John Farley Oral History

Nine hours of audio interview with John Farley, conducted by the Imperial War Museum.

John Farley’s mini Biograpahy:

British student apprentice with Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough in GB, 1950-1955;

Trained as pilot with RAF in GB, 1955-1957;

Officer served as pilot with 4 Sqdn, RAF in Germany, 1958-1960;

Student attended flying instructors course with Central Flying School, RAF in GB, 1960;

Served as instructor with Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, 1961-1962;

Student with Empire Test Pilots School, Farnborough, GB, 1963;

Served as test pilot with Air Dynamics Research Flight, Royal Aircraft Establishment at Bedford, 1963-1967;

Civilian test pilot with Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Coy in GB, 1967-1978;

Chief test pilot with British Aerospace in GB, 1978-1983

Reel 1

REEL 1 Background in Hastings, GB, 1933-1949: family; early interest in aviation; reaction to reading medical requirements to enlist in RAF; character of education. Recollections of period as student apprentice with Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in GB, 1950-1954: background to learning of apprentice system; educational preparation for application; selection procedure; character of apprenticeship scheme; volunteering to become flight test observer; story illustrating number of aircraft present at Farnborough; importance of practical engineering training; role of Royal Aircraft Establishment in advances in aviation during early 1950s; interview with commandant with Empire Test Pilot; role of apprentice masters within establishment; reasons for construction of research site at Bedford; wind tunnels; story of meeting with Ralph Maltby.

Reel 2

REEL 2 Continues: number of departments visited whilst apprentice; number of apprentices; attitude of establishment towards training; atmosphere at Farnborough. Recollections of enlistment and training as pilot with RAF in GB, 1955-1957: background to applying for short service commission; relations with instructor; nature of flying instruction; advantage he had with his training at Farnborough; question of flying abilities during elementary flying training; instructors assessment of his flying abilities; attitude to soloing; need to give every aircraft respect; question of contrast between flying civil aircraft and high performance jet aircraft; move to RAF Swinderby; memories of instructor Dickie Lord; incident of finding problem with his aircraft during pre-flight check; Dickie Lord’s method of dealing with crash of pupils; configuration of pilot and pupil of De Havilland Vampire T5; attitude to accidents.

Reel 3

REEL 3 Continues: effect of government cut backs, 1957; reporting to RAF Valley; character of De Havilland Vampire; description of term ‘angle of attack’; attempt to break sound barrier in De Havilland Vampire; posting to RAF Chivenor to do Hawker Hunter course; contrast between flying De Havilland Vampire and Hawker Hunter; reaction to posting to ground duties at Experimental Radar Establishment at Malvern; method of simulating high level interceptions; method of achieving posting to RAF Chivenor; how Group Captain dealt with tampering with posting system; fate of other pilots. Recollections of period as pilot with 4 Sqdn, RAF in Germany, 1958-1960: posting to squadron; character of squadron; role of squadron; incident of being scrambled to meet threat from Russian aircraft.

Reel 4

REEL 4 Continues: question of effectiveness of squadron if engaged in actual combat; number of days on stand by; secondary role as squadron engineering officer; avoiding Air Defence Identification Zone; degree of reliability of squadron aircraft; lack of constraints on flying; squadron morale; character of fighter pilots; changes in character of fighter pilots between 1958 and 2006; degree of knowledge of Warsaw Pact air forces; briefings; flying battle formation; cross over turns; flying equipment; navigation; question of military productivity; weapons used for ground attack; use of gun pod to mount Aden Gun.

Reel 5

REEL 5 Continues: degree of co-operation with NATO forces; competition within RAF; squadron ground staff; servicing problems with Hawker Hunter electrics; communications in air; opinion of flying characteristics of Hawker Hunter; contrast with how squadron and test pilots fly aircraft; deficiencies of Hawker Hunter; recovery technique from spinning Hawker Hunter; explanation of term ‘Dutch roll’; differences between Hawker Hunter Mk IV and Mk VI; applying for Empire Test Pilots Training School.

Reel 6

REEL 6 Continues: Aspects of period as student on instructors course with Central Flying School in GB, 1960: background to becoming instructor with Central Flying School; changes in approach handling; clash with instructor over approach handling; conservative nature of instructors and pilots; question of not accepting standard procedures; standard instructional techniques; examinations during instructors course; use of ‘patter’; outcome of his clash with instructor over approach handling; opinion of BAC Jet Provost. Aspects of period as instructor with Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, GB, 1961-1962: reaction to posting as basic flying instructor; pattern of instruction; question of responses in high-speed aircraft.

Reel 7

REEL 7 Continues: gaining ability to predict nature of landing; similarities between flying aircraft and driving cars; explanation of term ‘airmanship’; character of his pupils; need to accurately access student’s capabilities at an early stage; RAF selection procedures for pilots; loss of medical category after skiing accident; grading of instructors; conversion course onto Gloster Meteor, 12/1962; question of speed at which Gloster Meteor could be flown on one engine; opinion of Gloster Meteor. Recollections of period as test pilot with Empire Test Pilots School at Farnborough, GB, 1963: posting onto Empire Test Pilots course; conditions during winter, 1962-1963; importance of aviation background; ground school.

Reel 8

REEL 8 Continues: daily routine; use of test cards; assessment of aircraft during flight test exercises; reasons why standard service pilot understood their aircraft better than test pilot; stories illustrating how test pilots can learn from standard service pilots; question of importance of up to date service information on aircraft; reasons why test pilots were given experience on a wide range of aircraft; use of Gloster Javelin during final ‘preview’ exercise; nature of ‘preview’ exercise; characteristics of Gloster Javelin; limitations on Gloster Javelin; improvements in present day designed aircraft.

