John Derry

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John Derry
Birth name John Douglas Derry
Born (1921-12-05)5 December 1921
Cairo, Egypt
Died 6 September 1952(1952-09-06) (aged 30)
Farnborough, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1939–1947
Rank Squadron leader
Unit No. 181 Squadron RAF
Commands held No. 182 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Lion
Other work Test pilot

Squadron Leader John Douglas Derry DFC (5 December 1921 – 6 September 1952) was a British test pilot, and was the first Briton to exceed the speed of sound.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Cairo, Egypt, Derry attended Dragon School in Oxford and Charterhouse School.

Military career[edit]

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, he left school to enlist as a wireless operator and air gunner in the Royal Air Force. In 1942 he received a commission and the following year trained (in Canada) as a pilot. His operational career began late in 1944 when he joined 182 Squadron, flying Hawker Typhoons on close support to the Allied armies in the Low Countries. After serving also with 181 Squadron, he was given command of 182 Squadron shortly before the end of the war.

Test pilot career[edit]

In 1947 Derry joined de Havilland as a test pilot, working largely on the de Havilland DH 108 aircraft. He is widely believed to have exceeded the speed of sound on 6 September 1948 when he lost control of his aircraft and the Mach meter briefly showed supersonic speeds in a shallow dive from 12,195 m (40,000 ft) to 9,145 m (30,000 ft), although recording apparatus was switched off.[citation needed]

As a demonstration pilot, Derry developed a new type of aerobatic manoeuvre which became known as the "Derry Turn". It consists of a reversal of bank which is performed in an inward rather than an outward direction.


He was killed in the 1952 Farnborough Airshow DH.110 crash (the DH.110 went on to become the de Havilland Sea Vixen) when his aircraft broke up because of a design fault resulting in catastrophic structural failure, with 31 fatalities including himself, his flight observer Tony Richards, and 29 spectators.[1]


  1. ^ Rivas, Brian; Bullen, Annie (1982). John Derry: The Story of Britain's First Supersonic Pilot. William Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0099-8. 
  • "Mr. John Derry" (obituary), The Times, 8 September 1952, p. 6.