Captain Eric 'Winkle ' Brown

1919 - 2016

Aeronautical pioneer, who was the Royal Navy's most decorated pilot. Born in Leith, the son of a the Royal Flying Corps pilot who served during the First World War, Brown recorded his first flight as a child on his father's knee. He became known as 'winkle' because of his diminutive stature. Brown was educated at the Royal High School in Edinburgh. In 1936 he was taken by his father to the Berlin Olympics and met Ernst Udet, the German World War I fighter ace, who took Brown flying and gave his two pieces of advice; to learn to fly and become fluent in German. Brown returned home continued his education at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied German and joined the University Air Squadron.

He went back to Germany as an exchange student, but was arrested on the outbreak of World War II. On his release, he returned to Britain where he joined the Royal Navy as a Fleet Air Arm pilot. He served on the carrier HMS Audacity, until it was sunk by a torpedo in 1941. Brown was one of only a small number of its crew to survive. He was then seconded to Royal Canadian Air Force, training their pilots to land on aircraft carriers.

At the end of the war, his excellent German brought him to the Belsen death camp, where was asked to interrogate the commandant and staff. He was also asked to interview the leading Nazi Hermann Goering, before the Nuremberg trials, together with aviation experts including Willy Messerschmitt and Ernst Heinkel and Wernher von Braun.

Brown spent time at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, becoming their chief naval test pilot. He demonstrated the innovative steam catapult to the Americans in 1952, which had been invented by fellow Scot Commander C.C. Mitchell (1904-69) some years previously.

In the navy, Brown rose to the rank of Commander and finally Captain. In 1957 he was appointed Chief of British Naval Mission to Germany, responsible for re-establishing German naval aviation, which was later integrated into NATO, and then as Deputy Director of Naval Air Warfare in the Admiralty in the 1960s. His last post was as Commander of HMS Fulmar (1967-70), the Royal Naval Air Station which became RAF Lossiemouth. He was appointed as an aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II in 1969.

Having flown every category of aircraft during his career, he holds a remarkable number of records, including the first to land a helicopter, twin-engined and jet planes on an aircraft carrier. As a test pilot, he flew 487 types of aircraft, more than any other individual and a record unlikely to ever be beaten. During World War II, as well as British, American and Soviet aircraft, he flew captured German, Italian and Japanese aeroplanes. He also held the world record for the most aircraft carrier landings at 2407.

Brown was also the most-decorated pilot in the history of the Royal Navy. His bravery and service were recognised with a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1942, an MBE (1944), an OBE (1946), the Air Force Cross (AFC) in 1947, the King's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in 1949 and, finally in 1970, Brown was awarded a CBE, the year he retired from the Royal Navy. Brown served as President of the Royal Aeronautical Society (1982-83).

Latterly he lived in Copthorne (West Sussex), he published his autobiography Wings on My Sleeve in 2007. Following his death at the age of 97, a remarkable fly-past was organised at Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton, in the presence of the Duke of York, which included just a few of the aircraft Brown had flown during his career. His statue was unveiled at Edinburgh Airport in 2018.

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