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Very sad news that Barbara Harmer died last week. Tributes, links and bio are below.
Tributes and here.
In March 1993, at the age of 39, Barbara Harmer flew herself into the annals of aviation when she became the first woman pilot of the supersonic airliner Concorde.
She remained the Concorde’s only female pilot to fly regular commercial services in the ten years from then until the world’s only Mach 2 civil jet was withdrawn from service by its two operators, British Airways and Air France, in the wake of a catastrophic accident to an Air France Concorde at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, in July 2000 in which 113 people died in the aircraft and on the ground.
An Air France pilot, Béatrice Valle, piloted several flights between the Paris crash and Concorde’s final withdrawal from service in 2003.
For Barbara Harmer, becoming a Mach 2 pilot at 60,000ft was a far cry from her first job as a hairdresser in her home town Bognor Regis, a job she stuck at for six years after leaving school at 15. For her, the decision to become a pilot on Concorde was not so much one of those flashes of inspiration that often seize future pilots in extreme youth, as a gradual realisation via several years of resolute application and acquired responsibility — first as an air traffic controller, then as a flying instructor, and later as a commuter airline pilot — that the pilot’s “grail” of Concorde flying might be possible.
Of her many memorable experiences transporting celebrity passengers on Concorde, she always rated that of taking the Manchester United football team to confront Bayern Munich in the Champions’ League final in Barcelona in May 1999 as among the most exciting. “I felt quite emotional as I taxied the Concorde out on to the runway with British flags flying and thousands of people wishing the team luck on the way.” Manchester United did not let their Concorde pilot — or themselves — down. They came home with the trophy having scored two goals in injury time after trailing Bayern by a goal for most of the game.
After Concorde was withdrawn from service Harmer retrained and became a BA captain on long-haul routes.
Barbara Harmer was born in Loughton, Essex, in 1953, the youngest of four daughters of a commercial artist father and a haberdasher mother. Educated at a convent school after the family moved to Bognor Regis, West Sussex, she did well at O level, but as she watched an elder sister struggling unhappily to cope with her A levels she came to the conclusion that this was not for her and left at 15 to become an apprentice hairdresser. She was good at it and for some years felt perfectly happy until it occurred to her that she was becoming stuck in a rut.
Although her experience of aeroplanes was at that time non-existent she applied for a job as a trainee air traffic controller at Gatwick airport, at the same time paying for flying lessons, and in due course gaining her private pilot’s licence. At the same time she studied four A levels in her spare time, with an idea of doing a law degree. Her aim at that stage was to transfer to the accident investigation unit, but she found that her employers at the Civil Aviation Authority were not encouraging, imagining that she would want to “settle down”.
Feeling that she had hit a brick wall, her thoughts turned to a career as a commercial pilot. She had no means of funding the course for herself (at that time the fees were £40,000) but reasoned that a route into her ambition might well lie through qualifying first as a flying instructor. To get on a course for this required 140 more flying hours than she had at that time, but she patiently amassed them over the next 12 months and, after qualifying, got a job as a flying instructor at Goodwood Flying School. Over the next two years, while she worked there, she also studied by correspondence course and, on a £10,000 bank loan, obtained the necessary air experience. In May 1982 she finally obtained her commercial pilot’s licence.
She now had the qualifications. An actual job was more problematical, but after more than 100 applications she found a job at last with a commuter airline on Humberside. After flying with it for 15 months she heard that British Caledonian was recruiting pilots and in March 1984 she was taken on by the airline.
Now she was flying the large, wide-bodied, long-haul tri-jet DC10, in addition to the much smaller British BAC 111. The merger of British Caledonian with British Airways in 1987, lamented by some, turned out to be a great opportunity for this now very experienced large-jet commercial pilot. Of the 3,000 pilots employed by BA only 60 were at that time women, but in 1992 she was selected for the intensive six-month conversion course for the pride of the BA fleet: Concorde.
Finally, on March 25, 1993, she earned her place in the record books when, as a BA first officer, she piloted Concorde from London’s Heathrow airport to JFK in New York. It was the beginning of a career not only as a top British Airways pilot, but also as an inspiration to women of her generation, much sought for public-speaking engagements. The Mach 2 three-hour flights to New York soon became routine, although she never lost the wonder of seeing the world from 60,000ft, while traversing the skies at 1,350mph.
