DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Barbara Harmer made her first Concorde flight in 1993 as the First Officer of the daily London-New York route.
British-born Harmer was one of only 17 co-pilots in the British Airways (BA) Concorde fleet. She left school at age 15 to pursue a career in hairdressing. After receiving her type rating on the supersonic jet a few decades later, Harmer was on her way to becoming the first woman to fly Concorde.
Early Life in Aviation
Harmer’s first job in the aviation industry was as an air traffic controller at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) when she was 20 years old. At the time, Harmer wanted to pursue a law degree, with geography and English Law two of her A levels.
The soon-to-be pilot started taking flight lessons, earned her Private Pilot License (PPL), and worked as an instructor at Goodwood Flying School. Harmer trained for two years and received her Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) in May 1982. She then applied for over 100 jobs before landing a position as a pilot with Genair, a small commuter airline based at Humberside Airport (HUY).
Harmer joined British Caledonian (BR) two years later and spent three years flying the BAC One-Elevens. After that, she began flying long-haul McDonnell Douglas DC-10s. In 1988, BA purchased BR, four years after Harmer had joined the group. While BA employed over 3,500 pilots, only sixty of them were women, and no woman had ever flown Concorde before Harmer joined the company.
Becoming the First Female Concorde Pilot
It was at this time that Harmer set her mind on flying Concorde. Just a few pilots were hand-picked by BA to go through the intensive six-month training that all pilots chosen to fly the ‘pocket rocket’ had to go through. In 1992, she was eventually selected to participate in the rigorous and costly preparation.
She became the first female Concorde pilot on March 25, 1993. Later that year, she flew her first Concorde flight as Captain from London Heathrow (LHR) to New York (JFK).
Out of 3,500 flight crew members, only 37 BA captains and first officers had the seniority and experience to fly Concorde. Barbara Harmer was one of BA’s 40 female pilots, but the only one who flew the type.
In the ten years between then and when the world’s only Mach 2 civil aircraft was removed from service by its two owners, BA and Air France (AF), Harmer remained Concorde’s only female pilot to fly daily commercial services.
In the years to come, she continued to operate the Boeing 777 for BA on long-haul flights until taking voluntary redundancy in 2009. She also became a keynote motivational and inspiring speaker. As a sidenote, Harmer also held the RYA Commercial Offshore Yacht Master qualification.
Just three women have flown Concorde. Apart from Harmer, the other two women who have flown supersonic aircraft are the French aviatrix Jacqueline Auriol, the first woman to fly Concorde as a test pilot, and Béatrice Vialle, the second woman to fly Concorde on regular routes from Paris to New York.
Featured image: Britain’s first female Concorde pilot Barbara Harmer and fast jet pilot Jo Salter meet. September 1995. Photo: UK Defense Journal via Twitter. Article sources: The Times, The Telegraph, Heritage Concorde, Aerotime Hub.