Fifty years ago today, on March 2nd, 1969, the supersonic Anglo-French airliner Concorde made its first flight.
It held out the promise of much faster air travel, "shrinking the globe". As Flight International noted at the time:
From the beginning of time until about 1840, the distance a man could travel between getting up and going to bed was about 75 miles… then technology produced the aeroplane, and today a man can travel 7,000 miles in his waking hours. When the supersonic era is inaugurated this 12h distance will have become 12,000 miles, which is pretty well anywhere on earth.
Sadly, due to its exorbitant capital and operating costs, that promise was to remain largely unfulfilled. Competing projects, such as the Soviet Union's Tupolev Tu-144 and the USA's Lockheed L-2000 and Boeing 2707, fell by the wayside under those economic pressures.
The Concorde entered commercial service with Air France and BOAC in 1976, but was never a commercial success, despite being the flagship service of those airlines. Its technological fragility was underscored by the accident that ultimately led to its permanent grounding. On July 25th, 2000, Air France Flight 4590 suffered a blown tire on takeoff. Debris punctured a fuel tank, which led to a fire and subsequent crash, killing everyone aboard.
The only supersonic transport currently under discussion is a large executive jet design, the Aerion AS2. Whether or not it will ever fly is an open question. The technological demands and economic burden of supersonic passenger travel remain daunting, even today.