Pioneers, Two Minute Read, WWII

Eric “Winkle” Brown – An Aviator’s Tale

Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN was a British Royal Navy officer and test pilot who has the distinguished record of flying more types of aircraft than any other pilot in history.

He held two world records: the most carrier deck landings performed (2,407) and the most aircraft flown (487 types).

Brown’s unrivalled experience and his significant contributions to aviation have cemented his legacy as one of the most accomplished aviators of the 20th century.

Early Life

Eric Melrose Brown was born in Leith, a district to the north of Edinburgh, Scotland, on 21 January 1919.

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His father, a former balloon observer and pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I played a significant role in cultivating Brown’s passion for aviation.

Royal Flying Corps Cap Badge. Photo credit - Tpaffett CC BY-SA 4.0.
Royal Flying Corps Cap Badge. Photo credit – Tpaffett CC BY-SA 4.0.

Brown’s fascination with aircraft took flight at a young age when his father took him to see the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which included a tour of the German capital’s burgeoning aviation industry.

Brown studied at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, where he excelled in both academic and athletic pursuits.

He later attended the University of Edinburgh, studying Modern Languages. Brown’s proficiency in German would later prove invaluable during his service in the Second World War.

Wartime Effort

With the onset of World War II, Brown was initially trained as a fighter pilot for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.

His exceptional flying skills and language expertise were quickly recognised, and he was selected to join the British Naval mission in the United States, where he trained on American naval aircraft.

Brown served on HMS Audacity until she was sunk in 1942.
Brown served on HMS Audacity until she was sunk in 1942.

In 1941, Brown was posted back to Britain, where he participated in a number of significant operations, including providing air cover for pivotal Arctic convoys.

He was also involved in the first-ever carrier landing using an aircraft equipped with a tricycle undercarriage.

Brown’s proficiency in German served him well later in the war.

As the Allies advanced into Germany, he was assigned to interrogate many of the leading figures of the German aviation industry, and he even interviewed Hermann Göring.

Test Pilot

After the war, Brown began his extraordinary career as a test pilot.

He evaluated a wide variety of aircraft, including both propeller and jet aircraft.

Among his accomplishments, Brown was the first pilot to land a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier, a feat he accomplished in 1945 with a de Havilland Sea Vampire.

Brown landing his Sea Vampire on HMS Ocean in December 1945.
Brown landing his Sea Vampire on HMS Ocean in December 1945.

Brown’s work was not without danger. During his career, he survived a number of crashes and ejections, which he attributed to meticulous preparation and an understanding of the limitations of his aircraft.

He often stated that a good test pilot required an engineer’s understanding of aerodynamics, a designer’s vision, and a pilot’s intuition.

Notable Feats

Throughout his career, Brown’s achievements were nothing short of extraordinary.

He held the world record for the most types of aircraft flown by a single person, a staggering total of 487. He also performed 2,407 landings on aircraft carrier decks, another record.

Brown was one of the very few Allied pilots who flew the Me 163.
Brown was one of the very few Allied pilots who flew the Me 163.

Perhaps his most audacious feat was flying the infamous rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet.

As the fastest aircraft of WWII, reaching speeds of 1,130 km/h, it was as dangerous as it was revolutionary.

Despite the risks, Brown successfully flew the Komet, making him one of the few Allied pilots to have flown this unique aircraft.


Eric “Winkle” Brown was a man of exceptional talent, courage, and dedication.

His passion for aviation was not only reflected in his outstanding achievements but also in his tireless contributions to aeronautical advancement.

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Brown’s unparalleled career spanned some of the most transformative years in aviation history, and he played a crucial role in shaping it.

His feats remain unmatched, and his legacy continues to inspire pilots and aviation enthusiasts worldwide.

Brown passed away on 21 February 2016, leaving behind a legacy of heroism, determination, and exceptional skill that will continue to inspire future generations of aviators.

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