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Total Eclipse of the Sun

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Wednesday 11th August 1999
The Pallett's Total Eclipse of the Sun
and
Audrey's Birthday present!!!

British Airways Concorde

06.00 Sheraton Skyline Hotel, Heathrow, London - Champagne breakfast by the side of the indoor swimming pool after checking in with Goodwood Travel and picking up our specially engraved Eclipse goblets. Champagne, Buck's Fizz or just plain orange juice for those who did not feel up to drinking at that hour in the morning! Hot and cold buffet breakfast was available, but most people were too excited to eat much. Sat with Leanne and her father from Portsmouth - Leanne had won the flight in a competition in the "News of the World" and didn't know she was going until the previous week! She then had to decide if her boyfriend or her father went with her - Dad won! While we were having our breakfast we were interviewed by the Press Association reporter and then the News of the World reporter (Alex) arrived and we found that he was scheduled to sit opposite to us (11B) on the second Concorde, with Leanne and her father behind him.

About 07.15 we boarded the coaches to take us to Heathrow. We could see three Concordes on the tarmac as we went past on our way to Terminal 1 - our two and the normal 11.00 flight to the USA we presumed. Once in Terminal 1 we went through security - the first time Audrey has been frisked on an airline flight - they didn't do that when we went to Israel, and then into the Domestic Departure lounge to Gate 5D. It was quite strange to see our flights on the board as BA 9091C Destination - Heathrow, ie from and to Heathrow. Red flight went through to the buses first and Vicki (BA super hostess) presented everyone with a model of Concorde just before we got on the bus.

Up the steps08.20 the bus arrived at Blue Flight Concorde. We had to get straight on to the plane as Captain Roger Mills was anxious not to miss his departure slot, and needed to take off at 0918 hrs, and said we would have time for photographs of the plane at the end. Once on Concorde - all grey leather - we found that we had got superb seats, 11C and 11D on starboard (right side) next to the bulkhead half-way down the plane. We had lots of room and two windows! Lots to keep us busy as we waited for take off; look at where we would be going on our individual flight maps - see map at end of this web page; we also all practised the seat change over for totality; look through the goodies in our personal Concorde folder and then we were taxiing towards take off. We went down the taxiway behind five or six other aircraft, then did a sharp left turn, went straight OVER the runway in front of other airplanes and then proceeded to go down to the start - a superb piece of over-taking. Captain Roger Mills then lined us up on the end of the runway facing East Anglia and we are now the end of the runway pointing east at 0916.

Cockpit09.18 The engines roar and you are pushed back into your seat - tremendous acceleration and we are airborne. A very steep climb and accelerating up to Mach 0.95 and up to 28 000 ft; the air hostesses also have quite a climb as they move towards the nose of Concorde filling champagne glasses. Some views of the ground as we climb but more and more cloud cover as we head towards the Bristol Channel and the Cornish Eclipse watchers! Soon after take off we all had a brief visit to the flight deck where we were allowed to talk to the navigating officer - a female.
Peter asked what the skin temperature was?
Once over water we accelerated to Mach 1 and continued to climb.

At 10.05 and the Mach meter registered Mach 2, with the speed at 1330 mph (twice the speed of sound and faster than a bullet), the altitude at 50,000 ft (ten miles) and the outside temperature -54°C.
Our two animals (Chrispy Duck and Henrietta Heffalump) came out of the bag and had their photographs taken with the Mach meter. You can just see them behind Peter's seat on the left photograph! (Note - Only two as Sophie was not born in 1999.)

It is now 10.34, our speed is 1,350 mph, altitude is up to 51,00 ft, outside air temperature -60°C and we turn into the line of the partial eclipse.
Excitement mounts, special solar viewers at the ready. Down as low as possible in your seats, or kneeling on the floor. Sunlight coming from top left-hand side of window, but you can't quite see the eclipse as the sun is too high in the sky. The sky has gone noticeably darker - but there is still light on the horizon and reflected from the clouds further off the totality line. Peter had expected it to go dark - but it didn't.

At 10.41 Concorde starts its 8 min 16 secs. flight in totality. We all struggle to see anything, getting onto the floor and into strange contortions.
The pilot has to bank the plane to allow a glimpse of totality - and both Peter and Audrey saw the corona for about half a minute!

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE SIGHT!

Then we change over with the other two people on port side in 11A and 11B so that they can get a glimpse of it. Then back again with the viewers on as we go out of totality and back into a partial eclipse. Got two very good views of the partial eclipse from our windows as we head back towards Heathrow.

At 11.13 the speed is up to 1,410 mph on the Mach meter - the highest it reaches - that's 24 miles a minute!
The Red Concorde was flying at 4,000 ft separation (at 55,000 ft) and departed and returned ahead of us. The excitement abated slightly, and then around comes the Goodwood Travel representative with our signed named certificates, followed by the BA Stewardesses to put out the tablecloths and it is lunchtime, plus even more champagne. Lovely touches of a buttonhole each, linen napkins, individual salt and pepper grinders and of course more champagne. Food all very nice, melon, chicken and cheese and biscuits. While we eat we feel the plane begin to decelerate and watch the altimeter descend.

For the technical, the plane's centre of gravity changes between supersonic and subsonic, so the Engineer has to use incredibly powerful pumps to move fuel around the plane, just to keep it in the air!

By 11.46 all fed and watered and lunch cleared away. Super cloud-scapes over the South-west and we hit them as we get down to 30,000 ft. Clearer and sunny as we come in over Windsor and Staines. Lined up with the runway.

At 12.02 touch down. Steep angle of 14 degrees and held nose up while reverse thrust is applied - as spectacular as the departure. Made it at the first right turn and very quickly onto the stand at Terminal One. Can't get off as there is someone parked in the way of the steps! For once on an aeroplane, nobody wants to hurry to get off. Take lots of time to take photographs of us and Concorde before getting on the bus back to the terminal.

Total flying time 2 hrs 44 mins.

Was it worth it to have the experience of seeing the Corona and Concorde?
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!

Flight plan

Post Script

    Audrey was told about this trip of a lifetime on her birthday morning (5th July 1999) while 32 floors up in the bedroom of our Hong Kong hotel overlooking the whole of Victoria Harbour!
    The words Audrey used to describe Peter at that time are not repeatable in public.

    As we now know, Concorde made her final commercial flight into London Heathrow on Friday 24th October 2003. It was a very sad day for us all. It was even more poignant for Peter and Audrey because we were sitting in the bedroom of another hotel in Hong Kong, watching live on BBC TV World, overlooking that same view of Victoria Harbour! There were tears in our eyes - we had a good sob together.

    BUT WE HAD FLOWN IN CONCORDE

    We feel privileged to have been part of the Concorde Experience.


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