When the Concorde flew, Seattle had been through years of hell as the American SST was canceled. Four decades later, things look very different.

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Forty years ago today, two Concordes took off from London and Paris on the first supersonic flights with commercial passengers aboard. It was a stunning achievement for British and French engineering and cut the flight times of British Airways to Bahrain and Air France to Rio de Janeiro by half.

To many, this seemed like the future of flight. It was especially painful to Seattle. Although President Kennedy had supported an American supersonic transport (SST) to compete with the Europeans and Soviets, it was eventually abandoned over concerns about costs and damage to the environment.

In 1970, the Senate had shot down continued appropriations for the SST and Boeing soon abandoned its prototype. This resulted in 7,500 layoffs here amid an already severe “Boeing bust.” This was the era of the billboard that famously said, “Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle — Turn Out the Lights.”

According to HistoryLink, “In a final indignity, Boeing was forced to sell the sleek full-scale mock-up of the SST housed in its Development Center near Boeing Field. It was purchased by an amusement park operator and hauled to Florida.”

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Today, the Concorde is retired, one sitting in the Museum of Flight like a war trophy. The venerable Boeing 737, first developed in the late 1960s, is more popular than ever.

Supersonic commercial travel never overcame its cost problems. The Concorde was a luxury cruise, finally done in by expense, age and a catastrophic 2000 crash in Paris.

It marks another lesson in extrapolating the future based on the present.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Our new royalty

Plots our future in Davos

Their own golden rules