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An Air France Concorde soared out of Paris yesterday for the first time since a tragic July crash and landed at a military base for tests aimed at returning the supersonic fleet to the sky. The flight came almost six months after the unprecedented crash of a Concorde on July 25. Two minutes after takeoff, the Air France jet plunged in flames into a hotel outside Charles de Gaulle airport. All 109 people on board and four people on the ground were killed. After the crash, the 12 existing Concordes, operated by Air France and British Airways, had their airworthiness certification withdrawn and were grounded until safety could be assured. British Airways last flew its Concordes in August. The only other Concorde flight since then was in September, when an Air France jet stranded in New York returned to Paris. In Istres, technicians from the plane’s manufacturer, EADS Airbus, are to conduct at least 15 days of high-speed ground tests on the aircraft that simulate fuel leaks, Air France executives said at a news conference Tuesday. The tests are intended to help the plane’s owner and manufacturer better understand the chain of events that led to last year’s crash. Investigators believe the accident happened when a metal strip lying on the runway gashed one of the Concorde’s tires, sending rubber debris hurtling toward fuel tanks and triggering a fuel leak and fire that brought the plane down. British Airways has begun outfitting one of its seven Concordes with new fuel tank liners, designed to contain fuel if the plane’s wing is ruptured. The liners, made of rubber and Kevlar employ technology currently used in military helicopters and Formula 1 racing cars. British Airways said this week that if tests were successful the supersonic jets might resume commercial flights by springtime. However, Air France has said it was still too early to set a timeframe.
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