Concorde's last flight: Is this the largest aerial photograph of all time?

(CNN) – On November 26, 2003, the Concorde ultrasonic plane made its last flight, returning to the airport near Bristol, southwest England, where it remained there.

As this miracle of modern engineering was launched over the Suspension Clifton Bridge in Bristol, a landmark of Victorian engineering based on the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, created a sensational moment testified by the crowds.

High in the sky, shaken by a helicopter and forged by frozen winds, photographer Lewis Whyld managed to capture it on the camera – a picture that has become the decisive shot of the golden age faster than speed-by-sound journey.

Whyld, who now works as an air captain for CNN, reveals how he got one of the most cool photos of the plane you've ever taken.

The story of the photographer

I remember someone shouting: "There is, there is the plane!" I was so excited to see it, I took a picture right away, and then I thought, "Hold on, I have to wait until it's over the bridge."

We were, I think, at about 3,000 feet, with Concorde 1,500 feet below us. I stood on the slope outside the helicopter, freezing the cold, hand on the rotors to inflate me. I could not feel my fingers, I could not feel my toes, I could not feel my face.

It was not an easy shot. I had to get out of the helicopter because of the angle we were flying. I was terrified. Frightened by the newborn of being in a helicopter only for the second time in my life, terrified of the inconvenience of the job.

I recently recruited from a service called the South West News Service, which provides images and reports from southwest England to national media in the UK and international media. When Concorde's job came, I just put my name.

The only thing my boss really told me was just "do not do this".

3,000 feet in the air


Lewis Whyld in 2003, the year when Concorde was photographed. This photo was taken in his first attempt at aerial photography. He was in an airplane with his friend, who was an instructor to fly at that time.

Courtesy Lewis Whyld

Because we were in a helicopter, there was a lot to go wrong. The effort to align everything in three-dimensional space was a challenge. The chances of an airplane flying over the bridge just in the corner we needed was small.

And, of course, the plane is moving very fast.

While today, you can shoot the camera in an explosion and get a selection of pictures, then it was much slower. I only had one shot.

The airplane was so white in the bright sunlight, on a dark background of the foliage and the river, the contrast was enormous. It would be easy to overcome Concorde and just stay with a white triangle without details.

Because the plane was traveling so fast and my focus was so small, it would also be very easy to focus on something on the ground, leaving Concorde a sad mess.

And the helicopter is constantly moving. The pilot could not fly, we had to fly in circuits – something we had to do to keep the helicopter in the air.

Trying to balance these things, you stop the opening down to get more depth of field, but this reduces the shutter speed, which means you could get blurred if you move the camera very quickly. There was a lot of mental arithmetic and I probably changed my camera settings 10 times before it reached Concorde

Record the moment

There was no trial and error. When I fly, I will have an opportunity to pull the picture.

And then he was there, a bank in the sky below me.

I stood on the helicopter slip and leaned out, pulling the strap into fine air and pulling the image just as it passed the bridge.

I did not realize that the picture would make that shape – with the face of the rock, the bridge and the crowd of all kinds flanking the aircraft, on a relatively clean background and almost mirroring the shape of the wing.

Everyone Loved the Concorde, so having that human element there meant that the picture was lifted a little more than if it were just a blank landscape back.

The Brunel suspension bridge also helped – the 19th and 20th century triumphs of mechanics together.

After the flight, we landed at Filton Airport, where Concorde had also landed. I took other pictures of what is being towed to his hangar with the pilot kneeling from the window.

Then I started editing my pictures to send them back to the office.

I remember people looking over my shoulder when I brought the picture of the bridge to my laptop. I did not really know what I had, then. I did not know it was a special picture and people would really love her. I was thinking only, "work."

Then people began to fill behind me. Other photographers said: "Well, what is the point in sending anything, because that's what everyone will use."

I had no idea then that this would turn out to be true. He ran to all the newspapers – of course they used other shots – but that was definitely the main one.

Some produced it as a collector poster. I got my mom to collect the chips they needed to send for them. Some newspapers sent me bottles of champagne. I never knew anything like that.

Durable image

The image certainly made an impression with the aviation fans.

They have contacted me with some groups who ask if I can help get Concorde again. Ironically, I thought it would be best for my photo if it never took off again, as it would not be the last flight anymore.

But it's an incredible machine. I have never had the opportunity to fly over it and, in fact, I have never really been to it. I have only seen from outside, beneath me. This was the first and last time I saw it fly.

In the 15 years since 2003, I have taken other unforgettable photos, but you always remember about your biggest successes and I guess it will always be – with inverted parties – one of my biggest blows.

Part of this is because of the image and part of it is because there was no other chance to do it. So no matter how good the picture is, it would always be Concorde's last picture. I was lucky to have been good.

I'm pretty well known for running a running photo now. So, this was my first aerial shot and since then I've coincidentally made a bit of a career position from an aerial image by making and using drones.

Even with the advancement of technology, if we turned back and we did the Concorde again, we would have to use a helicopter. The drone would not be allowed to fly over the plane and take pictures.

So we would do it in the same way, but we would have better cameras and would come back with an explosion of images from which we could choose, and not just one.

But in some ways, I'm very glad that technology was the way it was – because there's only one picture. We are a little spoiled now and having more than one version of an image can degrade its power.

Technology change

Concorde to Aerospace Bristol

Concorde Alpha Foxtrot, the aircraft photographed by Whyld, is now available to Aerospace Bristol.

Suzanne Plunkett / CNN

Interestingly, although camera technology has advanced, aircraft technology has not many ways. Then you could get to New York in three and a half hours. Of course, we have bigger aircraft – the A380 for example – but in terms of primary speed, Concorde is still the top of aviation.

If I was to take the picture today, I will also have a much higher resolution camera, so I would be able to get a wider picture that we could pull in different configurations. Then I used a relatively long lens and is really the full frame you see, this is the best way to get the highest resolution out of the picture.

Now we could use a wider lens and still find a high resolution image if we needed to get it later, but at that time we did not have that.

There are postcards of my photo and posters – there is even a cross stitch. I'm getting closer to running a limited edition print.

With modern technology, in terms of processing, we can definitely do a better print than ever before. Therefore, this may be a way to revisit it and modernize it slightly because it is 15 years. We can not change the camera, but we can change the way we work and the details we are planning.

I still have the digital negatives so we can always go back to the raw file and put it in the digital darkroom – and then run it through the incredible modern technology we have today to extract details that we could not do, t before.

An incredible opportunity


Lewis Whyld in 2017, photographing the Arctic for a CNN project that highlights the impact of global warming.

Courtesy Lewis Whyld

Looking back, I'm really surprised that Concorde's final flight would be that little fall from London to Bristol, but it was an opportunity for our photographic agency to hit over our weight, to compete with international photojournalists from New York and London.

It was a fantastic opportunity to get a big picture in a story that was not really political, it was not awesome, it was not a disaster or something like that.

Somehow, I am glad that one of my permanent images is something that is festive rather than depressing or devastating, like all the hurricanes and hurricanes I've been to, all the war zones and the riots.

In the years since the last flight, I went from Bristol to London. I worked for the UK Press Association and The Telegraph before we finally moved to CNN to take aerial photos and videos and videos from the song.

The Concorde shot was always the springboard for my career. That's where everything started. After that, people knew my pictures and offered me jobs. He rolled the wheels, moved my career forward.

I did not expect this to happen when I took the picture, but I'm thankful for that.