As a former Chief Test Pilot of Hawkers, Duncan Simpson flew the Harrier many times and in discussion about the Museum’s new Sea Harrier he was recalling some of his experiences. These are his words:
The Sea Harrier entered the Navy after a long debate on the future of aircraft carriers in the 1960s and 70s. Large carriers were not to be built but the medium sized ships did eventually materialise.
The Navy was keen to retain their fixed wing capability into the future, and brief trials were made at sea in February 1963 by the prototype P1127, XP831, with the early Pegasus 3 engine. Five flights were made from the deck of the HMS Ark Royal. These included semi-jetborne mirror approaches, vertical landings and take-offs and short take-offs. Neither of the pilots, Bill Bedford and Hugh Merewether, had ever flown from a carrier before.
A further series of trials on HMS Bulwark were carried out in June 1966 by pilots from Hawkers and Boscombe Down.
I then recall flying the Flag Officer Naval Air Command in the second two-seat Harrier XW175 from Dunsfold in February 1971. Admiral Fell was a great enthusiast and supporter of the Harrier for naval use. He flew round the entire flight envelope and included simulated deck short take-offs and vertical landings and take-offs. He then joined Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst for a de-briefing over lunch which extended well into the afternoon!
I followed the flight by taking one of our development Harriers (XV742) to Yeovilton for their Naval Air Day on two occasions. After the flying display I visited the Captain’s enclosure to listen to some animated discussion – “when shall we see Royal Navy on the fuselage of the Harrier?!”
To cut a long story short the Sea Harrier entered service just in time to join the RAF Harriers of No 1 Squadron in the Falklands – with distinction I may add.
Duncan Simpson, March 2008.