Thursday, June 26, 2003

Concorde set for final trip, by river, to German museum



By Melissa Eddy
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Air France's Concorde F-BVFB lands at Baden-Baden Airport near Karlsruhe, Germany, Tuesday after leaving Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
(Associated Press photo)
BADEN-BADEN, Germany - With final roars from four engines, an Air France Concorde completed its farewell flight ahead of a journey where none of the supersonic jets has ever gone before - to a German museum, where it will stand next to its former rival, the Soviet-made Tupolev 144.

Thousands of onlookers cheered, clapped and shouted "Bravo" as Concorde F-BVFB touched down at Karlsruhe-Baden-Baden airport in southwestern Germany just after noon Tuesday, the last of almost 5,500 flights since the plane began service April 8, 1976.

After departing Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, the plane broke the sound barrier one last time on a loop over the Atlantic before heading southeast to Germany with about 40 passengers, many of them Air France employees.

"I felt very sad," pilot Jean-Louis Chatelain told reporters after leaving the cockpit. "It was very emotional to have flown my last flight with Concorde."

Mechanics at Baden-Baden will remove the Concorde's wing tips, nose, tail and tail cone to prepare it for a trip down the Rhine River to the Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum - a privately funded fantasy world of modern technology ranging from an original Corvette and a 1952 Oldsmobile "Rocket" to steam engines, World War II-era fighter planes and a jumbo jet.

The F-BVFB will take up residence beside the Tu-144, known in the West as the "Concordski," in what the museum boasts will be the only place where both jets will be on show side by side.

Unlike the Concorde, which Air France flew for 27 years before retiring its fleet of five supersonic luxury jets last month, the Tu-144 flew for less than 10 years before being retired in 1978.

Air France said it donated the jet to the museum for a symbolic $1.15 in tribute to 75 Germans who lost their lives aboard the Concorde that crashed on July 25, 2000, after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle.

The crash, which killed 113 people, led to a 13-month suspension of all Concorde travel. Flights resumed after safety checks, but the plane never recovered and ultimately fell victim to the demise in luxury air travel. British Airways, the only other company to fly Concorde, is stopping supersonic service in October.

One Air France Concorde has already gone to the U.S. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Another landed during last week's Paris Air Show at Le Bourget for permanent display at the French Air and Space Museum.

An aeronautics exhibit park in Toulouse, France, near where the aircraft was originally built, will host another. The fifth will stay on display at Charles de Gaulle.

F-BVFB, which made its last flight Tuesday, flew around the world between Sept. 1-21, 1988, covering 29,561 miles in 38 hours and 13 minutes. In total, the plane had clocked 14,771 flying hours over 5,473 flights.



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