Pan Am Once Test Flew the Concorde and Hooned the Heck Out of It, Here's the Wild Story

The art of hooning is a sacred ritual for petrolheads. But the sacred ritual of pushing a car's performance to the absolute limit and having a whale of a good time in the process isn't limited to just things on four wheels.
Pan AM Concorde 9 photos
Photo: Meccano Tri-ang
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In the world of civilian and military test pilots, hooning is just as much a way of life as it is for Ken Block or Travis Pastrana. In the case of Pan Am and the Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde SST, the hooning took place at nearly three times the speed of sound. And yet, it was seemingly all for nothing in the end. This is the story of the Pan Am Concorde that never was.

The Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde was an all-time great achievement in civil aviation. A luxurious, exclusive, and supremely capable supersonic transport airliner that promised to bring the future of the airline industry into what the presumed present day of the late 1960s was supposed to look like. As far back as 1962, Pan Am personnel were in talks with the joint Anglo-French Engineers in charge of the project to be the first in line when the finished airplane was ready to fly.

Even before Air France and the British BOAC Airliner signed on the dotted line for their Concorde orders, Pan Am had already placed an order reservation for six complete airframes. By 1969, Airlines the world over were salivating at the thought of keeping a supersonic airliner in their fleet. One can only imagine when Pan Am higher-ups got their first look at the finished Concorde, they all jointly said something to the tune of "You SOB, I'm in."

Global airlines like Lufthansa of Germany, Iran Air, Sageha of Belgium, Qantas from Australia, Japan Airlines, and even America's Continental, American, and Trans World Airways (TWA) waited in line, licking their chops all the while just to get up close to Concorde. As funds for Boeing's 2707 SST dried up and the Soviet Tu-144 "Concordski" failed to be so much as a decent paperweight, all eyes were directly on what many believe is the last amazing thing built at least partially in Great Britain.

Pan Am Concorde
Photo: British Airways
On November 8th, 1969, mere months after Americans first landed on the Moon, Pan Am finally had the chance to evaluate Concorde properly. Of course, with Pan Am being America's premier airline of the era, Concorde absolutely must have passed their test pilot's rigorous and grueling test trials to be accepted. Long story short, it was time to hoon the absolute hell out of the thing. Safe to say, Ken Block would be proud.

With Captain Paul Roitsch and Flight Engineer John Anderson at the controls, Pan Am's first and, as far as we can tell, only series of flights on Concorde pushed the plane to its absolute limit. These tests happened to be performed on Concorde 001, the very first prototype to leave the factory. During the tests, Pan Am's crew flew the Concorde up to an altitude of at least 41,000 feet (12,496.8 m) or perhaps even higher. Way above typical jetliner cruising altitudes.

Astonishingly, legend has it that Pan Am crews were able to push Concorde beyond the estimated top speed of Mach 2.04 rated by Aérospatiale/BAC. Eventually reaching a maximum speed of a scarcely believable Mach 2.6 or just under 2,000 mph (3,218.7 kph). That's not only face-meltingly fast for an airliner, but almost pushing up on SR-71 Blackbird territory for the title of the fastest manned jet airplane ever to fly.

All the while, Captain Paul Roitsch was quoted saying something to the tune of, I never want to put this bird back down. So then, in the most basic definition of hooning, it appears as if Concorde didn't disappoint. Based on all of this, one would assume delivery of Pan Am's Concordes was all but a lock. But sadly, concerns about fuel prices, profitability, environmental sustainability, and sonic booms being, for lack of a better term, really annoying, meant this wasn't the case.

Pan Am Concorde
Photo: NASA
According to Captain Roitsch himself, "Ultimately, all of the U.S. airlines canceled their orders for the Concorde for economic as well as environmental reasons. John Anderson and I were tremendously disappointed." By 1973, all American airliners that'd placed orders for Concorde decided not to pursue them any further. Only Air France and BOAC ever took delivery of the prized airplane. Since 2003, the type's been relegated to static museum service.

Today, you can go and see museum exhibits of the Concorde in places across North America and Europe. Like at the USS Intrepid Air and Space Museum in New York City, a place we here at autoevolution is more than a little familiar with. Check out that piece if you want to learn more.
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