Eric “Winkle” Brown is slight of build and grey of hair. He speaks with a calm and quiet tone of confidence that only a life of achievement can bestow on a person. He tells the tales of his life, and there are so many, in an understated manner that belies the remarkable nature of his exploits. I know this, as I am one of many that have enjoyed one of his lectures and a personal slideshow as inspiring as it is captivating.
So why do I feel that he is worthy of mention, as Greatest Aviation Person?
I could talk about his flying; let me just scratch the surface:
He holds a world record for 487 aircraft types in his Pilot’s Logbook (though this does not include variants, so Spitfire and Seafire count only as one entry). In this he includes gliders, fighters, bombers, amphibians and flying boats, airliners and helicopters.
He holds the record for the most aircraft carrier landings (2407) and most catapult launches. He performed the first landing of a high performance twin engined aircraft on an aircraft carrier (a de Havilland Mosquito on HMS Indefatigable) and the first landing of a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier (a de Havilland Sea Vampire on HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945). He flew tests on Rocket Assisted Takeoffs in Seafires and deliberately landed a Sea Vampire wheels-up on an aircraft carrier with a flexible rubber carpet as a deck – a proposed solution to the stresses induced by hard deck landings.
His records are very unlikely every to be broken.
I could talk about some of his achievements and honours:
He holds the distinction of having been awarded successively the MBE, OBE and CBE, together with the DSC and AFC. In 1982-1983 he was the Royal Aeronautical Society Council President and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS) 2004. The British Association of Aviation Consultants gave him The Sir Peter Masefield Gold Medal for prolonged and outstanding service to aviation in 1997.
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators gave him the Award of Honour for outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation in 2005, the award was given jointly to Neil Armstrong. Part of the citation read “Eric Brown is one of the few remaining flying legends and, in the words of Hawker Aircraft Chief Test Pilot, Bill Humble, ‘in an era of outstanding test pilots, Winkle was simply the best.” (the full citation is reproduced below);
In 2007 he was awarded the Sir Arthur Clarke Lifetime Achievement award and was honoured by the US Air Command and Staff College Gathering of Eagles Program.
But, let me give you a feel for his career by using his own words, quoted from one of the 36 books he has had published, most of which are on aviation subjects. From “Wings on my Sleeve” (2006, Phoenix)
“In February we heard that three new helicopters were to be allocated to us in Aero Flight, a present from America. I had never seen a tail-rotor type helicopter and I was all agog. Early in March I saw one for the first time when I paid a short visit to Farnborough. I had a short twenty-minute flight in it as a passenger. On the very next flight the pilot crashed it.
Within days Squadron Leader Martindale and I were off to Speke Airport at Liverpool to collect two new Sikorsky R-4B helicopters. When we got there we found the American mechanics finish assembling the machines out of crates. In charge was a huge technical master-sergeant. I said to him, 'Right. When are you going to teach to fly these things?'
He said, 'Whaddya mean, bud? Here's your instructor,' and handed me a large orange-coloured booklet.
Alarmed, we went back to the mess and read the book. It must have been written by an optimist.
We managed to get the first machine started with the help of the building crew, and I got in to try and make the horribly unfamiliar thing fly. I fiddled with the controls, and within a few seconds I was charging all over the airfield. The brute just wouldn't obey me. You had a stick and rudder pedals, as usual, but these had to be used in careful coordination with a thing called a collective pitch lever down on the left-hand side. This lever was the main control for the vertical movement of the machine, and it also had at the tip a twist-grip, motor-bike-type throttle. All these controls had to be handled skilfully in conjunction. I tried to make it hover, but it was all I could do to set the thing down again without damaging it, me, or the other aircraft on the field.
Speechless, we both had a stiff drink, then tried again. Eventually we thought we had better try and make Farnborough and after a touching and ominous last farewell from the Americans, who were as shaken as we were, we lurched into the air.
I don't know how we made it.”
I hereby propose, Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown CBE DSC AFC RN for Greatest Aviation Person. He is worthy for his constant and continuing positive influence on the Aviation Industry, for his development of the Aircraft that we fly and systems used to operate them, for his supreme flying skills and for his continuing efforts to Guide and Inspire each successive generation of Aerospace Engineers.
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Award of Honour Citation:
Having taken his first flight at the age of eight with his father, a former pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, at the controls, in 1939 Eric Brown started to learn to fly seriously while in the UAS at Edinburgh University. Graduating with a MA in German, he went into the Fleet Air Arm and stayed there for the next 31 years, flying no less than 487 aircraft types - a record unlikely ever to be beaten.
In 1941, he claimed two FW 200s while flying Martlets of No. 802 Squadron from HMS Audacity. Following a period on trials work involving Sea Hurricanes and Seafires and a stint as a Deck Landing Instructor he was posted to become the Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, subsequently flying all types of allied naval aircraft.
There are many outstanding events in his career, perhaps the most notable is making the world's first landing of a jet aircraft - a Sea Vampire - on the deck of an aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945. He also has the (perhaps unique) experience of deliberately landing a Sea Vampire wheels-up on an aircraft carrier as a test assessment of the use of an inflatable mattress in lieu of arrester wires. He also holds the world record for the most deck landings and most catapult launches of any pilot.
In 1946, as CO of the Enemy Aircraft Flight at Farnborough he became heavily involved in the flight testing and assessment of German, Italian and Japanese aircraft, in all flying 55 individual types, ranging from the prone pilot Berlin B9, the push-pull Do335, and the remarkable little Heinkel He162 ‘Volksjager’ to the highly innovative German combat types entering the Luftwaffe inventory towards the end of the war. These also included the twin axial flow jet-engined Me262 and the Me163 ‘flying bomb’ (he did one clandestine flight with its unstable fuel of hydrogen peroxide/hydrazine hydrate in methanol). He also flew compression ignition (diesel) engines in the two-engined Do18, the three-engined Bv26 and the six-engined Bv222 flying-boat. As a German linguist, he interrogated many of the leading German aviation personalities, including Willy Messerschmitt, Ernst Heinkel and Hanna Reitsch.
Later, he resumed flying with No 802 Squadron on Sea Furies, spent two years at the US Navy Test Centre at Patuxent River, commanded No 804 Squadron (Sea Hawks), was Commander Air at RNAS Brawdy, Naval Attache in Bonn from 1958 to 1960, served at the Admiralty as Deputy Director of Naval Air Warfare, and commanded RNAS Lossiemouth.
Retiring in 1970 he began a second career in the field of helicopter aviation. Here, his posts included being Chief Executive of the British Helicopter Advisory Board and Chief Executive and Vice-President of the European Helicopter Association, based in Amsterdam.
A Past President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Commander Eric Brown holds the distinction of having been awarded successively the MBE, OBE and CBE, together with the DSC and AFC. He is the author of some 36 published books, mostly about aviation.
Eric Brown is one of the few remaining flying legends and, in the words of Hawker Aircraft Chief Test Pilot, Bill Humble, ‘in an era of outstanding test pilots, Winkle was simply the best.’ Because of his outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation - and particularly to the development of British naval aviation Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is awarded the Guild's Award of Honour.
I'm a conscientious man... when I throw rocks at seabirds I leave no tern unstoned. (Ogden Nash)
Et nom de dieu! C'est triste Orly la dimanche (Jacques Brel)