Concorde Sails Into Immortality

After years of carrying thousands of celebrities and other well-heeled customers across the Atlantic, a Concorde jet is set to enter New York Harbor like millions of previous immigrants — on a boat.

The 88-ton British Airways supersonic jetliner will become the newest and most exotic addition to the aircraft collection at the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum. Ceremonies to welcome the new addition were to begin Tuesday.

Rather than sharing space on the World War II aircraft carrier's flight deck, the sleek white aircraft will occupy its own barge next to the Intrepid pier. The retired destroyer USS Edson has been moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to make room for it.

The Concorde, the world's only supersonic commercial transport, was a joint British-French endeavor that ended earlier this year when both governments retired the planes from service after 27 years, during which they were heavily subsidized and never turned a profit.

Full of promise when it began flying in January 1976, the droop-nosed Concorde entranced aviation buffs and was popular with jet setters who liked the novelty of arriving in New York earlier than they left London. Its ear-blasting takeoffs made it less popular with people living near airports.

The era of supersonic commercial flight collapsed after an Air France Concorde crashed on takeoff in Paris in July 2000, killing 113. France halted all Concorde service last May and the British followed in September.

For the Intrepid, which has carefully built a varied collection of military aircraft over the past 20 years, getting one of the 18 Concordes still in existence is akin to the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquiring a new van Gogh painting.

"We're thrilled," said Denise Nash, spokeswoman for the museum.

She said the Intrepid plans a new exhibit built around the Concorde, focusing on the history of trans-Atlantic travel.

It also will be the most important civilian aircraft on display at the Intrepid, sharing top billing with the Lockheed A-12, the forerunner to the Air Force's needle nosed SR-71 Blackbird high-altitude spy plane.

"The A-12 and the Concorde will represent the `tactical to practical' transition of military technology to commercial aviation," said Nash.

The Intrepid's chief executive, retired Marine Corps Col. Tom Tyrrell, said earlier that the loan of the Concorde will enhance the floating museum's role as a "global destination for aviation history."

Another British Airways Concorde is already at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and Air France donated one to Smithsonian Institution's new National Air and Space Museum being built at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.