ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

18 September 2001


Duncan Simpson
talking to Woking ACA
Duncan Simpson 2001
Former aircrew members of the local branch of the Aircrew Association, meeting at the Flight Centre at Fairoaks Airport last month, were briefed on the flight testing of Hawker Aeroplanes from Hurricane to Harrier at Dunsfold by retired Chief Test Pilot Duncan Simpson, using a series of unique slides covering nearly 50 years of aviation that not many people will have been privileged to see.

Comet sketch by apprentice Simpson
Comet sketch
His aviation career began in 1945, when he was apprenticed to de Havilland, working in the experimental shops. He was keenly interested in sketching some of the early prototype aircraft going through the shops at the time, and showed a variety of his prints, including a remarkable sketch of the first Comet 1, almost fully assembled except for the top of its tail-fin, which would not fit into the Hatfield hangar!

After this he applied for pilot training in the RAF, subsequently flying the Meteor Mk 8 in 222 (Natal) Squadron. A posting to the Central Fighter Establishment followed for 2 years, where he worked on the flight trials of the Venom Mks 1 & 4, Hunter, Swift and the Sabre Mk 4, 5 and 6.

In July of 1954 he transferred to Hawkers, where the first Hunters were commencing their flight test programme. The early aircraft were very basic, with appallingly inadequate cabin de-misting, but the Mk 4 was very successful, and he took it on overseas sales tours in 1957.

Test Pilot Duncan Simpson
Test Pilot
Work on the early P1127 prototypes for vertical takeoff aircraft followed, culminating in the Harrier, which was ahead of anything else in the world at that time. On his fourth flight in the first prototype Harrier, he was forced to eject at 100 feet, which saved his life, but broke his neck on hitting part of the canopy. As a result of that unfortunate experience, all high performance aircraft canopies are now fitted with overhead explosive cord.

Further testing at Hawkers included a variety of 2-seat Hunters, the Sea Hunter ("a lovely aeroplane"), the P1127 and the Hawk, the advanced trainer for the RAF. One of his slides showed the 1st prototype Hawk being inspected whilst he was waiting to take it up on its first 40-minute test flight, only 10 days before the Farnborough Air Show where it made its debut! This was an extremely successful and widely used trainer - and one of the few aircraft where industry built its own demonstrator, which he flew on sales tours.

After 8 years as Hawker's Chief Test Pilot, Duncan Simpson retired from active test flying in 1978, but subsequently served as Deputy Director of the Society of British Aircraft Companies - a fitting finale for a most distinguished aviation career.

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