The Extraordinary Life of Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown: The Legendary Test Pilot and Aviator
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, commonly known as “Winkle” Brown, is a name that stands tall among the list of British aviators of the Second World War. Born in Leith, Edinburgh, in 1919, Brown’s aviation career began in 1936 when he was selected for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. With his passion for flying, Brown was determined to excel in the field and soon became one of the most accomplished test pilots of his time.
During World War II, Brown flew a wide range of aircraft and was one of the few pilots to have flown both the German Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter and the British Gloster Meteor jet fighter. He also tested many experimental aircraft, including the American Bell X-1 rocket plane that broke the sound barrier. Brown’s record of flying more than 2,400 different types of aircraft still stands today.
One of Brown’s most significant contributions to the war effort came in 1945 when he helped liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He flew a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bomber, which carried a medical team and Red Cross supplies to the camp. Brown’s extensive knowledge of German aircraft enabled him to fly the plane safely, despite it being damaged by enemy fire.
Throughout his career, Brown faced many close calls, including one in 1941 when he crash-landed a Grumman Martlet on the deck of the HMS Audacity after his aircraft was hit by enemy fire. Despite the aircraft being severely damaged, Brown managed to bring it down safely and walk away unscathed.
Brown was also responsible for several aviation records, including the world record for the most carrier landings (2,407) and the record for the most different types of aircraft flown by a single pilot (2,441). His achievements earned him numerous accolades, including the Air Force Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross.
After the war, Brown continued to make significant contributions to aviation. He became a test pilot for the Royal Aircraft Establishment and was involved in the development of many aircraft, including the Hawker Hunter and the de Havilland Sea Vixen. He also served as a technical advisor on several films and documentaries, including the James Bond film “Thunderball.”
Throughout his life, Brown remained passionate about aviation and continued to fly well into his 90s. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 97, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest test pilots in history.
As one of the greatest test pilots in history, Capt. Eric “Winkle” Brown had many incredible experiences flying some of the most dangerous aircraft of his time. One such experience was testing the Avro Vulcan, a British strategic bomber that played a crucial role during the Cold War. “Winkle” Brown had countless incredible stories from his time flying dangerous aircraft during World War II. Here are a few more of the stories he recounted:
- Testing the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet: Brown was one of the few pilots who had the opportunity to test the Me 163 Komet, a rocket-powered fighter plane developed by Nazi Germany. Brown recalled that the plane was incredibly fast, reaching a top speed of 700 miles per hour, but had limited fuel and could only stay airborne for a few minutes.
- Surviving a crash in a Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg: Brown was testing a Fi 103R Reichenberg, a suicide aircraft developed by the Germans, when the plane’s controls failed and he had to bail out. He was fortunate to survive the crash, as many pilots who flew the Reichenberg did not return.
- Setting a world record in the Grumman F8F Bearcat: Brown set a new world speed record in the F8F Bearcat, an American fighter plane, by flying at an average speed of 514.3 miles per hour over a 3-kilometer course.
- Landing a jet on an aircraft carrier for the first time: Brown was the first pilot to successfully land a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier. He accomplished this feat in 1945 when he landed a de Havilland Sea Vampire on the deck of the HMS Ocean.
- Surviving a crash in a Hawker Sea Fury: Brown was testing the Sea Fury, a British fighter plane, when the engine failed and he had to crash land. Despite suffering serious injuries, he survived the crash and went on to set a new speed record in the same plane.
As a renowned test pilot and one of the greatest aviators in history, Capt. Eric “Winkle” Brown had many other incredible stories from his time flying dangerous aircraft during World War II. Here are just a few of the stories he recounted:
- Testing the Challenging Vulcan Aircraft: Brown recalled that the Vulcan was a challenging aircraft to fly, as it was large and heavy, with a wingspan of over 110 feet. The plane was also equipped with four powerful jet engines, which made it extremely loud and caused a lot of turbulence. Despite the difficulties, Brown managed to successfully test the Vulcan and was impressed by its capabilities. He noted that the plane was fast and had a long range, making it ideal for carrying out strategic bombing missions.
- Surviving a crash in a Gloster Meteor: Brown was testing the Meteor, Britain’s first operational jet fighter, when he experienced an engine failure and had to eject. He was the first person to use a Martin-Baker ejection seat in an emergency, and the successful outcome of the incident led to the widespread adoption of ejection seats in fighter planes.
- Flying a captured German jet: After the war, Brown had the opportunity to fly the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. He was impressed by the plane’s speed and maneuverability but noted that it had poor range and was vulnerable to attack on the ground.
- Encountering the infamous Rudolf Hess: In 1941, Brown was part of a squadron tasked with shooting down a plane that had entered British airspace. The plane turned out to be carrying Rudolf Hess, a high-ranking Nazi official who had flown to Scotland in an attempt to broker peace between Germany and the UK. Brown met Hess after his capture and described him as “quite rational and lucid.”
- Testing the Fairey Delta 2: Brown was the first person to fly the Fairey Delta 2, a British research aircraft that would later set a new world speed record. He recalled the plane being incredibly stable and maneuverable, but difficult to land due to its high landing speed.
These are just a few of the many incredible stories that Capt. Eric “Winkle” Brown recounted from his time as a test pilot during World War II. His bravery and skill as a pilot continue to inspire aviation enthusiasts around the world.
Brown’s contributions to aviation, both during World War II and in the years that followed, have made him a legend in the field of aviation. His courage and skill as a pilot continue to inspire future generations of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.
As a testament to his bravery and skill as a pilot, Capt. Eric “Winkle” Brown’s stories from his time as a test pilot during World War II continue to captivate aviation enthusiasts around the world. His legacy as one of the greatest pilots in history lives on.
In conclusion, Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown’s contribution to aviation is unparalleled. His fearless approach to flying dangerous aircraft and setting aviation records is a testament to his passion for aviation. Brown’s exploits during World War II and his contributions to post-war aviation have inspired generations of aviators and test pilots. His life and legacy will continue to be remembered as one of the most extraordinary in aviation history.