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John Farley 1933-2018


John Farley, the former British Aerospace Dunsfold chief test pilot renowned for his Harrier demonstrations, died on 13 June. He was 85.

Starting his aviation career in 1950 as an apprentice with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, John joined the RAF, flying Hunters with No IV(AC) Squadron in Germany and instructing on Jet Provosts at the RAF College Cranwell. From there he went to the Empire Test Pilots’ School, then still at Farnborough, graduating from No 22 (Fixed-Wing) Course in 1964.

After ETPS, Farley was posted to the Flight Division of the Aerodynamics Department, otherwise known as Aero Flight, at RAE Bedford. There, among many other types, he sampled the vertical/short take-off and landing (V/STOL) Hawker P1127 for the first time. That helped lead to his appointment by Hawker Siddeley as a test pilot during 1967.

John continued test-flying from the HS — British Aerospace post-1977 — factory airfield at Dunsfold, Surrey, until 1983. He was made deputy chief test pilot in 1971 and chief test pilot in 1978. In conducting many Harrier demonstrations around the world, his development of the ‘Farley climb’, a steep climb-out from the hover, was among the techniques he used to show potential customers the aeroplane’s capability — but it was also a famed airshow ‘party piece’. John was instrumental in the development of the type’s shipborne capability, resulting in the Sea Harrier for the Royal Navy — he is pictured below in front of the first prototype with the Harrier’s designer, Dr John Fozard.

Retiring from BAe in 1990, John carried on working as a freelance test pilot until 1999, during which time he became the first Westerner to fly the MiG-29. After he stopped flying, he carried on as a consultant and lecturer, as well as serving as a vice-president of the Historic Aircraft Association.

A full appreciation of John Farley will appear in the August issue of Aeroplane. You can also read about his Farnborough displays, and the origins of the ‘Farley climb’, in our July issue’s SBAC show 70th anniversary celebration — buy it at

(Photos BAE Systems)

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