Born in Bognor Regis, England, Barbara Harmer (1954 – 2011) left school aged 15 to pursue a career in hairdressing. Harmer’s first experience in the aviation industry was six years later when she left hairdressing to go and be an air traffic controller at London Gatwick Airport. When she took on the job of air traffic controller Harmer decided to study for A Levels, which she had missed out on because she had left school at such a young age. Harmer obtained A levels in Geography, English Law, Constitutional Law and Politics. She then began flying lessons. Once she had gained her Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and then her Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) she became a flying instructor and pilot with a small commuter airline.
In 1984 Harmer joined British Caledonian and flew BAC One-Elevens for three years. She then started flying long haul McDonnell Douglas DC-10. British Airways bought British Caledonian in 1988, four years after Harmer had joined. British Airways employs over 3000 pilots, but only sixty of them are women, and on top of that when Barbara joined British Airways no woman had ever piloted the Concorde. It was at this time that Harmer realised that her ultimate ambition was to fly the Concorde. Only a handful of pilots are hand picked by British Airways to undergo the rigorous 6 months of training that British Airways insists all pilots selected to fly Concorde must undergo. Harmer was finally chosen to undergo this intensive and expensive training in 1992.
On the 25 March 1993 Harmer became the first qualified female Concorde pilot, and later that year she made her first Concorde flight as Captain to New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).