From The Daily Telegraph 15 December.
Duncan Simpson, who has died aged 89, was one of the country’s most distinguished test pilots. He played key roles in the development of the Hunter fighter, the Harrier vertical and short take-off and landing (V/STOL) ground-attack aircraft and the Hawk advanced trainer flown by the RAF’s Red Arrows.
After leaving school in 1945, with no demand for new RAF pilots, he began studies at the de Havilland Technical School at Hatfield, where he went from the training workshops into the experimental department working on the development of the early jet fighters and the prototype Comet airliner. He graduated in 1949 when he joined the RAF and trained as a pilot.
He flew Meteor fighters with No 222 Squadron and in 1953 joined the Day Fighter Development Unit at the RAF’s Central Fighter Establishment conducting trials on the latest fighters to enter RAF service including the Hawker Hunter. In 1954 Hawker’s chief test pilot, Neville Duke, invited him to join the company. Simpson left the RAF and began his long association with the Kingston-based company.
He began as a production test pilot, mainly on the Hunter, before becoming more involved in development work when he made a significant contribution to the great success of the aircraft.
Simpson’s long association with the Harrier began on August 25 1962 when he made his first flight in the fourth prototype of the Hawker P1127, the forerunner to the iconic V/STOL fighter. In an attempt to secure a collaborative agreement with the USA and Germany to finance the project, a British-American-German Tripartite Evaluation Squadron was formed at RAF West Raynham in Norfolk.
As a former RAF fighter pilot who had served at the Air Fighting Development Unit, Simpson was chosen to conduct the training of the 10 members of the squadron whose task was to perfect the tactics and capabilities of the revolutionary jet, now given the name Kestrel.
Over the next few years Simpson conducted many test flights on the Kestrel, which was named Harrier by the RAF. He flew the first production Harrier GR 1 on December 27 1967. In January 1969, by now Hawker Siddeley’s deputy chief test pilot, he was responsible for training the first four RAF pilots to fly the Harrier.
Based at the company’s Dunsfold airfield, the conversion course to the vertical take-off and landing aircraft had to be conducted without the use of a dual control version. The four pilots practised hovering in a helicopter before making their first flight in a Harrier. Simpson passed instructions from the control tower and after eight sorties each, the four pilots left for their base at RAF Wittering to start converting the pilots of No 1 Squadron.
The company developed a two-seat trainer version of the Harrier and Simpson made the first flight of the prototype on April 24 1969. Six weeks later, on June 4, the Pegasus engine of the aircraft failed at 3,000 ft. Simpson made numerous attempts to relight it as he headed for Boscombe Down, but all failed and he turned towards the open country at Larkhill military range. At 100 ft he was forced to eject, landing close to the burning wreckage, having been severely injured. He was taken by helicopter to Tidworth Hospital, where it was discovered that he had broken his neck as the ejector seat burst through the aircraft’s canopy.
Simpson needed a bone graft and the surgeons had to carry out the procedure by entering via his throat. For the rest of his life he spoke with a gravel-like tone and returned to test flying nine months later. For his attempts to save the prototype he was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.
Once he returned to flying after his serious accident, he became the company’s chief test pilot.
Full obituary with photographs.
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The life and times of the Greatest Generation, the heroes (British and Allies) of WWII.