Relics of Supersonic Flight and Saxon Subsistence at Isleworth

The combined effects of the Twin Towers disaster in New York in 2001, the resulting economic downturn, and the Air France tragedy at Paris all conspired to bring to an end the operating life of the world famous Concorde. The last British Airways commercial passenger flight was on October 24th 2003 and the fleet was decommissioned soon after and another page in the history of civil aviation was turned.

The fleet wasn’t physically dismantled or left in mothballs in desert airstrips like more mundane aeroplanes. Public interest in this unique jet has always been high and scrap value was minimal. The retirement of such a famous brand had to be handled sensitively as there was, and still is, good PR value to be derived for BA. Even today there are lobby groups trying to get her flying again! Sadly, a hopeless cause.

One plane is on show at the Barbados Concorde Experience, another at Brooklands Motorsport and Aviation Museum, near Weybridge and one, GBOAA, was to go on display at National Museum of Flight in East Lothian just outside Edinburgh. With no valid CAA certificate and no crews to fly her, getting the plane to Scotland from west London was always going to be a challenge.

The Surface Journey

It was eventually decided that it would be possible for a surface journey to Scotland to be undertaken if the wings, undercarriage and tail were removed. This was a somewhat undignified method of manouvre for this previously graceful flying machine. This highly difficult task was achieved with much planning and measurement of clearances.


Concorde image by kind permission of Dr Chris Riley

It was carefully executed late at night whilst roads were quietest. The BBC images illustrate the difficulty of this process. The 40 tonne fuselage was carefully driven out of Heathrow on a custom built trailer costing £1million. It travelled eastwards along the A4 to Gilette Corner, before turning to starboard and being squeezed down Syon Lane to the Thames at Isleworth Ait, just east of the London Apprentice public house. From here it was transferred onto a purpose-designed heavy barge for the remainder of it’s journey to Scotland. Whilst it’s fuselage is relatively narrow, Concorde was a very long aeroplane – not much shorter than a B747 – and one can only imagine how difficult it must have been to get it safely to this position on the foreshore at Isleworth.

The Thames Journey

During Concorde’s illustrious career there will have been occasions when scheduled departures were delayed by inclement weather and technical issues but never, surely, from the vagaries of tidal rivers! Yet this was the situation at Isleworth. Safe transit demanded a river level high enough to clear the many gravel beds of the Thames, and yet low enough to slip under what I counted as no less than 25 London bridges. It took eight days before conditions were favourable and the barge could slip away downstream. It’s unlikely that any operational “cock-ups” could have been hidden successfully.


Isleworth fish trap in the 1990’s

Hundreds of thousands of spectators and well-wishers were watching very carefully from both banks of the river as Concorde made her way, in stately fashion, along the serpentine course of the Thames, eastwards through London. Within a few metres of the point at which Concorde made it’s significant transition from land to water is the site of a well-known Saxon fishing trap with its open mouth facing downstream. As far as the Isleworth Ait is concerned it will be a long time before another supersonic aircraft graces the foreshore but I’ll have to wait until the next low tide to see what remains of the Saxon fishing trap…