The World’s Greatest Test Pilot Remembered
His influence continues to inspire today’s pilots many of whom will be flying from the Royal Navy’s new generation of aircraft carriers.
CAPTAIN ERIC BROWN, THE WORLD’S GREATEST TEST PILOT, REMEMBERED WITH COMMEMORATIVE TRIBUTE
Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC FRAeS Royal Navy, one of the most celebrated aviators and test pilots in history, was remembered with a Commemorative Tribute and Flypast at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset on Thursday 21 July 2016.
Captain Eric Brown, who was one of the most accomplished test pilots of his generation and perhaps of all time, flew a record 487 different types of aircraft. It is unlikely this record will ever be broken. He also holds the world record for the most aircraft carrier take offs and landings, 2,271 and 2,407 respectively and will be remembered forever as the first man to land a jet aircraft on a carrier. As the Royal Navy’s test pilot he test flew almost every category of military aircraft including gliders, fighters, bombers, VSTOL, amphibians and helicopters playing a key role in the design and flight-testing of an entire generation of aircraft.
Captain Brown set the most exacting of standards” said Commander Henry Mitchell, Commander Air at RNAS Yeovilton, “and as a result of his exceptional skill in evaluating complex flight test programmes, his findings pioneered many new developments and technologies that gave the UK aviation industry a world leading reputation.” “His influence continues to inspire today’s pilots many of whom will be flying from the Royal Navy’s new generation of aircraft carriers.”
The Commemorative event, which will be attended by over 600 guests including HRH The Duke of York KG, will pay tribute to Captain Brown’s remarkable career and achievements and will include a flypast of over 40 different naval aircraft representing many of the types that Captain Brown flew and flight tested.
Surviving the sinking of HMS Audacity
Born in 1919 in Leith, near Edinburgh, Eric Brown joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1939 as a fighter pilot, initially flying the Blackburn Skua. In early 1941 he joined 802 Naval Air Squadron flying Martlets from the Navy’s first auxiliary aircraft carrier, HMS Audacity. Eric described landing on her tiny deck as “challenging to say the least!” On 21 December 1941, he survived the sinking of HMS Audacity when she was hit by torpedoes from a German U-boat with heavy loss of life.
Captain Eric Brown was a practitioner, pioneer and advocate of naval aviation all his life. Throughout his heroic service in the Second World War and later using his experimental, engineering and critical thinking skills, his career spanned over three decades during the most exciting and innovative period in aviation history. He achieved many firsts in naval aviation including the first landings on an aircraft carrier by a twin-engine aircraft, the Mosquito, an aircraft with a tricycle undercarriage, the Airacobra and a jet propelled aircraft, the Vampire. During and shortly after World War Two, he flew every aircraft used in combat, including every type of early jet aircraft.
Testing up to eight different aircraft a day by 1944, and speaking perfect German, Eric was appointed as Chief Pilot on a joint UK/US mission to retrieve Germany’s most closely guarded technological secrets. He flew many captured German aircraft, including their top fighter, which was 125 mph faster than our equivalent. While on this mission, Eric was asked to accompany a medical unit to help liberate Belsen concentration camp. The experience, including interrogating Hermann Göring, founder of the Gestapo and other senior members of the Nazi regime, was to affect him for the rest of his life. In 2015, he returned to Belsen with the Queen and found meeting former prisoners who he had helped to liberate, profoundly moving.
Birth of the jet age
The birth of the jet age and the advances in jet engine technology that saw the top speed of military fighters rise to a blistering 1400 mph, brought with it new levels of risk for the pilots who tested these aircraft. Eric’s ability to remain calm in the face of danger set him apart as he pushed the boundaries of landing faster and heavier aircraft on aircraft carriers. “The innovative advances of so many of our aviation achievements came at a price” said Eric. “It was like playing Russian roulette and test pilots were routinely killed.” Eric’s courageous and dedicated work helped set in place the high operational safety standards of today. He also test flew aircraft in the US and advised on the design of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and the F35 jet.
Throughout his career, Captain Brown’s bravery, ingenuity and indomitable spirit was matched only by his fierce commitment to keep the Navy’s historic aircraft flying as an inspiration to future generations.
“Keeping our heritage aircraft flying tells the story of the demanding pioneering endeavour and technical success of British naval aviation” said Eric. “It would be an absolute travesty if all this was lost. After I am gone, I hope that the aircraft will be well looked after, and the men who flew them and those who laid down their lives in them will never be forgotten.”
Captain Brown’s influence was international and guests are expected to attend from the USA and Germany as well as from all sectors of the aerospace and aviation industry. Representatives will also be attending from the great British aircraft manufacturers including the former Chief Test Pilot of AV Roe and Co, the Miles Aircraft Company and the son of Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine.
“There can be no greater example of a test pilot to inspire future generations” said Commodore Jock Alexander OBE, Chief Executive of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, the charity that preserves and promotes the nation’s naval aviation heritage. “The baton has been passed. We owe it to this extraordinarily courageous and dedicated man to ensure that his great legacy to the nation is preserved.”