After BA suspended its Concordes in the wake of the Paris accident in 2000, she became a pilot on twin-engined Boeing 777s, and qualified as an airline captain. By that time BA had retired its Concorde fleet, in 2003, and she continued to fly long haul as a 777 captain until she took voluntary redundancy from BA in 2009.
Barbara Harmer’s life outside flying was as adventurous as that within it. She was a fully qualified commercial offshore yacht master and often commanded the Concorde crew in international yachting events. She had won several races, and, even though she knew she was seriously ill, she had intended to contest a transatlantic event in her French-built 10.5-metre Archambault 35 in 2013. A keen gardener, she had created a Mediterranean-style garden at her home overlooking the sea at Felpham, West Sussex.
She is survived by her partner of 25 years, Andrew Hewett, a former police detective inspector and counter terrorism officer.
Captain Barbara Harmer, airline pilot, was born on September 14, 1953. She died of cancer on February 20, 2011, aged 57
Source: Times OnLine Edition
Eurofox taildragger group - West Sussex
I Knew Barbara at Goodwood, sad to hear this. RIP
Last edited by foxmoth on Sun Feb 27, 2011 5:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Real pilots fly anything they can get their hands on!
I posted a tribute link to Barbara a few days ago over on non-aviation, but a few few juveniles over there seemed to think her passing was a good basis for some mockery and I had to ask the mods to remove it.
I never met Barbara, but I know quite a few who did and apparently she was a lovely lady.
Sent from my Bardic lamp held out of the window of a Churnet Valley signal box.
I knew Barbara. Not recently but a few decades back when she was in ATC. We joined at the same time. An inspirational character who worked her way up the commercial pilot route the hard way. Self sponsored and self motivated. We were both on the same ATC assistant course at the Bournemouth college in October 1974. A very pretty young lady who knew diddly squat about aviation, but from that course on she just consumed aviation knowledge at a furious rate.
We both learned to fly around the same time albeit at different airfields. She chose the flying career and I took the ground based option.
Quite by accident, today I learned of Barbara's death. Ironically perhaps it resulted from me visiting Croydon Airport and having lunch. I looked at various photos and the plane hanging outside in Morton Air Services colours. Upon coming home I looked up Morton on the web and discovered another female pilot had flown with them called Yvonne Sintes, I had met her years before as Yvonne Pope.
I then thought, I wonder what I'll find on Barbara Harmer. I knew she was the first and only female Concorde Pilot, I knew this from years ago, in fact there is a photo of her inside the Concorde at Brooklands Museum and I saw this last year.
I met Barbara in September 1974. Along with three other girls, I was on the intake for Air Traffic Control Assistants at Gatwick. I was Just 19 and she was a year older. We spent probably 2/3 days perhaps on an inaugural course at Gatwick, and then went down to Hurn Airport in Hampshire for an intensive 4 week course before being allocated watches at Gatwick. I was on A watch and Barbara was on C watch. I knew then that she had an intense interest in flying. I went on to train as an aerodrome controller and left Gatwick in 1977. I didn't remain working in ATC, but its always been a life long interest and passion.
I became aware that Barbara had become a Concorde pilot, back in the 1990s.
Only today did I read about her ambitions from hairdresser to Concorde Captain, she had studied for A levels, etc.... her after dinner speaking....what a tremendous woman, what a tremendous inspiration to us all!
She will be missed by many, loved by many.
It was indeed a pleasure to have met her back in those distant but heady days of the 1970s.
She must be due for a biography, indeed a film, I cannot say enough about such an inspiring woman!
It is sad, but it has been a pleasure to have known her if only fleetingly.
Just picked up on Radio 4 about the very sad death of Barbara. I was a CSD with BA and first met Barbara whilst flying the DC10 out of LGW, we went to Bermuda. Barbara was a wonderful lady, a superb pilot and commander. Albeit I retired in 2009 she is one of the team that I will never forget. Living only 30 mins from Bognor I feel bad that I didn't know about her illness, I am sorry.
Barbara will be missed
Ex CSD Pete Davis
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