Thursday, 10 December 2009

Barbara Harmer - First Woman To Fly Concorde

There aren’t many former hairdressers who can claim to have piloted the world famous supersonic aircraft, Concorde. Yet this is what Barbara Harmer did, becoming in 1993 the only woman Concorde pilot.

Barbara Harmer's Early Life

Barbara Harmer was born in 1954 in the Sussex town of Bognor Regis. She left school at the age of 15 to become a hairdresser in her home town. However, a few years later she decided to train as an air traffic controller, and also studied by herself for GCE ‘A’ levels, which she had not taken at school. She also started learning to fly, gaining a private pilot’s licence and gradually accumulating flying hours.

Becoming a Commercial Pilot

Barbara did not stop there, but became a flying instructor, working at her local Goodwood Flying School. She then decided that the logical next step was to become a commercial pilot and fly for the airlines. Her first job was with a commuter airline called Genair. Then in 1984 she joined British Caledonian, Next, she started flying British Aircraft Corporation BAC-111 aircraft on short haul routes, before transitioning to the larger McDonnell Douglas DC-10 on long haul flights.

Becoming One of the Elite Concorde Pilots

Barbara wanted to fly Concorde. However, at that time BA employed over 30,000 pilots, of whom only 60 were women. She therefore felt that her chances of being selected to fly Concorde were slim, since only a few highly capable pilots were recruited to undergo the rigorous six month training programme required to become certified to fly Concorde.
However, in 1992 Barbara was selected for Concorde training. Her first historic Concorde flight in 1993 qualified her as the first female pilot to fly Concorde, and made her world famous. Public scrutiny was intense, with Barbara becoming a celebrity. However, she took fame in her stride, and flew Concorde for a number of years.
The End of Concorde

But the beginning of the 21st century, the writing was on the wall for Concorde. Rising maintenance costs, plus the loss of an Air France Concorde in July 2000, contributed towards the end. In 2003 the entire Concorde fleet was retired, following a number of celebratory tribute flights. The last UK Concorde flight took place on 26th November 2003.
Barbara continued to fly long haul for British Airways, flying the Boeing 777. Her experiences made her a firm favourite for motivational and inspirational talks. She is also a qualified RYA Commercial Offshore Yacht Master.
Barbara Harmer is still the only woman to have flown Concorde as part of scheduled operations. The only other woman to have flown the supersonic aircraft is famous French aviatrix Jacqueline Auriol. From hairdresser to supersonic jet pilot – quite an accomplishment!


"The 100 Greatest Women in Aviation", Liz Moscrop and Sanjay Rampal, Aerocomm Ltd 2008