The world’s first female Concorde pilot
In memory of Barbara Harmer 1954 – 2011
There aren’t many former hairdressers who can claim to have piloted the world’s only supersonic aircraft, Concorde. Yet this is what Barbara Harmer did, becoming in 1993 the first woman Concorde pilot.
Barbara was in born 1954 in the town of Bognor Regis, a seaside resort town in West Sussex, England, Barbara left school at the age of 15 to pursue a career in hairdressing. Her first experience in the aviation industry was six years later when she left hairdressing to become an air traffic controller at London Gatwick Airport. When she took on the job of air traffic controller she decided to study for A Levels, which she had missed out on because she had left school at such a young age. She obtained A levels in Geography, English Law, Constitutional Law and Politics. She then invested thousands of pounds of her own money to pay for flying lessons
Once she had gained her Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and then her Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) she became a flying instructor and pilot with a small commuter airline.
In 1984 she joined British Caledonian and flew the BAC One-Elevens for three years. Following this, she then started flying long haul McDonnell Douglas DC-10. British Airways bought British Caledonian in 1988; this was four years after Barbara had joined the company. British Airways employed over 3500 pilots, but only sixty of them were women, and on top of that when Barbara joined British Airways no woman had ever piloted the Concorde.
It was at this time that Barbara realised that her ultimate ambition was to fly the Concorde. Only a handful of pilots are hand picked by British Airways to undergo the rigorous 6 months of training that British Airways insists all pilots selected to fly Concorde must undergo. She was finally chosen to undergo this intensive and expensive training in 1992.
On the 25 March 1993 she became the first qualified female Concorde pilot, and later that year she made her first Concorde flight as Captain from London Heathrow airport to New York JFK airport.
There were only 37 BA captains and first officers, out of 3,500 flight crew, that had the seniority and experience to fly the world’s only commercial supersonic aircraft. Barbara Harmer was one of 40 female pilots employed by BA, but the only Concorde female pilot.
But by the beginning of the 21st century, the writing was on the wall for Concorde; in 2003 the entire Concorde fleet was retired, following a number of celebratory tribute flights. The last UK Concorde flight took place on 26th November 2003.
Barbara continued to fly long haul for British Airways, flying the Boeing 777. Her experiences made her a firm favourite for motivational and inspirational talks. She was also a qualified RYA Commercial Offshore Yacht Master.
Barbara Harmer is still only one of three women to have flown Concorde. The only other women that flew the supersonic aircraft are the famous French aviatrix Jacqueline Auriol and Béatrice Vialle. But Barbara was the very first, amazing achievement by amazing Lady!
Barbara died peacefully on Sunday 20th February 2011, at St. Wilfred’s Hospice, Chichester aged 57.
She was a lovely lady, a great pilot and always very supportive of her crew.