This obituary was in the times on Wednesday, 23rd May 2007. Just wanted to share it with you all.
May he Rest in Peace.
Squadron Leader Jimmy Harrison
Avro test pilot who flew the Vulcan from its early days and ironed out its serious teething problems
Jimmy Harrison was a Mosquito night interdiction pilot during the Second World War, and went on to become an exceptional test pilot. At the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough he tested early British jet aircraft before moving to Avro at Woodford, Cheshire, where he became chief test pilot.
As such he was responsible for much of the development of the Vulcan bomber, the 748 civil airliner, and the Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
He was twice awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air, once while in the RAF and again at Avro. In addition he was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1952 for his work at Farnborough.
He was appointed OBE in 1968 for his key role in the development of the Vulcan, Nimrod and the Avro (later the HS) 748.
James Gordon Harrison was born in 1918 and educated at Southall County School. In 1934 he joined the RAF as a Halton apprentice, and qualified as an aircraftman fitter.
When the war began he was accepted for pilot training in Canada, and because of his “exceptional” grading remained there as an instructor. He managed to get an operational posting in England in 1944 and joined No 605 (Mosquito) Squadron with which he was engaged on night interdiction.
After the war he stayed in the RAF, becoming CO of his squadron (now renumbered No 4), then graduating at the Empire Test Pilots School with a “distinguished” pass.
Test flying at that time was perhaps more risky than it is today since there were no simulators or computers to “test” the aircraft on the ground. Ten out of the 28 pilots on his course were killed while developing aircraft.
His test flying ability earned him a posting to the Aeroflight at RAE where he flew all the swept-wing, tailless and delta-wing experimental aircraft of the era. By chance the delta-wing Avro 707B one-third scale model of the Vulcan was sent to Aeroflight when it had finished its primary low-speed development work, and it was through Harrison’s flying this that the company became aware of his exceptional qualities. Roly Falk, who was in charge of the 707 tests, persuaded him in 1953 to join Avro where he became chief test pilot in 1958. In 1969 he became product support manager, finally retiring in 1983.
When he joined Avro the Vulcan programme had a critical problem in the design of the wing and he spent 1954 flying the 707A and gradually finding a solution. This test flying was crucial to the eventual success of the Vulcan and his contribution was enormous. Undoubtedly his detailed flight testing ensured the aircraft was safe to fly and a success in service.
Avro decided to reenter the civil aircraft market in 1959 with the 748 twin turboprop, aimed at replacing the DC3 in the world. Competition with Fokker’s F27 Friendship was intense, and Harrison’s superb flying ensured that the 748 had a performance that made it attractive to airlines. He developed the special techniques necessary to fly the aircraft from rough airfields, and demonstrated it in many countries, helping to win contracts in India and the Far East.
Harrison was next faced with the challenge of developing the Nimrod, which Avro had won on a fixed-price contract, the design being based on the de Havilland Comet. He ensured that only the minimum amount of test flying took place and that no attempt should be made to “improve” the aircraft’s handling. In this way Hawker Siddeley, into which Avro had been subsumed, was able to deliver the aircraft on budget and on time to the RAF to take over from the Shackleton.
Harrison had a number of emergencies in his long flying career. His skill and judgement were demonstrated when a Vulcan had a complete loss of control almost immediately after take-off from Woodford due to a catastrophic electrical failure. He took the crucial decision not to try to land (which would have ended in disaster) and managed to gain height to enable the three crew members in the rear of the aircraft to escape through the emergency hatch before ejecting with his co-pilot.
Harrison flew some 7,800 hours on 93 aircraft, including 13 different prototypes. As product support manager, he kept in touch with all the operators of the 748 and military users of other Avro aircraft.
In retirement at Chinley, Derbyshire, he became an immensely keen golfer.
In 1940 he married Maureen Phillips who survives him with two daughters.
Squadron Leader Jimmy Harrison, OBE, AFC, test pilot, was born on December 22, 1918. He died on April 16, 2007 aged 88