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Concorde Captain Norman Todd


Captain Norman Todd was in command of the first commercial flight by a British Airways Concorde, a flight which heralded the beginning of supersonic passenger air travel.

Left: The official handover ceremony of British Airways first Concorde following it's delivery from Filton the previous day. The location is North Bay, Technical Block B at the BA engineering base. This aircraft operated British Airways first commercial Concorde service six days later to Bahrain in the hands of Captain Norman Todd, Captain Brian Calvert and Senior Flight Engineer John Lidiard.

By January 1976 both British Airways and Air France were ready to start their respective Concorde services to the main destination of the United States, but the US Congress denied access to both airlines for environmental reasons. Anxious to start operations immediately, the French airline decided to launch its first supersonic flight from Paris to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar. British Airways chose the route to Bahrain, a sector they hoped would form an eventual route from London to Singapore and Australia.

G-BOAA taking off from Heathrow

At 11.40 am on January 21 1976, the two Concorde aircraft took off simultaneously, to the second, in a set-piece move. Todd was at the controls of G-BOAA (“Alpha Alpha”) with a flight crew of nine. Aboard the British Airways Concorde flight from Heathrow were 100 passengers, including government and airline officials, journalists and 30 fare-paying passengers. The aircraft flew over Paris and Venice to the Adriatic Sea, where Todd accelerated the aircraft to supersonic flight, achieving twice the speed ofsound (Mach 2).

Air Cdre E M Donaldson, The Daily Telegraph’s air correspondent, was one of those aboard. He recorded: “One must sample it to believe it, for here I sit in a comfortable cabin in the calm air nearly 60,000 ft up, hurtling along faster than the speed of a cannon shell, eating caviar and drinking exquisite Champagne that restswithout a ripple on my table. This is history.” The aircraft crossed Lebanon and Syria in six minutes before landing at Bahrain after a flight of three hours and 37 minutes.

The authorities in America finally gave Concorde a limited clearance to use Washington, and Todd took the first flight to Dulles Airport on May 24, flying G BOAC, landing within minutes of his sister Concorde operated by Air France, thus completing a double coup of technology and showmanship. Both flights had been completed in just under four hours.

On November 2 1976, Todd brought the Queen and Prince Philip home from Barbados at the end of their Silver Jubilee tour of Canada and the West Indies. This was a record-breaking flight which covered 4,200 statute miles to Heathrow in three hours 42 minutes at an average speed of 1,134 miles per hour. During the flight, the Queen visited the cockpit and showed a keen interest as Todd explained the flight deck activities.

The son of a civil servant, Norman Victor Todd was born in London on June 14 1924. He was educated at University College School, Hampstead, and St Andrews University, where he read Languages. He joined the University Air Squadron, volunteering after a year for flying duties with the RAF. He trained as a pilot in South Africa, and was commissioned in December 1943 before converting to bombers. In September 1944 he joined No 355 Squadron, based at Salbani, near Calcutta, flying the four-engine Liberator heavy bomber.

His first operation was to bomb Japanese targets near Mandalay. Over the next few months he attacked land communications far behind the battle area, including the
infamous Siam-Burma railway. He also attacked airfields, harbour installations and shipping; these often involved flights that exceeded 2,000 miles. On November 22 he attacked Huagang, on the Burma-Malaya border, a round trip of 2,300 miles – he was airborne for more than 14 hours, at that time the longest bombing flight of the war.

On July 10 1945, Todd took off to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Rajpuri in Siam. On the return flight one of his engines failed, and he had to make an emergency landing during which the undercarriage collapsed. It was his forty-second, and final, operation. He became an instructor on the Liberator before returning to England to train pilots at a Blind Approach Training Flight in Yorkshire. He left the RAF as a flight lieutenant in November 1946.

Todd joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) at the end of 1946 and, after a brief period in converted Liberators, he started flying the elegant Lockheed Constellation on the North Atlantic route. After five years he transferred to the Boeing Stratocruiser fleet, becoming a training captain in 1957.

After a spell flying the long-range Britannia 312 turbo-prop airliner, he converted to jets in 1965 and formed part of the Development Flight for the introduction of the 163-seat VC 10 airliner on the Atlantic and African routes. Todd was one of the first pilots to convert to the giant Boeing 747 when it entered service in 1971; he eventually became the flight training manager for British Airways’ 747 fleet.

In August 1973 Todd joined Brian Trubshaw, the United Kingdom’s chief test pilot on the Anglo-French Concorde project, as the airline’s captain appointed to assist in the flight test programme for the aircraft. Todd made his first flight in the supersonic airliner in August 1973.

He continued to fly the 747, but by 1975 he was fully involved in the development trials of the Concorde. He conducted the hot weather trials in Kuala Lumpur and various route-proving flights. During this period he established close friendships with the French test pilots and the Air France Concorde captains. By the time Todd took the first fare-paying commercial flight to Bahrain in “Alpha Alpha”, he had already flown more than 100,000 supersonic miles. He remained with the
Concorde fleet, becoming the flight training manager until he retired in 1979.

For his work with BOAC and British Airways, Todd was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air in 1973. In 1977 the Royal Aero Club presented him with the Britannia Trophy for “the most meritorious performance in aviation during 1976″.

After retiring from British Airways, he became an aviation consultant specialising in advice on pilot aspects of air
disasters. He finally retired in 1984. For 10 years he was a magistrate at Brentford, Middlesex.

Norman Todd died at the aged 80, he married Ruth Coates in 1946; she survives him with their son and daughter.

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