Newsletter 15
? Winter 2006
Updated on 9Dec2006
Aviation Heritage Project
Dunsfold Wings & Wheels
Female Angle
Flight Test from a Desk
Harrier News
Hawk News
Graduate Apprentices
Hawker People News
Hugh Merewether
  1924 - 2006, Test Pilot
  Flight Development
  Faster, Higher, Further
  Spinning With Hugh
JSF Progress
Sea Furies at Reno
Sea Harrier ZA195
Sea Hawk Recovered
Sir Sydney & Sir George
Sopwith & Bradshaw
Summer's Day at Dunsfold
Vulcan to the Skies
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

The following appreciation was given by Duncan Simpson at Hugh Merewether's funeral on 25th September at Hawkinge Crematorium...

I think it unlikely that Hugh parted with much information about his working life - his contribution to aviation - to his family or friends, so I shall try to give a brief account of his outstanding career in the test flying business.

On leaving school, the Diocesan College in South Africa, Hugh joined the South African Navy and after secondment to the Royal Navy was taught to fly by the US Navy in 1944-45, eventually leaving the Service to join Barnes Wallis at Vickers Armstrong's research and development department at Weybridge. Whilst there he obtained a first class honours degree in engineering at London University.

Hugh Merewether, 1924 - 2006, Test Pilot

top toptop toptop top
Throughout this time he continued flying, with the RAFVR from 1947 to 1951 and with No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, commanded by Neville Duke, from 1951 to 1955. Neville recognised Hugh's ability and invited him to join Hawker Aircraft Ltd as a test pilot, which he did in 1954 after a year of freelance flying, ferrying fighter aircraft to the Middle East and the Sub-Continent.

He soon brought his engineering ability and flying skills to help sort out the first generation of powered flying controls in the Hunter. For the next six years he continued to work on developing the Hunter which resulted in the aircraft becoming one of the most outstanding of its generation, being exported to twenty countries world-wide.

One of his most remarkable achievements was the Hunter erect and inverted spinning programme which Hugh both devised and carried out. As a result such spins became a standard educational exercise at the Empire Test Pilots' School for some thirty years. Those tutors at the School who flew with him will not forget his calm presence in the left-hand seat whilst rotating upside down, loose straps hanging upwards, with his pencil tied to the correct length of string so he could reach it when note writing was required.

Hugh's biggest challenge came in October 1960 when he and Bill Bedford commenced flying the P.1127 prototype at Dunsfold. To the development of this remarkable aeroplane Hugh brought his flying skill, his engineering intellect and total dedication. Many of us watched in admiration as Hugh and Bill tackled this early flying; they alternated, step by step, in developing new techniques and helping Ralph Hooper and the engineers at Kingston solve each problem as it arose. Six prototypes were built and nine production Kestrels saw successful service in a three nation (UK, USA, FRG) squadron evaluating military V/STOL. Nobody else in the world had succeeded in producing a fighting aeroplane with this capability.

I have but skimmed the surface of this painstaking development work which is detailed in Hugh's book: "Prelude to the Harrier" ( HPM Publications, 1998). However, two incidents are more than worthy of a mention here, for during those early trials Hugh succeeded in carrying out two forced landings with total engine failures. The first was in 1962, at RAF Tangmere in the third prototype; the second in 1965, at RAF Thorney Island in the sixth prototype. Both these aircraft were on fire; the first failure was at 3,000 ft and 530 knots, the second at 28,000 ft and Mach 1.13. Hugh's achievement in putting both these aircraft down cannot be adequately described here. Both required the highest degree of flying skill, judgement and courage.

Hugh decided to retire from Hawkers in 1970, having seen, as Chief Test Pilot, the Harrier into RAF service. He saw the fruits of his work, and that of colleagues at Kingston and Dunsfold, in the Falklands campaign, and of course the Harrier remains in service today and will continue well into the future.

May I continue with a quotation from his book. He wrote: "The flight development history of the P.1127 is inevitably slanted towards the matter of problems encountered and overcome. By concentrating on them it is easy to forget the excitement and exhilaration of test flying such a novel aircraft, particularly in its early stages of development; also the technical satisfaction involved. We were extremely lucky to experience this and knew that we were highly dependent on very many dedicated people: the Hawker and Bristol Siddeley Engines design and production teams; the Flight Development Department at Dunsfold with whom we discussed every individual flight, before and after; those in the Experimental Hangar who prepared the aircraft and carefully inspected them before flight; the air traffic controllers who monitored our flights; the firemen who patiently stood by to cover emergencies; plus all manner of other supporters."

It was my privilege to know Hugh for over fifty years; I met his father and mother and several members of the family. I hope the he would approve of what I have said about him - I felt his presence when writing these notes. He used to monitor our joint flight reports insisting on complete accuracy in the text and diagrams. On his visits to the design department at Kingston late in the afternoon, key people knew that his appearance put paid to their early evening departure. During his two years as Chief Test Pilot he continued his total dedication to flight development of the Harrier - when eventually persuaded to go on leave his preparation was last minute and somewhat haphazard for such an organised man.

On retirement his boat took most of his attention, the beloved Nicholson 38, Blue Idyl, which he sailed by stages round the world. His seaman's certificates were all taken in record time, and off he went. The testing of his boat was exhaustive and his initial Biscay crossing took him and his bruised companions to the limits.

Hugh will be remembered with affection and admiration by all who knew him, and his family will take pride in his outstanding career.