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Until you can break the sound barrier again, visit a Concorde

A return to passenger supersonic flight is still many years off, if it ever happens. But you can pretend to fly at Mach speed now by seeing a Concorde in person.

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A Concorde aircraft in a museum in Bristol, England

The last Concorde is now at a museum in Bristol, England. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Though it's been almost 20 years since the glamorous supersonic Concorde landed for good, dreams of letting ordinary people break the sound barrier again have never fizzled completely. Last week, those hopes got a boost when United Airlines said it would order 15 aircraft from Boom Supersonic, a Denver-based startup that is developing a new faster-than-sound airliner called the Overture

Projected to fly at Mach 1.7 (slower than Concorde's speed of Mach 2.2) on sustainable fuel, the Overture doesn't exist in a real form yet. Boom Supersonic says it'll roll out the first prototype in 2025 for a first flight the next year. Passenger service could then begin in 2029, the company promises.

Now before you get too excited (I'm partially talking to myself here), there are a lot of caveats. Before the Overture could carry a paying passenger, the Federal Aviation Administration would have to certify it as safe. And if Boom or any airline wants to fly the Overture on anything other than overwater routes, it'll have to persuade a long list of countries (including the United States) to overturn or modify bans on noisy sonic booms over land. (NASA and Lockheed, though, are working on quieter sonic boom technology).

United Boom Supersonic plane

The Boom Supersonic Overture, pictured here in United Airlines colors, exists only on paper right now.

Boom Supersonic

United is being cautious as well. It says it would operate the Overture once it meets the airline's "demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements." Part of that will be to make supersonic flights affordable to more people than the privileged class that could drop four figures for a one-way Concorde flight without flinching. 

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The Concorde delivered a fast but not exactly spacious ride across the Atlantic Ocean.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

All of that means we're still a long way from being able to fly on a Concorde successor, if we ever get to at all. But if you dream of experiencing what it's like to be up close to a Concorde and even sit inside one, you have plenty of opportunity now. Of course, you'll never leave the ground, and champagne may not be served, but one of the most gorgeous airplanes ever to fly is still a sight to behold.

Where to see a Concorde today

From 1965 to 1979 only 20 Concordes were built, of which 18 still exist. What of the other two? One Air France aircraft (Concorde 203), the same plane that was featured in Airport '79: The Concorde, was destroyed in a crash outside Paris in 2000 that killed 113 people. The other (Concorde 211) was scrapped in 1994, with many of its parts auctioned off in 2003.

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Concorde safety cards and a catalog from the 2003 auction of the parts from a scrapped Air France plane (including the nose cone).

Kent German/CNET

Two aircraft are on display at London Heathrow (Concorde 208) and Paris Charles De Gaulle (Concorde 215) airports, but they aren't open to the public. You might see them as your subsonic flight taxis to the runway, so keep your camera ready. You can visit the remaining 16 planes at museums in the UK, France, Germany, the US and Barbados. And for most of them, you can see the cockpit and walk through the cabin to feel just how narrow it was (I've noted where you can't get on board). I've seen 10 of them so far, and I have a life goal of visiting them all. 

Here they are in the order they were built. Just about all the museums listed here have reopened from COVID-19 lockdowns at least in a limited form, but check locally to be sure. Some may require that you book ahead of time.

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The cramped Concorde cockpit is a sea of controls. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Prototypes and development aircraft

The first six Concordes were preproduction aircraft that never carried passengers. Instead, they were used to test the airplane's design and obtain certification from aviation safety agencies. Three were built in France, and the other three were built in the UK. If you visit, keep in mind they won't have a full cabin design that passengers would've experienced. 

