Bill Bedford Blue Plaque unveiled

There was big turnout in West End Lane on Saturday as Elmbridge Mayor, Cllr Mary Sheldon unveiled a blue plaque to honour Harrier test pilot Bill Bedford.

Elmbridge Mayor, Cllr Mary Sheldon, consort and members of Bill Bedford’s family

Cllr Richard Williams made a short address to the attendees:

“This plaque honours the life of a remarkable man from an era when our test pilots were household names.

The likes of Bill Bedford, Neville Duke and Brian Trubshaw were heroes in a time when British aviation was leading edge and terribly exciting.

Bill Bedford was, apparently, training to be an electrical engineer and steeplejack when war broke out…odd for a man who hated heights…

Odd too, that he became a war time fighter pilot fighting on the home front, Burma, India and Ceylon

From 1956-1967 he was Chief Test Pilot at Hawker Aircraft where he pioneered the cutting edge Vertical and Short Take Off and Landing aircraft that became the Harrier.

It was an incredibly dangerous job and there are tales of accidents…in 1961, crashing at 200 feet at Yeovilton (and doing the Royal Navy a favour by destroying an old barn they’d been trying together rid of for years)…

Or…stepping out intact from a prototype that fell out of the sky at the Paris air show in 1963 – saying that travelling in the French ambulance was the worst part of the whole experience…

Most of all, there is extraordinary success. He garnered worldwide headlines, in 1963 for the first vertical landing by a jet at sea in the Harrier prototype, onto the deck of HMS Ark Royal.

Once his Chief Test Pilot career came to an end, he travelled the world as Sales and Marketing Manager at British Aerospace and must have been enormously proud of the Harrier’s most high profile time during the Falklands War when it excelled in protecting the British Task Force.

For those of us old enough to remember, the Harrier was immortalised by the BBC’s Brian Hanrahan’s ‘I counted them all out, and I counted them all back…” they were Harriers.

No other VSTOL aircraft has been so successful – The Harrier was in RAF service from 1969-2010 and it’s still a mainstay of the US Marine Corps. None of this would have been possible without Bill Bedford.

He then turned his considerable skills to West End, as President of the RA, resurrecting Chequers Pond and being awarded the ERA’s coveted Jubilee Award in 1995″.