Concorde Completes Test Flight

Actress and singer Hayden Panettiere sings the Star Spangled Banner at the dress rehearsal for the 27th Annual PBS "A Capitol Fourth" concert celebration on the lawn of the United States Capitol Building on July 3, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Other stars slated for this year's performance are Tony Danza, Little Richard, Dierks Bentley, Yolanda Adams, Elliott Yamin and Erich Kunzel leading the National Symphony Orchestra.
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It's been almost exactly a year since Concorde service was abruptly and tragically halted, reports CBS News Corespondent Mark Phillips. Tuesday's flight was billed as a major step in getting the world's only supersonic civilian aircraft airborne again.

"After many hours of work by our engineering team, it's good to have the aircraft flying again," BA chief executive Rod Eddington said after a newly modified Concorde landed safely at a Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire, England.

"This is an important day for everyone at British Airways and we look forward to carrying customers again soon."

The supersonic fleets of both Air France and British Airways were grounded after an Air France Concorde crashed outside Paris on July 25, 2000. The crash, which killed 113 people, was blamed on an a tire which exploded after hitting an object on the runway and which ruptured the plane's fuel tank.

Spewing flames and smoke, the plane smashed into a hotel near the town of Gonesse just minutes after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. All 100 passengers, mostly German tourists, were killed along with nine crewmembers and four people on the ground.

Authorities believe a stray metal strip on the runway ripped one of the jet's tires, and rubber debris smashed into the fuel tanks, causing a leak and fire that brought the plane down.

British Airways has since strengthened the wiring in the undercarriages of its seven Concordes, lined the fuel tanks with bullet-proof Kevlar and made other changes meant to prevent fuel leaks. The French tire maker, Michelin, has also developed a new extra-resistant tire to prevent punctures.

Even with the new tires, a four-man crew checked the runway for any debris before Tuesday's test flight.

The flight plan, intended to duplicate the operating conditions of Concorde's London-New York route, took the plane out over the Atlantic after it left from London's Heathrow airport at 2:18 p.m. local time. It turned around southwest of Iceland and then headed back to Britain.

With chief Concorde pilot Capt. Mike Bannister at the controls, the sleek aircraft touched down at 5:40 p.m. after a three hour, 20 minute flight. Members of the public gathered at the rain-lashed airfield to welcome the supersonic plane.

"It was absolutely fantastic to get back behind the controls. I have been flying Concorde for 22 years but this was the best flight ever," he added. "I always thought that Concorde could fly again, and now I am even more confident that we shall see it flying again in the near future."

He said BA would stage another test flight as modification work continues.

"We are trying to look forward and take Concorde back where she belongs - at 60,000 feet up."

The British carrier says it hopes to fly its Concordes commercially again by late summer.

Air France, which operates five of the planes, said on Monday that it is too early to predict when commercial service might resume, but it has suggsted it hopes to fly again by autumn.

"Air France and British Airways hope this resumption will be possible, but it is up to the authorities to decide," it said, referring to civil aviation authorities in France and Britain.

The British Concorde had already conducted a satisfactory taxiing trial at Heathrow. On Tuesday's test flight, it reached a top speed of 1,350 mph - around twice the speed of sound - and climbed to 60,000 feet.

The plane will remain in Oxfordshire for checks by engineers.

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