircraft to the marketplace. Boom is promising an airliner – for which it has orders – by 2023. Aerion is offering the AS2, a supersonic business aircraft also scheduled to begin flying in 2023. It’s being marketed as a “time machine,” which will help busy business executives save time by providing supersonic travel.
With this new legislation, the real challenge for these companies will be to reduce the shockwave or “sonic boom” of the aircraft to a manageable level, a project that NASA and the wizards at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works are partnering to solve. If they’re successful, they have the potential to be real game-changers.