Obit­u­ary: John Far­ley, AFC, OBE

Pilot - - Notes -

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

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