Reel 9

REEL 9 Continues: explanation of term ‘superstall’; reasons for giving aircraft high tail-planes; limitations of wind tunnel; advances in aerodynamic design with the introduction of Computational Fluid Dynamics; aircraft specifications; development programme for four engined long range jet aircraft in GB during 1950s; need for radar operator in Gloster Javelin; concept of all weather fighter; degree to which weapon systems were integrated into design of aircraft; test flying Hawker Siddeley Harrier.

Reel 10

REEL 10 Continues: question of degree of danger involved in test pilot work; improvements in test flying since early 1950s; reasons for high accident rate amongst test pilots during 1940s-1950s; ethos of test pilots; move of Air Dynamics Research Flight at Bedford. Recollections of period as test pilot with Air Dynamics Research Flight at Bedford, GB, 1963-1966: posting to Bedford; division of activities between Farnborough, Bedford and Boscombe Down; composition of flight test team; types of aircraft at Bedford; conversation with experienced pilot about flying experimental aircraft; experimental Handley Page Hp 115.

Reel 11

REEL 11 Continues: character of experimental BAC 221; nature of slender delta winged aircraft; explanation of term ‘0 rate of climb’; background to development of take off director; characteristics of Handley Page Hp 115; flying Avro Vulcan on take off trials; development of Hawker P1127; collecting Hawker P1127 for comparison trials with Short SC 1; need to use visual cues when flying vertically; control of lift engines in Short SC 1; control system on Hawker P1127.

Reel 12

REEL 12 Continues: use of reaction controls on Hawker P1127; personal preparations for test flights; need to not think instinctively when initially flying Hawker P1127; keeping vertical aircraft in hover; use of ‘press up’ technique during training; engine lifespan of Hawker P1127; cost of overhaul of engine; need to use test times efficiently; vertical flying training on Hawker P1127; controlling Hawker P1127; question of ability to recover when aircraft; configuration of undercarriage on Hawker P1127 and its successors; development of undercarriage on Harrier.

Reel 13

REEL 13 Continues: initial problems with undercarriage on Hawker P1127; short take offs and slow landings; reasons of misapprehension of concept of vertical take off aircraft; fuel needed for vertical take off; nature of research development programmes; research development programme with Hawker P1127; research role of British Aircraft Establishment at Bedford; other development work he participated in at Bedford; background to leaving RAF, 9/1967. Recollections of period as civilian test pilot with Hawker Siddeley and British Aerospace in GB, 1967-1983: test work; collapse of nose wheel during rough ground tests with Hawker Siddeley Harrier; fatigue problem with undercarriage; need to vary weight on test aircraft; character of field engine training trials.

Reel 14

REEL 14 Continues: nature of operational specifications; G specifications for Hawker Siddeley Harrier; attempts to pull 6 G in Hawker Siddeley Harrier; development of Hawker Siddeley Harrier wing; story of solving problem of air flow on rear end of Bae Hawk; operational specification for Hawker Siddeley Harrier; question of operating Hawker Siddeley Harrier from country and urban environments; marketing Hawker Siddeley Harrier; arrival of US Marine officers to view Hawker Siddeley Harrier at Farnborough Air Show; number of vertical take off programmes worldwide; role converting US Marine officers to Hawker Siddeley Harrier; US officer’s accident during taxiing of Hawker Siddeley Harrier; briefing given to pilots flying Hawker Siddeley Harrier for first flight.

Reel 15

REEL 15 Continues: nature of ‘power bouncing’; use of ‘press up’ training process; pattern of training; introduction of Harrier Conversion Course; lack of failure during conversion course to Harrier; writing pilot notes for Hawker Siddeley Harrier; how his background aided him in the training programme; carriage and release trials on Hawker Siddeley Harrier; present day use of ERU charges; long range trials; start of development work on BAe Sea Harrier; changes need to operate Harrier from aircraft carrier; navigational system; development trials of ski jump, 1977; criteria for determining angle of ski jump.

Reel 16

REEL 16 Continues: fitting targeting laser into nose of Hawker Siddeley Harrier; development of Royal Navy aircraft carriers; need not to use principle of minimum change during development of BAe Sea Harrier; changes Hawker Siddeley wanted to make in development of BAe Sea Harrier; amusing story illustrating character of John Fozard; input from fighter pilots in team; attitude of foreign governments towards BAe Sea Harrier; landing BAe Sea Harrier on Argentinean aircraft carrier in English Channel; initial hostility of Fleet Air Arm pilots to accepting BAe Sea Harrier; story of conversation with pilot flying BAe Hawk in mock air combat; method of landing aircraft vertically on ships.

Reel 17

REEL 17 Continues: effect of a ship’s motion on landing BAe Sea Harrier; method of solving problem of short take offs from aircraft carriers; development programme on BAe Sea Harrier; story illustrating misunderstanding of vertical take off aircraft; weapons trials; improvements in head up display; radar trials using modified Hawker Hunter; realisation that a Fleet Air Arm pilot was needed on the development team; impact of Commander Taylor Scott on development team; start of Falklands War at Dunsfold, 1982.

Reel 18

REEL 18 Continues: watching American news coverage of Falklands War in US; effect of loss of BAe Sea Harrier XZ450; opinion that if Argentinean aircraft had engaged Bae Sea Harriers during conflict the outcome of the war would have been different; explanation of term ‘Viffing’; lessons learnt from Falklands War; role of BAe Sea Harrier during Falklands War; work on programme for United States Marine Corps, 1982-1983; retirement from flying at age of fifty. Aspects of period of employment in aviation industry in GB, 1983-1995: work with British Aerospace until taking redundancy in 1990; work as self employed test pilot, 1990-1995; test flying Russian MiG 29; test flying a variety of aircraft; test programme he got most satisfaction from working on; attitude to career as test pilot.

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