Musée de l'air et de l'espace -- Le Bourget, France

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Concorde 001 (France) -- First flight: 1969.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The first prototype to fly and the first to go supersonic, Concorde 001 announced the Anglo-French plane to the world and flew for 812 hours. In 1973, it was fitted with scientific equipment and portholes on the top of its fuselage to observe a total solar eclipse over Africa. From an altitude of 56,000 feet, far higher than most planes fly, it observed the eclipse for 74 minutes. Retired in 1973, it's still painted with a logo for the mission. Located outside Paris at Le Bourget Airport, which also hosts the Paris Air Show, the Musée de l'air et de l'espace (Air and Space Museum) is an easy day trip by train from Paris Gare du Nord. 

Fleet Air Arm Museum -- Yeovilton, England

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Concorde 002 (UK) -- First flight: 1969.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The first British Concorde flew 438 times before being retired in 1976. The Fleet Air Arm Museum is 120 miles west of London in Somerset, England. Though you can get there by train, it's a long taxi ride from the station, so it's best if you bring your own car. I have yet to visit, but CNET's Geoffrey Morrison has

Imperial War Museum -- Duxford, England

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Concorde 101 (UK) -- First flight: 1971.

Kent German/CNET

The next two Concordes had design refinements, like a different wing shape, a higher fuel capacity and modified engines. Concorde 101 flew 269 times and was retired in 1977. It now lives at the spectacular Imperial War Museum outside of Cambridge (take a taxi from town). It's well worth a visit for the vast collection of civilian and military aircraft from as far back as a century. The American Air Museum tells the story of US bomber crews during World War II. 

Musée Delta -- Athis-Mons, France

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Concorde 102 (France) -- First flight: 1973.

Musee Delta

The second French-built Concorde was the first to cross the Atlantic and the first to visit the United States when it flew to Dallas in 1973. For several years it also was painted in British Airways colors on one side and Air France colors on the other. It was retired in 1976 and was moved to the Musée Delta next to Paris Orly Airport 12 years later (saving it from the scrap heap). I haven't been there yet.

Aeroscopia -- Toulouse, France

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Concorde 202 (France) -- First flight: 1973.

Kent German/CNET

By this point, the development aircraft had assumed the final Concorde design and wing shape. Concorde 201 was the first to land in New York, on Oct. 19, 1977. Retired in 1985, it can be seen today at Aeroscopia, a huge aeronautical museum next to the main Airbus factory (Toulouse is where the French Concordes were built). Another must-stop for aviation geeks, Aeroscopia tells the history of Airbus and has a varied aircraft collection. You can get there by public transit from central Toulouse.

Brooklands Museum -- Weybridge, England

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Concorde 202 (UK) -- First flight: 1974.

Kent German/CNET

The last preproduction aircraft flew 1,282 hours before being retired in 1981. For a few years it was used for spare parts, but it got a new life when it moved to the Brooklands Museum in 2006. Sitting outside in the English weather, it looks a bit more worn than some of its siblings, but the guided tour is fun and you can even experience a Concorde simulator (car people, the museum also has plenty to see for you). See it on a day trip from London Waterloo by train.

Production aircraft

Like the developmental aircraft, the 14 production Concordes were half built in the UK and half in France. Though scheduled passenger service began in 1976, regular flights to New York from Paris and London (the aircraft's intended markets) didn't begin until November 1977. All the passenger-carrying planes were identified by the last two letters of their registry (like "Alpha Alpha"). Most were retired in 2003.

Runway Visitor Park -- Altrincham, England

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Concorde 204/Alpha Charlie (UK) -- First flight: 1975.

Kent German/CNET

The first Concorde delivered to British Airways, it was the flagship of the airline's fleet (its registry, G-BOAC recalls BA's predecessor airline, the British Overseas Airways Corporation). It's now housed in a glass hangar at the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. You can choose from a few different tours, one of which includes a glass of champagne. There's also a cool viewing platform right next to the airport runway. Get there via a short taxi ride from the airport's train station.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

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Concorde 205/Foxtrot Alpha (France) -- First flight: 1975.

Kent German/CNET

The second Air France Concorde (the first was destroyed in the Paris crash) operated the first commercial flight for the airline when it flew from Paris to Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 21, 1976. Today you can see it at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport. You can't get inside this one, but don't let that stop you from seeing this amazing museum. Dulles is a fitting final home, as it saw occasional Concorde flights from 1976 to 1994.

