Obituary: John Farley, AFC, OBE
John Farley, whose name became synonymous with test flying the VTOL Hawker Harrier, died on 13 June, aged 85.
As a teenager John decided that he would join the RAF and one day become a test pilot. After serving an apprenticeship, he began pilot training in 1955 and subsequently flew operationally with an RAF Germany Hawker Hunter squadron. On returning to the UK he was sent to Central Flying School “to learn how to teach”. He subsequently instructed on Jet Provosts at RAF Cranwell before going to the Empire Test Pilots School at RAE Farnborough in 1963, and from there to start his testing career with the Aero Flight at RAE Bedford. There he flew a number of prototypes, including the Fairey Delta 2, Handley Page HP.115, Short SC.1 VTOL research craft, and the Hawker P.1127, forerunner of the Harrier. “The SC.1 had four lift engines and one for forward propulsion,” he wrote “and managing all five as one transitioned between forward flight and hover was [acting like] a frantic organ player.” Recalling his days at RAE Bedford flying such a diversity of what might be termed ‘oddball’ types, he wrote in his autobiography A
View From the Hover: “What a joy it was to be able to do research flying in the days when the aim was to acquire knowledge rather than to make money.”
In 1967 John joined Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Dunsfold, later becoming its Chief Test Pilot, and spent two decades there developing the Harrier and Sea Harrier before mandatory retirement from test flying at fifty years of age, then spent the next five years managing the Dunsfold site. His Harrier displays were legendary, particularly his ‘Farley Takeoff’ in which he would lift off vertically and hover at 100ft, then use the aircraft’s reaction controls to pitch the nose up 60° while still in the hover, apply maximum power and transition into a ‘rocket climb’. “There were no gauges or instruments to aid this, it was all by ‘seat of the pants’ judgement,” he said. Service Harrier pilots were wisely forbidden to emulate this performance.
During his time with Hawker, and in ten subsequent years of freelance test flying, John flew nearly 100 different types of aircraft, including the MIG29 Fulcrum – he was the first Western pilot to fly it.
Chief Test Pilot John Farley (left) with John Fozard and a Hawker Sea Harrier