Ralph Hooper: the Hawker P1127 jump jet

Aeronautical engineer Ralph Hooper interviewed about the Hawker P.1127, prototype of the Harrier jump jet.

Well it was a hobby interest to begin with, there was nothing official about it. It would be fair to say at the time I was not very impressed with the work I was supposed to be doing, but in general the project office will pick up new ideas and then say, ‘Well we could do an aeroplane something like this.’ The item behind us is the sixth and last of the 1127 prototypes, which were the forerunner of the Harrier. And in the middle of 1957 I was in the project office really looking for something to do after the expected cancellation of the 1121, and we had had a brochure from the Bristol Engine Company with some suggestions that they had made as to the possibility of doing a vectored thrust engine. That is an engine which can direct its thrust either backwards or any direction, including in theory fully forwards. Their original proposal was limited in its usefulness, but we established very good relations with Gordon Lewis who was the engineer at Bristol working on it. And you start off with a suggestion that perhaps something like this could be done. You will then do quite a lot of work on it, see if you can knock it down and in a theoretical basis, if not then if the thing is to go ahead then it has to move into the design office. And again they’re divided into sub sections, and you’d one section doing the fuselage, one section doing wings, and so on. The section that was put onto the 1127 in fact was the one I had worked with in the time that I was in the experimental drawing office, and er, so that worked rather well, I knew them all and everyone knew me. And so you get on with it, then assuming that something like that is going to be it, and along the way of course you meet snags, maybe things you hadn’t anticipated or merely that things you had anticipated turn out to be more difficult than you expect. So people will have ideas for creating solutions. All straightforward really. Bill Bedford was the chief test pilot and Hugh Merewether was his number two. And they did all the early flying on the 1127s, in particular Hugh followed on immediately behind Bill so that if we were unlucky enough to lose number one we still had number two up to do it, to be blunt. Hugh was more engineering minded, I think, studious, more studiously minded, and he did a lot of the report writing on the aeroplane. Bill on the other hand was the sort of chap who took an aeroplane by the scruff of its neck and it did what he told it, you know. There’s one story from the early flying, on XP831 which is now in the Science Museum in London, and that was the demonstration, to whom I’m not certain, done at Dunsfold in the early flying of the 1121. And Bill was flying it, lined up with the runway, hovering, with the wind some thirty degrees off to one side, and from the ground I was certainly surprised to see the aeroplane suddenly do a pirouette and face downwind. And I immediately realised that this was likely to have been intake momentum drag, which if you’re not heading straight into the wind or straight downwind, will tend to try and turn you tail to the wind. So, er, I said to Lickley, I said to him, ‘I believe that’s the effect of momentum drag,’ that’s right, and he gave me a withering look and then turned and said very loudly so the visitor could hear, ‘That shows the pilot’s completely confidence in the aeroplane.’ [Laughs] And when Bill came down and landed afterwards, he took me to one side and said, ‘I really don’t know what happened there.’ [Laughs] However, it was an aspect that we had not properly anticipated, and that little vane on top of the nose proved to be the answer so the pilot could keep an eye on how far out of wind he was.

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