Hawker Siddeley Test Pilot 1968-1980
Donald Riches, was a Squadron Leader in the RAF. He was posted to Singapore in the early 60’s and subsequently to Devon and then Norway.
In August 1968, Don Riches completed his posting with the Norwegian Air Force 336 SKV at Rygge and took up his new posting at Dunsfold with Hawker Siddeley as Squadron Leader on secondment from the RAF due to the belief that both the Navy and Air Force would be purchasing Harriers and Sea Harriers in the future. After a couple of years, he was asked by Hawker Siddeley if he wanted to give up his RAF career and continue as a test pilot for them.
Don was test flying the Harrier and the Hawk. He flew at the Paris and Farnborough airshows. His contemporaries at his time at Dunsfold were Andy Jones, John Farley, Dick Whittington, Jim Hawkins and Duncan Simpson.
1957-1959 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, flying Hunters
1957-1959 222 (Natal) Squadron at RAF Leuchars, flying Hunters
1959-1962 RAF Swinderby, training pilots on Meteors and Jet Provosts. Plus flying in an acrobatics team (poor man’s Red Arrows at the time!)
1962-1965 20 Squadron at RAF Tengah Singapore, flying Hunters. Active service medals for Borneo and Brunei rebellion/civil war. Oak Leaf awarded. Tengah 20 Squadron disbanded in 1970 and moved to RAF Wildenrath, West Germany with Harriers.
1965-1966 RAF Chivenor 229 (OCU) Training RAF pilots on the Hunter.
1966-1968 336 SKV Norwegian Air Force, flying Northrop F5 Freedom Fighter.
Then to Dunsfold.
During his time at Dunsfold he was the first man to land a Harrier on HMS Hermes and also the Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais in 1978. He was also part of the team including John Farley who made a promotional flying tour of South America in order to sell Harriers to those countries.
Whilst at Dunsfold, Don, Duncan Simpson, Huw Merryweather and John Farley had a lot to do with the planning, logistics and organisation of the Harrier competing in the 1969 Daily Mail Transatlantic Race. This event was to celebrate 50 years since Alcock and Brown crossing. The Harrier pilot pilot was Squadron Leader Tom Lecky-Thompson as it was an Official RAF entry, but the team won the London to New York leg in 6 hrs 11 mins winning £6000.
Don finished working for Hawker Siddeley in 1980 when he decided to take his commercial pilots licence and joined Brittania Airways.
Don died at the age of 50 in 1985 and at his funeral the eulogy was read by his colleague Duncan Simpson.
All text and photographs kindly supplied by Don’s daughter and son, Sally and Nick.