Test pilot John Farley RIP

John Farley test pilot Harrier

John Farley, the former test pilot and FLYER contributor, died earlier this week. John was most noted for the Harrier jump jet test programme and for his displays, including the ‘Farley Takeoff’.

Accortding to the history society of Dunsfold Airfield, where John did much of his test flying and later became airfield manager, he would hover the aircraft at around 100ft agl.

“Then, using the Reaction Controls, raise the nose to around 60 degrees, adjusting the main engine nozzles to suit, so the aircraft was still hovering, but with a high nose-up attitude. Then he would apply maximum power and ‘rocket climb’ away. There are no gauges or instruments to aid this, it was all by seat of the pant’ judgement. Service pilots were forbidden from even thinking about trying it!”

The Association of Aerospace Universities, where John was a past honorary president, has this biography:

John Farley OBE AFC CEng HonDTech HonDEng did his engineering training as a student apprentice at the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough before joining the RAF for pilot training in 1955. After flying Hunters with 4 Squadron based in Germany, he was a flying instructor at the RAF College Cranwell before joining the Empire Test Pilots’ School course in 1963.

Following a distinguished pass from ETPS he became a test pilot on the RAE Aerodynamics Research Flight at Bedford. During this tour he flew all the UK research aircraft then flying. As RAE project pilot on the P1127 [the Harrier] prototype in 1964, he started what was to become 19 years of Harrier programme test flying moving from the RAE to join Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Dunsfold from where he retired as Chief Test Pilot in 1983.

John Farley flew over 80 different aircraft types, both fixed and rotary wing. In 1990 he became the first western test pilot invited by the Russians to fly the Mig-29 and later participated with Lockheed as a JSF Red Team member.

John retired from test piloting in 1999 but continued to consult on flight test programmes. In 1995 he started summer school courses for 16 to 18 year old students to encourage them to become engineers in the aerospace business and ran the Schools Aerospace Challenge and International Aerospace Summer School, both held at Cranfield University. He was elected President of the AAU in 2009.

You can read more about John Farley in his autobiography, available in print here or as a digital download here.

See 7 comments


  • Anthony Paterson says:

    Rest in peace John. I always read your article’s with interest and admire you for all your achievements. With people like you to keep us safe we could all sleep in our beds knowing all would be well.

  • Anatoly says:

    Rest in Peace, dear Mr. JOHN!
    My father V.Yakimov, was the test pilot too in Russia. And he always told about him. They met at Farnborought show, and became a friends. Hope you find each other in heaven again!

    • Kim Farley says:

      Anatoly – this is John’s second daughter.
      I love the idea of our 2 fathers meeting up again! Dad was always open-minded about the afterlife, so who knows.
      My very warmest wishes to you and your family.

      • Gary Roberts says:

        Dear Kim,

        At long last, with the full cooperation of the late Lt.Cdr. Taylor Scott RN’s family, his Archive is to be assembled in a place of national importance in his honour. As you may know, your illustrious father stood strong against the injustice with which his widow was treated post mortem. It would be our pleasure to keep you informed of progress, and anyone else who knew and respected his abilities both personal and professional.

        Rest in peace to yet another departed hero.

        Tony Dyer and Gary Roberts .

  • Mark Butcher says:

    What sad news this has been. The man was a genius of the level that many aspire to but only the very best ever achieve. As a lowly worker at Dunsfold for 10 years I marvelled at his flying skills and then as he ‘progressed’ to Aerodrome Manager I admired his passion for the site and how he fought to upgrade the facilities, something that was long overdue. There is a belief amongst ex Dunsfold workers that his passion for the site and how he fought for investment on the facilities led to his demise from the company. Allegedly a senior company figure flying out of the airfield one morning spotted all the new buildings going up around the site and realised that he could not remember giving the financial authority for this work. Mr Farley had been busy arranging the much needed improvements. The trouble is that the seniors at such a company would not even begin to realise or appreciate the level of genius they had rid themselves of. RIP Mr Farley, you inspired and amazed many aviation people around the world. Your influence and legacy will live on with the F35.

  • Lisa Meenan says:

    I’ve just found out that this wonderful man has passed away – I so enjoyed working with him on the Schools Aerospace Challenge for many years. He was always approachable and an inspiration to the many students he inspired to follow a career in aviation. I will miss him hugely.

  • Mary Duncan says:

    One of the nicest men you could ever meet. In the 70’s, I was a mere, non commissioned, RAF nurse. Mr Farley was my patient. He was always a gentleman and it was an honour to care for him. A genuinely lovely, great and unassuming man. RIP.

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