Test pilot had to parachute into hen run

John Cockburn with a Lightning fighter
John Cockburn with a Lightning fighter

A Fylde fighter test pilot who was forced to parachute into a chicken coop when his jet crashed has died aged 79.

John Cockburn OBE, was test and display pilot of fast military jets.

He was a notable figure in British and European military aviation from the late 1960s until his retirement from BAE Systems in 2007.

Born into a farming family in Berwickshire, he began his flying career as a National Service trainee pilot in the RAF.gaining his wings in 1957

He left the RAF in 1961, but immediately joined Ferranti at Turnhouse (now Edinburgh Airport) as a test pilot to fly their Meteor in trials.

Ferranti also operated a Lightning fighter, at British Aircraft Corporation (now BAE Systems) based at Warton.

Mr Cockburn moved there in the mid-1960s, where he was active in radar development, and one of the few to participate in the hazardous Lightning spinning programme.

In 1968 he had to eject from a burning Lightning shortly after take-off from Warton.

Although Cockburn headed the aircraft for Morecambe Bay, the fire rapidly disabled the controls, leaving him powerless.

After he had ejected, the fighter crashed into Pilling Moss, luckily missing nearby houses.

He parachuted into a chicken run and a few days later was displaying another Lightning at Farnborough Airshow.

In 1976, he and fellow pilot Tim Ferguson had a narrow escape when a gun-bay door flew off a Tornado dual control prototype in flight, smashing the canopy, injuring both pilots and damaging one of the engines.

Throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Mr Cockburn was involved in the Jaguar and Tornado development programmes, as well as flying the Buccaneer and several other aircraft types.

He ceased test flying in late 1979 and went back to his farm. But he could not keep away from aviation and returned to Warton in the late 1980s.

With his first hand experience of most aspects of BAE aircraft and associated technologies, he was well placed to lead negotiations for the sale of military aircraft and other products to overseas air forces.

Throughout his life he played golf with great enthusiasm and was a Member both at Royal Lytham &St Annes, and Muirfield.