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From Hairdresser To Concorde

BA’s only female Concorde pilot has lost her battle with Cancer, she was 57.

The former hairdresser turned Captain was the first ever woman to pilot the aircraft, when she completed her conversion course in March 1993. She was the only woman in British Airways to pilot Concorde.

Barbara Harmer was born in 1954 in the Sussex town of Bognor Regis. She left school at the age of 15 to become a hairdresser in her home town. However, a few years later she decided to train as an air traffic controller, working at Gatwick Airport and also studied by herself for GCE ‘A’ levels, which she had not taken at school. She also started learning to fly, gaining a private pilot’s licence and gradually accumulating flying hours before becoming a flying instructor, working at her local Goodwood Flying School.

She then decided that the logical next step was to become a commercial pilot and fly for the airlines. Her first job was with a commuter airline called Genair. Then in 1984 she joined British Caledonian, Next, she started flying British Aircraft Corporation BAC 1-11 aircraft on short haul routes, before transitioning to the larger McDonnell Douglas DC-10 on long haul flights.

When British Caledonian merged with British Airways in 1987 this unlocked the final door for Barbara to fulfil her dream and fly Concorde. However, at that time BA employed over 3,000 pilots, of whom only 60 were women. She therefore felt that her chances of being selected to fly Concorde were slim, since only a few highly capable pilots were recruited to undergo the rigorous six month training programme required to become certified to fly Concorde.

However, in 1992 Barbara was selected for Concorde training. Her first historic Concorde flight in 1993 qualified her as the first female pilot to fly Concorde, and made her world famous. Public scrutiny was intense, with Barbara becoming a celebrity. She took fame in her stride, and flew Concorde for a number of years.

One of the 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”.

Barbara moved upwards to become a Captain on other aircraft in the BA fleet and retired as a skipper on the Boeing 777.

Barbara’s skills were not limited to the air.  She is also a fully qualified RYA Commercial Offshore Yacht Master and often commanded the “Concorde Crew” in various high profile international yachting events.  However, it was in the air at 60,000 feet and at 1,350mph that she felt most at home.  She admits that she is lucky and extremely privileged as there were very few Concorde Crews.  After all not everyone gets to impress the “rich and famous” to the point of spontaneous applause.  Actor Tom Cruise, himself a qualified pilot, didn’t restrain his appreciation as he sat with Barbara on the flight deck and watched her “grease” Concorde onto the ground at JFK.


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