One hundred years ago today the life of a trailblazing Australian pioneer of flight was tragically cut short in an air crash, long before its time.
We look back and celebrate the life of Harry Hawker, who straddled the UK and Australia to move forward powered flight and founded one of the key companies that would eventually form BAE Systems. In Harry’s honour, we speak to Technology Directors from both Australia and the UK about what inspired him and why his legacy is more relevant than ever to our two countries today.
Dave Short, Technology Director, BAE Systems
Not many people could claim Harry Houdini inspired them to work on aircraft, but I have recently learnt that’s exactly what happened to Harry Hawker. After building a mechanic business from scratch, he saw Houdini demonstrating the first powered flights in Australia and was smitten. He moved to the UK at 22 years if age to carve out an exciting and important aeronautical career. Like many of the engineers in the early age of flight, Hawker was also his own test pilot, so he very much had skin in the game.
You might also recognise his name in a host of iconic British aircraft, including the vertical take-off and landing Hawker Harrier, as well as the less well known original VVTOL aircraft, Hawker Kestrel. His name is also on our future combat air system - the Hawker Tempest.
Australia and the UK have a long history of sharing talent and skills. Our own company has enjoyed a proud Australian business since the 1950s when we tested one of the first generation missile defence systems at Woomara – and missile defence is still an area that Australia leads the world, particularly in its work on hypersonics. I think that Harry Hawker would be both proud of his legacy and the ongoing collaboration between our two nations.
Hawker P1127 / Kestrel
The Hawker P1127, a Hawker Harrier prototype, makes its first tethered flight in 1960.
Glenn Logan, Technology and Product Development Director, BAE Systems Australia
Harry Hawker was a man who loved engineering and ‘had a need for speed’. When he wasn’t designing and building aircraft, he was on the track racing cars and motorbikes. He also attempted one of the first transatlantic crossings and broke a number of flying altitude records.
When he was 11 he was earning pocket money at his local garage, building engines and learning how to be a mechanic. He also came back to Australia after starting his company in the UK, arriving with an advanced Sopwith biplane design, which he helped design, that inspired more young people into engineering.
It’s undoubtedly a different world to the one Harry grew up in, but there’s even more opportunity to be innovative no matter what your background. There’s also still a rich collaboration between the people and governments of the UK and Australia, which Dave and I enjoy to this day. It’s also a little easier to talk to one another, although currently even more difficult in some ways to visit!
Harry Hawker is still an inspiration for many of us and while our chief engineers no longer get to be test pilots, even though some of them might want to be, aerospace is still one of the most exciting areas to work in that I can imagine.