National Museum of Flight -- East Lothian, Scotland

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Concorde 206/Alpha Alpha (UK) -- First flight: 1975.

National Museum of Flight

Alpha Alpha inaugurated BA's service to Bahrain, also on Jan. 21, 1976. Retired in 2000, it's now housed at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield in Scotland. The museum's not far from Edinburgh, so you can get there by car or public transport. It's still on my list to visit. 

Technik Museum Sinsheim -- Sinsheim, Germany

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Concorde 207/Foxtrot Bravo (France) -- First flight: 1976.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Foxtrot Bravo is one of the Concordes leased by Braniff International Airways for subsonic flights between Dallas and Washington Dulles from 1978 to 1980. It's now displayed in spectacular fashion at the Technik Museum Sinsheim in Germany. Also there is a Tupolev Tu-144, Concorde's less successful Russian rival. I still have to make it to Sinsheim, but Geoffrey has been there.

Aeroscopia (again)

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Concorde 209/Foxtrot Charlie (France) -- First flight: 1976.

Kent German/CNET

Back in Toulouse at Aeroscopia is Concorde Foxtrot Charlie. It was stranded in New York for three months when all Concordes were grounded after the crash. Unlike its counterpart in the museum's hangar, this one you can see only from the outside.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum -- New York

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Concorde 210/Alpha Delta (UK) -- First flight: 1976.

Geoffrey Morrison

Between 1977 and 1981 Alpha Delta flew occasional flights between London and Singapore. Though it had to fly subsonically over India and Malaysia, it was even painted with Singapore Airlines colors on one side. Then on Feb. 7, 1996, it made the fastest Concorde Atlantic crossing when it flew from New York to London Heathrow in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. I have yet to see this one either, so let Geoffrey again be your guide.

Barbados Concorde Experience -- Barbados

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Concorde 212/Alpha Echo (UK) -- First flight: 1977.

Barbados Concorde Experience

In 1999 Alpha Echo flew over Edinburgh with the Red Arrows to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Barbados might seem like an unlikely retirement home for a Concorde, but the Caribbean island had weekly BA Concorde service from 1987 to 2003. The museum is now closed indefinitely. If I miss one Concorde, this may be it.

Musée de l'air et de l'espace (de nouveau)

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Concorde 213/Sierra Delta (France) -- First flight: 1978.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The other Concorde at Le Bourget was briefly painted in a livery to promote Pepsi in 1996 and performed the last Air France commercial flight, on May 31, 2003. It also holds the record for the fastest Concorde flights around the world in both directions: 32 hours, 49 minutes and 3 seconds westbound in October 1992, and 31 hours, 27 minutes and 49 seconds eastbound in August 1995. 

Museum of Flight -- Seattle

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Concorde 214/Alpha Golf (UK) -- First flight: 1978.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Alpha Golf was the last BA Concorde to carry passengers, when it flew from New York to London on Oct. 24, 2003. A few days later it flew to Seattle via New York (having received permission to fly supersonically over northern Canada) to its resting place at the Museum of Flight. One of the best aviation museums in the world and with an emphasis on Boeing's history (the company's first factory is located on the grounds), it also has the original Boeing 747.

Aerospace Bristol -- Bristol, England

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Concorde 216/Alpha Foxtrot (UK) -- First flight: 1979.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The last Concorde built, Alpha Foxtrot also was the last to fly when it was ferried to Bristol Filton Airport on Nov. 26, 2003. For years it sat outside at Filton (and open to the public), near the factory where all British Concordes were assembled. Then in 2017 it was moved into Aerospace Bristol, a new museum home. It's a cool place, which you can reach by public transit or car. It can be a long trip from London, but Bristol is a delightful city to explore (also see the Clifton Bridge and the SS Great Britain).

How many Concordes have you seen? Let me know in the comments.