Honorary RAeS Fellowship for Des Barker


Retired SA Air Force (SAAF) major general Des Barker has become only the second South African to be awarded Honorary Fellowship of the prestigious Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS).

The Society is an international, multi-disciplinary professional institution dedicated to the global aerospace community with more than twenty-two thousand members. In the 101 years the Honorary Fellowship title has been awarded since the first in 1917, only 191 Honorary Fellowships have been awarded.

Barker’s citation reads: “Major General Barker, experimental test pilot, is admitted to Honorary Fellowship in recognition of the major role he played in establishing and developing a formal flight test capability in the South African Air Force (SAAF) and defence industry. In a flying career spanning more than four decades, Major General Barker also played key roles in a wide range of SAAF flight test programmes.

“He served as Chief Test Pilot (1990-1995) and then Officer Commanding (1996-2000) of the SAAF Test Flight and Development Centre.

“In addition, through his publications and presentations he made a significant contribution to display flying safety internationally.

“Major General Barker qualified as a pilot in 1969, a maintenance test pilot in 1974 and an experimental test pilot in 1984. He is a qualified flying instructor and a display pilot with 7,200 flying hours on 58 different types of aircraft.

“He was appointed Air Attaché to the United Kingdom in 2000 and Base Commander AFB Makhado in 2004. He retired in 2008 as Chief of Air Staff Operations and became the Manager Aeronautics Research at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) from which he retired in 2017”.

“He remains self-employed as a civilian experimental test pilot and serves as Vice President of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (South Africa) and on the boards of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa and of Airshow South Africa.

“In addition to his publication on display flying safety ‘Zero Error Margin’ he has written a handbook for general aviation pilots ‘Guidelines for the Flight Testing of Experimental and Homebuilt Aircraft’.

“He has received numerous honours and awards from the South African Air Force, the European Airshow Council 2011 Paul Bowen Award, the Jock Maitland Sword of Honour 2018 and The Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Guillaumaud Trophy 2012.”

Asked to comment on the award, Barker said: “It’s with humility and pride the RAeS Honorary Fellowship award is accepted and even more humbling as a test pilot to share the honour with the world’s most illustrious scientists, engineers and aviators including Orville Wright, Winston Churchill, Thomas Sopwith, Frank Whittle, Sydney Camm, Barnes Wallis, Dr Theodore von Kármán, Capt. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, Alex Henshaw, Chuck Yeager and Joseph Kittinger”.

The only other South African to have earned this accolade is Professor Beric Skews of the University of the Witwatersrand. He was named a RAeS honorary fellow in 2008. Skews is the director of the Johannesburg-based university’s flow research unit. He is internationally regarded as an expert in the field of compressible gas dynamics and has authored more than 200 publications.

With thanks and appreciation to the SAAF Association and “Crow” Stannard.