Don Riches

Hawker Siddeley Test Pilot 1968-1980

Don Riches

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.

St Pancras London, 1969 Preparation for the take-off of the Harrier in the Trans-Atlantic Air Race

Whilst at Dunsfold, Don, Duncan Simpson, Hugh Merreweather 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.

Don at the controls of one of Britannia’s 737’s
Sea Harrier landing on Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais, October 1978

Views: 237

5 Replies to “Don Riches”

  1. As a member of the flight test department I had my first two flights with Don in. TAV8A (159380) at Dunsfold in January 1976. He was a very professional pilot and very pleasant to work with.

    I enjoyed reading this article but I think the title Sea Harrier first flight under the picture is misleading. The aircraft was painted in primer with no markings except for the serial number in black for the first flight on a Sunday afternoon in August 1978. I was there.

    I can send you an image of the aircraft just before engine start if you contact me with an appropriate email address.


    Dick Poole

    1. Dick
      You are correct I’m sure. Most of this stuff and the pictures was produced after my sister told me Don was missed off the Pilots list .I went into the Merchant Navy in Feb 1977 with P & O so was not around for 4 years but I used the above as a project for my 2nd Mates Certificate with the help of John Fozzard. It worked I’ve got 50 pages of it .Top Marks.
      Nick Riches

  2. I worked in Flight Test at Dunsfold. Know Dick Poole well. Don had a fun sense of humor. I remember him telling me of a time when he and his wife were invited to a fancy dress party. They got all dolled up I can’t remember as what. When they arrived they were the only ones in fancy dress. The host had changed their mind but forgotten to let them know. Lovely bloke.

    1. Diana
      That must have been Singapore ,Tengha. Probably an Ark Royal visit as all my birthday party pictures then 1962-1964 tend to be frequented by lots of males of a Naval Officer type. Wonder where i got it from.
      Nick Riches

  3. Hi, this may sound strange, but my mum was going through some old documents, and found one regarding Donald Gordon Riches. It looks like it was an official one regarding what looks like, his promotion in 1955 whilst in the RAF. If this is the same person, she was wondering if his family would like it ? Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.