On March 25, 1993 Barbara Harmer became the first qualified female Concorde pilot.
Harmer was born on September 14, 1953 in Bognor Regis. Before entering aviation, Harmer left school to pursue a career in hairdressing. She joined the aviation industry in 1973, becoming an Air Traffic Controller at London Gatwick Airport (LGW).
Taking To The Skies
At the same time, she used £5,000 from her savings and a £10,000 loan to buy flying lessons to earn her Private Pilot Licence (PPL). She later became an instructor at Goodwood Flying School.
She then went on to study for two years to gain her Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL), which she obtained in May 1982.
After applying for over 100 jobs, she was finally taken on by Humberside-based Genair flying Shorts 330 and 360s.
Genair would go on to become part of British Caledonian Commuter (BR), and Harmer soon moved over the mainline carrier to fly BAC One-Elevens and later long-haul on the airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10s.
In 1987 British Caledonian merged with British Airways (BA) and Harmer became one of only 60 female pilots employed by BA.
Immediately she set her sights on flying the world’s only supersonic airliner Concorde and put her name forward for the six-month conversion course in 1992.
After completing the course, Harmer’s first historic flight between London Heathrow and New York (JFK) took place in 1993. The landmark flight made the incredible woman world famous. Public scrutiny was intense, with Barbara becoming a celebrity, but she took fame in her stride.
According to british-caledonian.com one of her most memorable flights was when she flew the Manchester United football team to their epic Champion’s League Final in Barcelona. “I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to fly the team on their historic journey to Barcelona and felt quite emotional as I taxied the Concorde out to the runway, with British flags flying and thousands of people wishing the team luck on the way,” she later said.
When Concorde was withdrawn from service in October 2003, Harmer had served on the fleet for ten years.
She then went on to fly the Boeing 777 before taking voluntary redundancy in 2009.
She was not only a skilled aviator but also a qualified RYA Commercial Offshore Yacht-Master. Her experiences in the air and at sea made her a firm favourite for motivational and inspirational talks.
But it was at 60,000 feet, zooming through the air at 1,350mph, that she felt most at home. She later said she felt ‘lucky’ and ‘extremely privileged’ to be a Concorde pilot.
Amazingly Barbara Harmer remains one of only three women to have ever flown Concorde. The others were French test pilot Jacqueline Auriol and Air France pilot Béatrice Vialle. Vialle only joined the fleet in 2001, making some 35 trips between Paris and New York before Concorde was grounded.
Sadly, Harmer passed away at Wilfrid’s Hospice on February 20, 2011 aged just 57.
In September 2020, a plaque to commemorate Harmer’s incredible achievements was unveiled at 91 Staples Road, the house where she was born.
N.B. The author does not own the rights to any of the images included in this article unless otherwise stated.
© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross.