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Aviation Legend Finds New Home - 2004-06-29

An aviation icon has landed a permanent home on the water in New York City. The supersonic Concorde jet is expected to become a top tourist attraction.

After 27 years of soaring above the clouds, a British Airways Concorde has become part of the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum. The sleek, 62-meter-long aircraft is located on a barge attached to the ship the Intrepid, the retired aircraft carrier that houses the museum. Both are docked at a pier on the Hudson River.

British Airways permanently grounded its Concord fleet about six months ago. France, the only other nation with a Concorde fleet, retired its airplanes more than a year ago. The luxury aircraft was a victim of rising fuel costs and economic downturns. The Concorde flew at an altitude of 18,000 kilometers, twice as high as other commercial jets, and consumed twice as much fuel as a 747 jumbo jet.

Few members of the public could afford the luxury of first-class flight at a cost of more than $10,000 a flight. But now the public can tour the world's most glamorous aircraft. Mike Bannister, former chief pilot for British Airways Concorde fleet, was on hand to give tours of the Concorde as it made its debut as a museum exhibit.

"It is wonderful for us in British Airways to see the airplane that we love so much, that made so many superlatives, that made so many records, could fly the edge of space where the sky got darker," says Mr. Bannister. "You could see the curvature of the earth. You could do so many things. You could literally buy back time, travel faster than the earth rotates."

The aircraft's luxury may appeal to many visitors. But the Concorde flew at twice the speed of sound, more than 2,000 kilometers an hour, and that is bound to attract many aviation enthusiasts to the cockpit to take a look at one of the airplane's most prized items, the so-called mach meter, which shows the speed of the aircraft in relationship to the speed of sound.

"Mach 2 is about 1,350 miles an hour (more than 2,100 kilometers an hour). Mach 1 was named after the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach who first discovered that sound had a finite speed. So we traveled at twice that speed," says Mr. Bannister. "That is so fast that the earth rotated under us. So you could see the sun rise in the west at certain times of year and cross the Atlantic in 3 hours and 20 minutes."

A mach meter from another Concorde recently sold at auction for 30,000 dollars.

The Concorde is expected to attract aviation fans from around the world who want a peek at an airplane that may be grounded but it still the last word in aviation glamor.