The following appreciation was
given by Duncan Simpson at Hugh Merewether's funeral on 25th September
at Hawkinge Crematorium...
I think it unlikely that Hugh parted with much information about his
working life - his contribution to aviation - to his family or friends,
so I shall try to give a brief account of his outstanding career in the
test flying business.
On leaving school, the Diocesan College in South Africa, Hugh joined
the South African Navy and after secondment to the Royal Navy was
taught to fly by the US Navy in 1944-45, eventually leaving the Service
to join Barnes Wallis at Vickers Armstrong's research and development
department at Weybridge. Whilst there he obtained a first class honours
degree in engineering at London University.
Merewether, 1924 - 2006, Test Pilot
this time he continued flying, with the RAFVR from 1947 to
1951 and with No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air
Force, commanded by Neville Duke, from 1951 to 1955. Neville recognised
Hugh's ability and invited him to join Hawker Aircraft Ltd as a test
pilot, which he did in 1954 after a year of freelance flying, ferrying
fighter aircraft to the Middle East and the Sub-Continent.
soon brought his engineering ability and flying skills to help sort out
the first generation of powered flying controls in the Hunter. For the
next six years he continued to work on developing the Hunter which
resulted in the aircraft becoming one of the most outstanding of its
generation, being exported to twenty countries world-wide.
of his most remarkable achievements was the Hunter erect and inverted
spinning programme which Hugh both devised and carried out. As a result
such spins became a standard educational exercise at the Empire Test
Pilots' School for some thirty years. Those tutors at the School who
flew with him will not forget his calm presence in the left-hand seat
whilst rotating upside down, loose straps hanging upwards, with his
pencil tied to the correct length of string so he could reach it when
note writing was required.
Hugh's biggest challenge came in
October 1960 when he and Bill Bedford commenced flying the P.1127
prototype at Dunsfold. To the development of this remarkable aeroplane
Hugh brought his flying skill, his engineering intellect and total
dedication. Many of us watched in admiration as Hugh and Bill tackled
this early flying; they alternated, step by step, in developing new
techniques and helping Ralph Hooper and the engineers at Kingston solve
each problem as it arose. Six prototypes were built and nine production
Kestrels saw successful service in a three nation (UK, USA, FRG)
squadron evaluating military V/STOL. Nobody else in the world had
succeeded in producing a fighting aeroplane with this capability.
have but skimmed the surface of this painstaking development work which
is detailed in Hugh's book: "Prelude to the Harrier" ( HPM
Publications, 1998). However, two incidents are more than worthy of a
mention here, for during those early trials Hugh succeeded in carrying
out two forced landings with total engine failures. The first was in
1962, at RAF Tangmere in the third prototype; the second in 1965, at
RAF Thorney Island in the sixth prototype. Both these aircraft were on
fire; the first failure was at 3,000 ft and 530 knots, the second at
28,000 ft and Mach 1.13. Hugh's achievement in putting both these
aircraft down cannot be adequately described here. Both required the
highest degree of flying skill, judgement and courage.
decided to retire from Hawkers in 1970, having seen, as Chief Test
Pilot, the Harrier into RAF service. He saw the fruits of his work, and
that of colleagues at Kingston and Dunsfold, in the Falklands campaign,
and of course the Harrier remains in service today and will continue
well into the future.
May I continue with a quotation from his
book. He wrote: "The flight development history of the P.1127 is
inevitably slanted towards the matter of problems encountered and
overcome. By concentrating on them it is easy to forget the excitement
and exhilaration of test flying such a novel aircraft, particularly in
its early stages of development; also the technical satisfaction
involved. We were extremely lucky to experience this and knew that we
were highly dependent on very many dedicated people: the Hawker and
Bristol Siddeley Engines design and production teams; the Flight
Development Department at Dunsfold with whom we discussed every
individual flight, before and after; those in the Experimental Hangar
who prepared the aircraft and carefully inspected them before flight;
the air traffic controllers who monitored our flights; the firemen who
patiently stood by to cover emergencies; plus all manner of other
It was my privilege to know Hugh for over fifty
years; I met his father and mother and several members of the family. I
hope the he would approve of what I have said about him - I felt his
presence when writing these notes. He used to monitor our joint flight
reports insisting on complete accuracy in the text and diagrams. On his
visits to the design department at Kingston late in the afternoon, key
people knew that his appearance put paid to their early evening
departure. During his two years as Chief Test Pilot he continued his
total dedication to flight development of the Harrier - when eventually
persuaded to go on leave his preparation was last minute and somewhat
haphazard for such an organised man.
On retirement his boat took
most of his attention, the beloved Nicholson 38, Blue Idyl, which he
sailed by stages round the world. His seaman's certificates were all
taken in record time, and off he went. The testing of his boat was
exhaustive and his initial Biscay crossing took him and his bruised
companions to the limits.
Hugh will be remembered with affection
and admiration by all who knew him, and his family will take pride in
his outstanding career.