H's 40th birthday was looming and what on earth could I get him? I asked this of No2 son as we were on our way to the Post Office. We walked past the travel agents and in the window was a poster displaying champagne flights on Concorde. He said why didn't I take H on one of them? So I went in and picked up a brochure, more out of curiosity than anything else.
The brochure was advertising the 30th Anniversary of the Maiden Flight of Concorde, which was a few months after H's birthday; the tickets would be a wonderful surprise on the day with something special to look forward to.
I withdrew all my savings, went back to the travel agents and booked two tickets, swearing No2 son to secrecy and I have no idea how we kept quiet about it for three months before H's big day.
H started out his working career as an apprentice aircraft engineer in the days of BEA, at Heathrow. He was at the end of the runway when Concorde took off for the very first time from the airport. He said that everything stopped and all eyes where on the aircraft as it took off.
Concorde has held a special place in my life too. In the 60s, the school I attended was about 15 miles from Filton where the emerging Concorde was based. I used to see the aircraft fly over along with a Vulcan bomber, undergoing wing trials. Our school was quite a landmark and it was as if these two aircraft swung effortlessly round the school tower. The noise was very near deafening, but a very welcome distraction from lessons!
H's birthday arrived and we waited with bated breath as he opened the envelope containing the tickets. The look of sheer disbelief on his face was a joy to see! I think we were all moved to see how much pleasure it brought him. He said he never really thought he would have the opportunity to fly on Concorde even though he had vowed that one day he would fly on it all those years ago.
We now had to wait patiently until the day of our trip dawned. H had booked a car to take us to the hotel where we were to meet up with the rest of the passengers for a champagne breakfast prior to our excursion flight. The travel company's staff greeted us warmly and after breakfast we were bussed out to Heathrow and taken to the Concorde departure lounge, a very exclusive area of Terminal 4.
We were a bit puzzled as to why the aircraft wasn't at the end of the boarding gate, which we could see from the lounge windows. It was then explained that very little of Concorde could be seen if it was in the normal boarding position and that it had been towed out to a quiet area of the apron so that we could have look round her from the outside and take photos. A very thoughtful touch and typical of the care and attention we had been shown throughout the day.
As the airside bus took us towards Concorde it became apparent as to how small the aircraft is, but also how sleek. Her four Rolls Royce Olympus engines appeared enormous in comparison to the rest of the aircraft. We were allowed time to take photos and then ushered on board, although we didn't feel rushed in any way we were informed that Concorde always had a very specific time slot and that other aircraft would get held up if the flight was in any way delayed.
Inside it was amazing how narrow the fuselage is, the seats are only two deep either side of the aisle, which did not allow any room for passing and the serving trolleys were narrower than on other aircraft.
Once settled into our seats, safely buckled up, Concorde began the taxiing into position for takeoff. As we looked out of the rather small windows we could see that even the ground staff stopped to watch Concorde take off - they must see it day after day but still paused in their work to watch the aircraft.
As the wheels left the ground, the familiar G force pressure was more exaggerated, but Concorde was a long way off her cruising speed. We kept our eyes on the airspeed display and enjoyed the champagne brought round by the cabin crew.
As soon as we were over the Severn Estuary the Captain warned us that we would be climbing and accelerating very fast towards supersonic speed as soon the afterburners kicked in. The sensation was extraordinary, it was like taking off all over again, only the G force was far greater and the angle of climb steeper as the aircraft headed off towards the Bay of Biscay. The airspeed indicator increased to Mach 2 and we were flying on the edge of space, whilst sipping champagne and eating a 3-course lunch. How the other half lives!
When we had reached cruising altitude we had a 'tour' of the cockpit; it was so cramped that we could only take it in turns to stand in the door and look in. The door had been left open during the flight as the windows are small and little can be seen out of them once Concorde is airborne, so we had a view down the length of the aircraft through to the windscreen.
Throughout the flight we were given a running commentary be the Chief Training Officer for British Airways, who explained that the Chief Pilot of British Airways was flying Concorde on this special Anniversary flight. It was abundantly clear how much they enjoyed flying the aircraft and how proud they were of it.
The flight lasted an hour and a half, when it was time to begin the return leg, the Captain said that we were half way to New York and I think all of us would have liked to carry on or at least gone round Biscay once more.
All too soon we were landing at Heathrow and again the ground crew had stopped to watch her land. Our wonderful day and trip of a lifetime was drawing to a close, but we were so thrilled to have flown on Concorde.
That day has a special poignancy for us now that Concorde is being withdrawn from service. Both H and I feel saddened at the prospect of no longer seeing her fly over our house twice a day, a very beautiful aircraft will no longer grace our skies. At least we shall have very fond memories of her and a very special day.