Two icons meet at the Royal Navy Fleet Arm Museum in the UK. Picture: Supplied
Two icons meet at the Royal Navy Fleet Arm Museum in the UK. Picture: Supplied

Fifty years since they moved under their own power for the first time, two machines developed in the same era of ambitious, groundbreaking engineering have met as they celebrate a special anniversary: the Concorde 002 and the Porsche 917-001.

On April 9 1969, the first British-made Concorde began its maiden flight from Filton Airfield in Bristol, England.

The airframe was a prototype that would go on to complete 438 flights, created to test an aircraft that would set new speed records at the time, peaking at 2,179km/h, and for which new materials and technologies had to be invented to make the ambitions of an Anglo-French group of engineers a reality.

In the same month, the Porsche 917 was approved for sale as a Group 4 sports car. Created by a small team of inventive engineers, the 917 was an enormous leap forward for the car industry, with its innovative aerodynamics, compact yet enormously powerful 12-cylinder powertrain and adoption of materials previously exclusively the realm of aircrafts.

The 917 gave Porsche its first overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 and 1971. The Can-Am variant was capable of a 390km/h stop speed, and the 917’s legendary status was further cemented by being featured in the 1971 Steve McQueen film Le Mans.

The meeting of these two iconic machines took place at the Royal Navy Fleet Arm Museum at Yeovilton on the south coast of England, where the Concorde that made that first flight is now on display among an array of historic aircraft.

In marking the special anniversary, two people whose job it was to be at the controls met for the first time, guiding each other around their respective machines. 

Richard Attwood won Le Mans at the wheel of a Porsche 917 in 1970 and knows the car better than almost any other driver. His contemporary, piloting the fastest passenger aircraft yet created, was Captain Tim Orchard, who is joint world record holder for the shortest time for the flight between New York and London, a distance covered in just two hours and 52 minutes.

“It was fascinating to be shown the 917, which was very much a car of Concorde’s era and I think developed with the same devotion and focus. The brutality of the car, its simplicity, are striking, and from what I hear it was quite a formidable machine to drive,” said Orchard.

“At the same time, it was a pleasure to show Richard around an aircraft which I was fortunate to fly for nine years. Concorde was unlike anything I’d flown before or since. Part jet fighter, part refined transatlantic cruiser. Its enormous reserves of power and its sheer competence were extraordinary. The Porsche and Concorde are kindred spirits, both created with enormous care by a small team of passionate people, yet capable of performance that was unheard of before they arrived.”

Attwood commented: “Like a lot of people I’m a big fan of Concorde and always wish I could have flown on her — I’ve missed my chance! The 917 and Concorde seem so pure and simple from the outside, but both mask an array of engineering ingenuity that is still extremely impressive by today’s standards.”

After its tour of the UK, the first Porsche 917 was parked next to the very last Concorde to be built and the last example to be flown. Concorde Alpha Foxtrot landed for the final time after 6,045 flights at its new home, Aerospace Bristol at Filton, where the British-built Concordes began their journey 50 years ago, marking the end of an era.

The Porsche 917-001 resides in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.