Harrison: he flew about 8,000 hours on 93 types of aircraft
Test pilot of exceptional skill who was forced to eject from a Vulcan bomber and who later tested the Nimrod
SQUADRON LEADER JIMMY HARRISON
, who has died aged 88, was one of Britain's most accomplished post-war test pilots, best known for his testing of the Vulcan bomber and the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
After a successful career in the RAF as a night fighter pilot and graduate of the Empire Test Pilots' School, Harrison
joined AV Roe as a test pilot in 1953. His arrival coincided with a difficult time during the development of the unique delta-wing Vulcan. The programme had reached a critical stage and Harrison
spent much of 1954 testing one of three third-scale models of the Vulcan, the Avro 707A, designed specifically to test some of the characteristics of the delta-wing design. The flying was crucial to the eventual success of the strategic bomber and Harrison's
contribution was enormous.
Emergencies were not unfamiliar in the test flying business and Harrison
had his fair share of them. On July 24 1959 he took off with a crew of five and climbed eastwards from the airfield at Woodford, near Manchester. The aircraft suffered a complete electrical failure and every attempt to save the aircraft failed. He climbed to gain sufficient height for the three rear crew members to bale out - they were not equipped with ejector seats. After they successfully left the aircraft, he headed for the Humber estuary before he and his co-pilot ejected. He landed in a remote field and limped to a narrow road still wearing his helmet and pressure suit.
An elderly couple stopped, commenting that "he looked done in". Propped against a wall, Harrison
asked for a cigarette but the couple said they did not smoke and, with the shops about to close, they had to drive off. Harrison
was soon reunited with his crew.
James Gordon Harrison
was born into a naval family on December 22 1918 at Portsmouth; his family later moved to Middlesex, where he spent many hours watching RAF aircraft fly from the nearby airfield at Northolt. He was educated at Southall County School and joined the RAF in 1934 as an aircraft apprentice at Halton, where he trained as an aircraft fitter.
When the war started, Harrison
was selected for pilot training and left for Canada, where he was rated an exceptional pilot. He was retained to instruct pupil pilots but eventually managed to secure a posting to an operational squadron.
In 1944 he joined No 605 Squadron flying Mosquitoes on night intruder sorties over Germany. He remained in the RAF after the war and commanded No 4 Squadron,
also flying the Mosquito, before he was selected for No 8 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School, graduating with a distinguished pass.
The complexity of flying near the speed of sound and the advances of the new generation of experimental jet aircraft, allied to the lack of simulators, made test flying a risky business and no fewer that 10 of the 28 pilots on his course were to lose their lives. On one occasion, the engine of his Hawker P 1052 jet fighter failed and he just scraped over the Swan Hotel, crash-landing just inside the airfield and demolishing a wooden bicycle shed before walking away unscathed.
was appointed to the prestigious Aeroflight at Farnborough, where he flew all types of swept-wing, tailless and delta-wing experimental aircraft being developed at the time. Amongst the aircraft was an Avro 707B, another of the third-scale Vulcans; his exceptional flying skill came to the attention of Avro's chief test pilot, Roly Falk, and in 1953 Harrison
joined the company. A year earlier he had been awarded the AFC
for his work at Farnborough.
With the Vulcan safely launched and in service with the RAF, Avro decided to reenter the civilian market in 1959 with the Avro 748 twin turboprop, aimed at replacing the DC3, still flying all over the world, with an aircraft to the latest civil safety standards. Harrison
took the aircraft up on its first flight. The competition with the rival Fokker F27 was intense and Harrison's
superb flying ensured that the 748's versatile performance was fully exploited. He demonstrated the aircraft in many countries of the world, helping to win vital contracts in India and the Far East.
As the 748 prospered Harrison
was faced with another challenge, which was the development of the Nimrod aircraft, which Avro had won on a fixed price contract. The aircraft design was based on the de Havilland Comet and Harrison
ensured that only the essential amount of test flying took place and that no attempt should be made to "improve" the perfectly adequate aircraft handling.
In this way Hawker Siddeley, as the firm was then called, was able to deliver the aircraft on budget and on time to the RAF to take over so successfully from the Shackleton.
Throughout his flying career, Harrison
flew almost 8,000 hours on 93 different aircraft types, including no fewer than 13 different prototypes. As chief test pilot he moulded a strong team of professional and loyal pilots and he fought hard to ensure that their pay and conditions were appropriate.
He retired from flying in 1969 and his final job at Avro was as product support manager, a post he held for 14 years, allowing him to keep in touch with all the airlines and operators of the 748 airliner and military users of other Avro aircraft.
retired to the foothills of the Pennines in Derbyshire. He was a very keen and competent golfer.
In 1968 Harrison
was appointed OBE
for his key role in developing the Vulcan bomber. He also received two Queen's Commendations for Valuable Services in the Air.
, who died on April 16, married, in 1940, Maureen Phillips, who became an internationally renowned flower arranger. She survives him with their two daughters.