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Concorde Revolutionized Air Travel. When Could Supersonic Flights Come Back?

It's been nearly two decades since the Concorde stopped flying. A handful of companies are looking to bring back supersonic air travel.

For nearly three decades, the Concorde revved up air travel by flying passengers at more than twice the speed of sound. After making its first scheduled supersonic flight in 1976, the Concorde held the world's attention by taking passengers from New York City to London in just three hours. That legacy continued until 2003, when the Concorde made its last commercial flight.

A series of issues plagued the Concorde, which was developed and manufactured by the British and French governments. For one, it was incredibly expensive to operate and used a lot of fuel. That made flights few and far between and limited them to passengers who could afford to drop thousands of dollars on tickets. In fact, round-trip tickets aboard the Concorde could cost around $12,000 each

The Concorde aircraft flying upward during takeoff

The Concorde carried out supersonic flights until 2003, when it was retired.

Getty Images

Also, because the plane flew faster than the speed of sound, it created a sonic boom, an explosive noise caused by shock waves that were a nuisance to people on the ground.

In 2000, an Air France Concorde flying from Paris to New York City crashed after suffering engine failure following takeoff. Soon after, the Concorde was retired. The last scheduled commercial flight operated by British Airways took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, heading to London's Heathrow Airport, on Oct. 24, 2003.

Decades later, a handful of companies are looking to bring back supersonic flights. In 2021, United Airlines agreed to buy 15 aircraft from Boom Supersonic, a startup working to build supersonic commercial jets. United is aiming to get those planes in the air by 2029. 

Virgin Galactic has also thrown its hat into the ring. In 2020, the company said it was teaming up with Rolls-Royce to develop a supersonic jet that could shuttle passengers at up to three times the speed of sound. 

And NASA and Lockheed Martin are really looking to shake up the game with their X-59 aircraft. The companies are teaming up to design a plane that would break the sound barrier with a quieter sonic boom. The goal is that, with the X-59 flying overhead, someone on the ground would hear a noise no louder than a car door slamming.

Check out our video above to learn more about these efforts to bring back supersonic flights and continue the Concorde's legacy.