Once again John Farley enthralled a full house of Members with stories from his test flying career, this time on March 11th. He started with “how I became a Dunsfold test pilot”.
    In 1963 John graduated from the Empire Test Pilots School and was posted to the Aerodynamics Flight at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Bedford. The experimental lift-jet VTOL Short SC1, built to an RAE specification, was under test and a P.1127 was needed for comparison so John went to Dunsfold to check out the first one, XP831, which was now spare so was transferred to Bedford where John flew it. In 1966 Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot (CTP), Bill Bedford was to retire so a new junior test pilot (TP) was needed. Squadron Leader Clive Rustin from the RAE Bedford Aero Flight was offered the job but Hugh Merewether and Duncan Simpson did not agree with this.

Some Test Flying Tales

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John was put on the short list and invited to Hawker’s board room to be interviewed by John Glasscock, Sir Harry Broadhurst and Bill Bedford. John had calculated that he would need to start at a salary of 4000 if he was to equal his projected RAF career pay; so he asked for it. The response was, “But Flt Lt Farley, we can get a Sq Ldr for 2000 - and do we need a qualified TP anyway?”. So John made his case and left the room only to be called back by Bill Bedford and offered 3500 which he accepted.     At Dunsfold under the new CTP, Duncan Simpson, John got straight in to Harrier flying proving that various specification points were met. These included a maximum weight short take-off (STO) from a grass strip with bumps. The strip was checked by seeing if a Land Rover could be driven over it at 40 mph without control being lost. Nevertheless the ride in the Harrier was very rough with the air speed indicator becoming unreadable due to vibration. The climax was a loud bang with a falling sensation as the nose leg failed. John scrambled out and was looking under the aircraft when the ambulance and nurse arrived. “Mr Simpson, are you alright?” she said anxiously, followed by “Oh, it’s you”, and turned on her heel!

    The Matra 116 68 mm rocket pods had streamlined frangible nose cones which shattered as the rockets were fired. It was necessary to prove that no damage was caused to the airframe or engine when a full load of four pods containing eighteen rockets each was fired simultaneously. A progressive approach was planned firing one pod, then two and so on building up to the full fire-out. However, due to a misbriefing on the cockpit pod selection switching, after a number of abortive attempts to fire one pod, the aircraft was seen by the chase crew to disappear in a cloud of smoke and flame as a full fire-out occurred! So, by good luck the whole programme was over in one sortie saving much time and expenditure.
    At the 1968 SBAC show at Farnborough, Bill Bedford, now Marketing Manager, was approached by TPs Col Tom Miller and Lt Col Bud Baker of the US Marine Corps, wanting to fly the Harrier; just two flights each and soon! HSA quickly arranged approval with the MoD and John got the job of converting the pilots (remember, no two-seater, no simulator) so wrote a plan which started with a runway acceleration to 60 kn at which speed the throttle was to be closed. Miller agreed with this approach but Baker didn’t and didn’t listen to the briefing either. The Harrier was very light with a 1.3 to 1 thrust to weight ratio giving a 0 to 70 mph time of  2.4 seconds. Baker was soooo surprised that he got to 120 kn before closing the throttle. He used his familiar F-4 technique to stop - brakes, steering and stick hard back -  so the Harrier took off and rolled about before landing and coming to a halt. After that Baker was “a different bloke” and John had no more trouble with him.
    In 1969 there were more American pilots in England, Bob Thomas (USN) and Bill Casey, Mike Ripley and Bill Scheuren (all USMC), for their Navy Preliminary Evaluation (NPE). They were briefed on everything HSA thought was wrong with the Harrier then flew it and reported. For them this was refreshing as in the US they deal with the “lying, cheating contractor”. They got no surprises with Harrier and the sale was made. Telling the truth helps.
    Group Captain Peter Williamson wanted to enter RAF Harriers in the Daily Mail Trans-Atlantic Air Race from the top of the Post Office Tower in London to the top of the Empire State Building in New York. The aircraft had only been in service a month and permission was denied. Nevertheless Williamson went ahead using A&AEE TPs, Graham Williams and Tom Lecky -Thomson. The latter was a little man with plenty to say so was known as “a small body of opinion”. Tom L-T was fastest westbound with Williams second fastest eastbound to a RN Phantom. Once the race was won the authorisation arrived!
    After the race Peter Williamson, Tom L-T and two Harriers were left in New York, a spare having been flown out by Andy Jones. It was proposed that two-aircraft demonstrations be given on the east coast to support the Harrier sales effort. John flew out to NY, met Tom L-T and devised a plan. At Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC they flew for five days, John doing the V/STOL and Tom the high speed demos. The ground crew were RAF VC-10 men. There were no unservicabilities and no trouble. Afterwards, landing at Naval Air Station Norfolk (Virginia) the two pilots were met by Bob Thomas (NPE) and discussed a plan. John wanted to fly from a road to the USS LaSalle which, moored in the adjacent bay, had a helicopter deck suitable for a Harrier VTOL. Peter Williamson supported the idea so Bill Bedford and Barry Laight (Chief Engineer at Kingston) were consulted. Bill was against the idea and got Laight to forbid the operation. However, the aircraft were Williamson’s so the demo was flown, successfully with no problems. The Americans were impressed especially when Williamson announced that John had “never been near a ship before in his life”.
    John then told a few Marine Corps stories. During the 1971 Harrier BIS (Board of Inspection& Survey) at Patuxent River John noticed a large irate senior Marine Sergeant in the cockpit having trouble putting the five different size and shape servicing pins in their unlabelled stowage. Strolling over to help John explained that it was an intelligence test and if the Sergeant couldn’t do it he should not be in the cockpit. John narrowly escaped being assaulted!
    At an informal dinner for Pax test people John was encouraged to speak about flying the Harrier. He explained that it was much easier to hover than a helicopter, so much so that he once fell asleep during a prolonged performance hover. He dreamed that brain transplants were easily available at prices from a few dollars for a well used example to thousands of dollars. It was explained that the expensive one came from a helicopter designer and it had never been used. The joke was initially received in silence. Later John found out that the guest of honour was Frank Piasecki, the renowned helicopter pioneer! 
    At the next Farnborough  Show John was leaving the bar in the HSA chalet carrying a couple of large  G&Ts for some guests when he met a USMC officer. John explained that he couldn’t stop to chat just then because as soon as he had got rid of the two drinks he had to fly his demo. Afterwards he met the officer again who said he could see why the gins were needed. John of course thought he was joking. On his next visit to the USMC, at Cherry Point, there was a message at the gate for him to go to the base Commander’s office. “I understand you drink before flying a display”, said the Colonel and stated that John was not fit to visit his pilots. John assumed it was a leg-pull and reacted accordingly which proved to be a mistake.
    John went on to tell a few more stories including flying the MiG 29 and demonstrating G-VTOL to a Chinese MiG pilot who not only couldn’t speak English but could only understand Chinese characters. Space precludes covering them but if you want to know more read John’s book, ‘A View from the Hover - My Life in Aviation’ which the editor thinks is one of the most informative and entertaining aviation books he has ever read. For 27 (including 4.50 postage) John will send you a signed copy. Contact him on 01234 670772 or johnfarley@skerries1.co.uk. (Publisher’s, price is 29.99, Seager Publishing).