On March 2, 1969, Concorde 001 took off from Toulouse airport for its first-ever test flight. The event marked the culmination of years of work by engineers from the British Aircraft Corporation and France's Aerospatiale. Preliminary design work on a supersonic airliner had begun in 1956. In 1962, the British and French governments embarked on a joint venture to produce Concorde.
The aircraft was a technological marvel. Its powerful Rolls-Royce-Snecma jet engines generated more than 38,000lbs of thrust each. This resulted in a cruising speed of more than twice the speed of sound, at a height of up to 60,000 feet. Concorde flew so fast that it stretched between six and 10 inches as the airframe heated up. Its distinctive droop nose was lowered during take-off and landing to improve visibility.
The relatively small fuel tanks meant that it couldn't compete in the trans-Pacific market but British Airways made a commercial success out of the London to New York route over the next quarter of a century. A typical transatlantic flight took three hours and 20 minutes, compared to subsonic journey times of up to eight hours.
But Concorde wasn't the only supersonic passenger aircraft being developed during the 1960s. The Soviets were working on the Tupolev Tu-144, a delta-winged aircraft very similar to Concorde in appearance. The Soviets won the race to be first to make a supersonic flight by a passenger aircraft. The first Tu-144 supersonic flight was on June 5, 1969 - Concorde didn't fly supersonic until October 1 of that year. But the Tu-144 was plagued with safety problems and only carried passengers on commercial flights between 1977 and 1978.
Concorde had an excellent safety record until July 25, 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport, killing 113 people. After costly safety improvements, the aircraft resumed operations. But Concorde was withdrawn from service in October 2003, following a series of technical problems and a down-turn in the market following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.