Bangor International Airport sees a unique clientele when it comes to the aircraft that land on its runways. Even from its early days as Godfrey Field in 1927 through its days as Bangor Army Air Field, then Dow Air Force Base, Bangor International Airport has always had a front row seat to witness history in the making. November of 1974 was no different. That year, Bangor would see what would become the first supersonic transport aircraft land on its runway. The aircraft, otherwise known as…The Concorde.
The idea for a supersonic transport aircraft was envisioned as early as the 1950s. However, it would be the early 1960s before the project would takeoff (no pun intended!). In fact, an international treaty between France and the United Kingdom was signed in order to drive construction of the aircraft. The aircraft was named for this agreement. Concorde. In both English and French, the word concord/concorde means an agreement or union. Of course, not without dispute, the “e” had been removed several times by the British! However, in the end the “e” was replaced giving the Concorde its French spelling.
Between the years of 1966 and 1979 a total of 20 Concordes were built. The first two were termed prototypes. Continuing the notion of joint development, one prototype was built in France by Aérospatiale and one was built in the UK by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). That’s right – the prototypes were built in different factories, and in different countries! For the next 7 years, the Concordes would go through more development and flight tests than any other aircraft. It would be 1976 before the Concorde would see its first paying passenger.
Out of the first two prototypes, the British one, known as G-AXDN or Aircraft 101 (01), would be the one that would visit Bangor in November of 1974. When Concorde 01 landed on Runway 33 at 10am on November 7, 1974 it had made the east-west crossing of the North Atlantic in only 2 hours and 55 minutes – a new record! Reaching a top speed of Mach 2.07! (almost 1600 mph) – Wicked Fast! Concorde 01 only stopped for fuel and breakfast before continuing on to Washington State for de-icing system proving trails at Moses Lake, but its presence was the talk of the town! City officials and sightseers arrived at the airport to see the “world-shrinking airplane.” In fact, the Bangor Daily News estimated that over 5000 people were watching from vantage areas all around the airport! And, the workers on the Bangor Hilton (now the Four Points Sheraton) had the best view from the ninth floors of Bangor’s then tallest building.
The “co-pilot” Eddie McNamara remarked upon arrival that he could see the airport from 40 miles out. With their speedy crossing, the pilots and the 46 technician crew members were able to have breakfast twice that day; first, near London and second, at the Pilot’s Grill in Bangor! Remarking on the historic landing, Airport Manager Peter D’Errico commented, “It certainly gives BIA identity, and certainly a lot of pride. It has demonstrated the airport’s capabilities in handling this modern piece of equipment.”
Although flying at supersonic speeds across the Atlantic Ocean enroute, the Concorde started to throttle back to subsonic speeds as it reached Maine. As it was coming in to land, it was said that the aircraft looked like a “huge swan with outstretched wings” as it leveled off and its nose droopy flying at 135 knots over the municipal golf course to its touchdown on Runway 33.
When the Concorde departed later that day, it headed west to Washington for comprehensive de-icing trails. But, the aircraft and its crew knew they’d be back to Bangor the following month. Concorde pilot John Cochran remarked he thought “Bangor has a very impressive airport.” And, another impressive thing that Bangor had would ride along with them to England. On board for their return were live Maine lobsters for their dinner tables! Those are some lucky lobsters to fly in the Concorde! (Even though their demise would be a big pot of boiling, British water!)
Today, Concorde 01 is in the Duxford Imperial War Museum outside of London, UK. It sits content and quiet, but surrounded by other historic aircraft. When I visited Duxford in 2015, I noticed straight away that Concorde 01 had a link to Maine. It bears two different “Maineiacs” decals on its fuselage, even noting its journey on November 7, 1974 through Bangor!
The Concorde was temporarily grounded after only one accident on July 25, 2000, then permanently ground in 2003. Although efforts to fly the aircraft again are underway, the likelihood of that is not very probable. If you were fortunate enough to see the Concorde while she was flying, you’d instantly recognize her grace and beauty – and her speed! Truly a stunning work of art!
Want to see a Concorde on display? Both Washington, DC and New York, NY have Concordes – and direct flights from Bangor. In Washington, DC, the Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) houses an Air France Concorde. For the British Airways variant, head to New York, NY at Pier 86 where the Concorde sits on the aircraft carrier, the Intrepid.
For more fascinating facts about the Concorde, check out these links:
Bangor Daily News, November 8, 1974
Bangor Daily News, December 13, 1974