Earl Brown began military flying at the dawn of the jet age. Born in the Bronx, New York, he grew up in Englewood, New Jersey. He first dreamed of being a pilot after reading about the "Tuskegee Airmen" in two major black weekly newspapers he delivered after school. His uncle arranged an airplane ride for him at a nearby airport, but Brown soon realized he couldn't afford flying lessons and opted for pre-medical studies at Pennsylvania State University. He graduated in 1949, and after the Korean War started, Brown entered the U.S. Air Force Aviation Cadet Program in late 1950. First he learned to fly the North American T-6 Texan and then the North American F-51 Mustang.
He completed pilot training at Craig AFB, Alabama, in December 1951 as a distinguished graduate and received his wings and commission. Next, Brown went to Williams AFB, Arizona, for jet transition in the Lockheed T-33 "T-Bird" and F-80 Shooting Star. During this tour, Brown met Major Woodrow " Woody" Crockett, a Tuskegee Airman who became his role model, mentor, and lifelong friend. Brown went on to Nellis AFB, Nevada, where he learned the art of combat flying in the F-80 and the North American F-86 Sabre. With only eight weeks of training and 103 jet hours under his belt, Brown departed for Kimpo AB, Korea, in April 1952. During his one year tour in the 334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, he was wingman for three of the Air Force's leading aces: "Boots" Blesse, Jim Jabara, and "Pete" Fernandez. In 125 combat missions, Brown was involved in many dogfights and was credited with damaging one enemy fighter.
After Korea, Brown reported to the 2nd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, where he flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet, North American F-86 Sabre, and the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. After a tour in Spain flying F-102s with the 431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Brown transitioned to the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II at George AFB, California. In August 1965, his squadron deployed to Ubon AB, Thailand, where Brown flew 50 combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos. He then attended Armed Forces Staff College. After graduation, he commanded the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, at Bitburg AB, Germany. In 1969, he returned to Thailand and flew another 50 missions in the F-4 from Udorn AB. During his 100th and final combat mission, Brown's luck seemed to have run out. His aircraft was hit by flak and lost an engine. He soon had to eject. Brown went on to command two flying wings, a numbered air force, and ultimately, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe. He retired from the Air Force in 1985 as a lieutenant general after 34 years of service
In September 1952, Brown was wingman for Frederick "Boots" Blesse, a double ace with 10 victories. Brown witnessed three of those. On one mission, he recalled; "[Blesse] hit one MiG in the engine. The MiG slowed so rapidly that I slid up beside him with my throttle in idle and the speed brakes out.I glanced over at the MiG pilot.he turned and looked at me. Then he turned back, pressed his head against the back of the seat and ejected. I guess he thought, "If that guy can shoot me and fly formation at the same time, I'd better get out of here!"