Welcome to our very first article on the TWA Museum Guides Blog.  We're excited to bring it to you.  It was inspired by the museum's recent acquisition of a Westway model of a TWA Concorde SST.  Just one problem... TWA never flew the SST. Our guide explains:

A recent addition to the museum draws lots of attention and many questions. A seven foot-long  model of the Concorde Supersonic Transport (SST), in TWA livery, now sits in the main gallery. Yet, a model such as this, is as close as TWA ever got to operating Concorde. The airline never took delivery. So, what’s it doing here? Interesting story.

The long, complicated tale of Concorde involved national pride, economics, politics, technological accomplishment, and much disappointment.  In the 50’s, when subsonic jet travel arrived, getting somewhere quickly became foremost to both airlines and passengers.  The next step: go even faster. In 1962, French company, Sud Aviation (later known as Aérospatiale) and British counterpart British Aerospace (BAC) began joint development of a supersonic airplane that would fly roughly twice the speed of sound. The two formed a consortium named Concorde. The name Concorde later became synonymous with the SST. Airlines worldwide expressed interest, considering Concorde the next logical step. TWA and Pan Am, the dominant global carriers of the time, both stated their intent to purchase the aircraft.  Between 1964 and 1965, TWA took non-binding options for the future purchase of six aircraft. At roughly the same time, Pan Am took up options for eight. By December, 1965, several other airlines also took up purchase options. A great deal of anticipation resulted in many models of future Concordes (in many different airline liveries) appearing in airline buildings, airline ticket offices and at travel agencies.

At 7 feet in length, our new Concorde model is an impressive
 addition to our collection of TWA aircraft models

Museum Note: In Case #6, note a sterling silver Concorde miniature, presented to TWA by French president Charles DeGaulle. It commemorates TWA’s purchase agreement.

The Concorde miniature 

Early on in the Concorde story, storm clouds appeared on the horizon. SST development and production were no easy tasks. Early performance analysis raised questions about Concorde ownership and operating costs. And, suddenly there was a competitor: Boeing began development of a U.S.-built SST, which offered greater speed and capacity. TWA eventually placed options for twelve Boeing models. There was a third competitor as well. U.S.S.R. manufacturer Tupelov planned an SST which looked strikingly like Concorde.

Museum Note: At the museum, you'll also see a smaller-scale model of the Boeing SST, with a Boeing certificate of appreciation to TWA.

Model of Boeing's proposed SST, in TWA livery.  Note the certificate
 of appreciation from Boeing is on the wall behind.

Work on Concorde continued, with the first test flights taking place in 1969. All eyes were on Concorde, especially those at airlines which had purchase options. Things didn't look good. While Concorde met the record-breaking speed promise, it also delivered noisy and polluting engines, very high operating costs, and a full-blown sonic boom. Also stealing some of the thunder (excuse the pun) was the economic reality of Concorde ticket pricing. A trip on Concorde would be well out of reach for most airline passengers.

By the early 70’s, public (and corporate) interest in supersonic travel had waned. In 1971, Boeing canceled their SST, without ever producing a prototype.  The airline industry itself experienced a period of economic uncertainty.  Thus, the perfect storm for Concorde. In January, 1973, TWA (and Pan Am) canceled their purchase options. Other airlines followed. Only twenty aircraft were built, with just fourteen actually seeing passenger service with national carriers Air France and British Airways. Concorde service ended in 2003.

One that flew: An Air France retired Concorde on display in Washington, DC

Despite disappointment, TWA, and other world airlines, moved on. In place of Concorde, subsonic wide-bodied aircraft quickly became the newest members in airline fleets.  TWA successfully operated the Boeing 747, Boeing 767 and Lockheed L-1011 wide-bodies for years to come.  Supersonic travel at TWA? An unfilled promise.

Museum Note: Notice the TWA Boeing 747 adjacent to the Concorde. One aircraft became a huge success; another that never was. Enjoy both models, as well as hundreds of other pieces of TWA history at the museum. You’ll find smaller models of Concorde as well. Evidence that, more than 50 years ago, the prospect of supersonic travel aboard TWA was a real and exciting possibility.

Concorde and Boeing 747 models on display

About the model:
This Concorde model was manufactured in the United Kingdom by Westway Aircraft Models, Ltd. We're not sure how, but it eventually ended up at an airline memorabilia collectors' show in St. Louis a few years ago, where it was acquired by Cooper Weeks, a retired TWA pilot.  Captain Weeks (who has an extensive personal collection of TWA models and memorabilia) restored the model to its "as new" condition and then generously donated it to the TWA museum.

Article written by Wayne Hammer
Edited by Larry Dingman

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