Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Concorde's only female pilot lived a life of adventure

The Vancouver Sun: Concorde's only female pilot lived a life of adventure

Barbara Harmer, who has died aged 57, earned her place in the record books on March 25, 1993, when she flew as first officer on a British Airways Concorde from London's Heathrow to JFK airport in New York.

For 10 years she remained Concorde's only woman pilot to fly regular commercial services, until October 2003 when the world's only Mach 2 civil jet was withdrawn from service by its two operators, British Airways and Air France, in the wake of the catastrophic accident to an Air France Concorde in July 2000.

Harmer had been flying the longhaul DC 10 with British Caledonian when the airline merged with British Airways in 1987. One of only 60 women pilots flying with the national airline at that time, she was chosen in 1992 for the intensive six-month conversion course for Concorde.

In May 1999 she took the Manchester United football team to play Bayern Munich in the Champions' League final in Barcelona, a flight that she described as one of the most exciting of her career. "I felt quite emotional as I taxied the Concorde out on to the runway," she remembered later, "with British flags flying and thousands of people wishing the team luck on the way."

Most of her flying was on the North Atlantic route, but she never lost her sense of wonder at seeing the world from 40,000 metres as she travelled at 2,100 km/h.

The youngest of four daughters, Harmer was born in Loughton, Essex, on Sept. 14, 1953. Educated at a convent school after the family moved to Bognor Regis, she left at 15 to become an apprentice hairdresser.

But after five years she decided that she wanted more excitement in her life.

She applied for a job as a trainee air traffic controller at Gatwick Airport, at the same time paying for flying lessons. For the five years she worked at Gatwick she scraped together the money for enough lessons to gain her private pilot's licence.

She obtained a bank loan of £10,000 to add to her flying hours and flew as an instructor at Goodwood Flying School. For two years she studied by correspondence course for her commercial pilot's licence, which she finally obtained in May 1982.

Her tenacity to succeed was put to a stern test after she had qualified to be a commercial pilot. It took 100 applications before she found a job with Genair, a small commuter airline operating from Humberside Airport. She joined British Caledonian in March 1984 to fly the BAC 111, later converting to the DC 10.

After Concorde was withdrawn from service Harmer retrained and became a British Airways captain on long-haul routes flying the Boeing 777 until she took voluntary redundancy from the airline in 2009.

Her affection for Concorde never wavered. "Concorde is so smooth it doesn't really get the adrenalin going but there's nothing else like it in the world," she said. "Even pilots stop and stare. It has an aura about it."

Harmer always led an adventurous life. She was a fully qualified commercial offshore yacht master and often commanded the crew of Concorde in international yachting events. She had won several races, and, despite knowing she was seriously ill, had intended to take part in 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 became an inspiration to many women and was much in demand for speaking engagements.

Harmer, who had been suffering from cancer, died on Feb. 20. She is survived by her partner of 25 years, Andrew Hewett.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Ms. Harmer.

@author: concorde´s service ceiling was 60.000 ft., around 18.000 metres