Sunday 21 February 2016

"Britain's greatest pilot" Capain Eric 'Winkle' Brown has passed away aged 97 years

Neil Hanna photo via the Edinburgh Evening news

"... An Edinburgh-born aviator who was dubbed the world’s greatest test pilot has died at the age of 97. Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, from Leith, a veteran of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm holds the world record for flying the greatest number of different aircraft and also piloted Britain’s first supersonic flight..."

 Read more here

 Eric 'Winkle' Brown must rate as one of aviation's leading test pilots of all time, a man who was there at the forefront of the development of aircraft from biplanes to supersonic jets. With his love for danger -   as a teenager he enjoyed earning some spare cash as a wall-of-death motorcycle rider- and having a father who had been a WW I fighter pilot - Brown's love affair with flight began in 1936 when he was taken up on an aerobatic joy-ride by German WW I ace Ernst Udet who made him promise " to learn to speak German and learn to fly.. it was a pivotal point in my life ".

 'Winkle' Brown had many subsequent dealings with Germany and the Germans, from his own early imprisonment in Munich on the outbreak of WW II to his interrogation of Luftwaffe chief Goering, test flying the Luftwaffe's jet and rocket aircraft to 'liberating' Belsen concentration camp and interrogating the notorious camp Kommandant Franz Kramer and Kramer's 'deputy' Irma Grese " the most evil person I've ever met ". Brown's war started as a Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot flying Martlets (Wildcats) deployed on HMS Audacity which had a terrifyingly short flight deck and carried six aircraft..

Audacity (above) was a 'flat-topped former German 'banana boat' converted for Atlantic convoy escort duties protecting against bomber attack from the "Focke Wulf Kurier" (sic) or Condor, the most heavily armed German aircraft in the sky.." Audacity was torpedoed and sunk and Brown and twenty-four of his ship-mates were left for dead- only Brown and one other survived. Audacity's captain had already noted Brown's competence at carrier landings and reported this fact to his superiors, which marked Brown for some highly dangerous test flying ...

 Brown was the first man to land a twin-engine aircraft (a Mosquito) on a carrier and as a result became the chief naval test pilot at RAE Farnborough for the Fleet Air Arm.

He flew a world record 2,400 carrier landings, probably flew more types of aircraft than any other pilot, was the only Allied pilot to fly the rocket-powered Me 163 and also flew the Me 262.

Post-war he was the first man to land a jet on a carrier.

'Winkle' Brown was a test pilot as aerodynamics moved from biplanes to supersonic fighters - indeed supersonic flight was the 'holy grail' of aviation during this period. Brown was tasked with ascertaining why Geoffrey de Havilland died at the controls of the tail-less DH 108 Swallow as it was attempting a new world air speed record.

What he did as a pilot very few - if any - have equalled. not only for the 487 types flown (!). From interrogating Goering, flying as a young lad with WW1's second highest scoring ace Udet and going on to test fly the Luftwaffe's most advanced ending his flying career on the Buccaneer nuclear strike bomber. A towering figure in aviation, notable not only for his huge service to his own country, but also to the US and during the reconstruction of Germany. Hals und Beinbruch, Captain, we'll miss you. Blue skies, Sir! RIP