Eric M. “Winkle” Brown is the British Royal Navy’s most decorated Fleet Air Arm pilot. During his 31-year career, he flew a world-record 487 aircraft types and performed a record-shattering 2,407 carrier landings. Born in 1919 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Brown joined the Edinburgh University Air Unit in 1937 to begin his first serious flight training. As an exchange student in Germany, he was expelled from that country at the beginning of World War II and entered the Royal Navy. In 1941, Brown joined the 802 Squadron, the first unit to be assigned British escort carrier duty. While serving on the HMS Audacity, he scored two Focke-Wulf 200 kills during convoy protection missions.
After that assignment, he was assigned to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough to perform aircraft trials for escort carrier suitability and begin his accomplished career as a test pilot. In 1944, Brown flew his first captured Italian and German aircraft and became the chief naval test pilot at Farnborough. As the war in Europe came to a close in the spring of 1945, he was appointed as the RAE enemy aircraft flight commander responsible for acquiring enemy technology and flying enemy aircraft for subsequent Allied use. This position took him throughout Germany at the end of the war, during which time he flew 55 types of captured German aircraft-including the only Allied powered flight of the Me-163B.
While in Germany, he also interrogated German aviation legends such as Hermann Goering and Willy Messerschmitt. In December 1945, Brown made the world’s first jet landing on an aircraft carrier. He was next promoted to be commanding officer of the Farnborough Aerodynamics Flight and served in that position until 1949, ushering the United Kingdom into the jet and supersonic ages. This was followed by an operational tour and a subsequent exchange tour at the Flight Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland. There he helped introduce the British steam catapult and angled carrier deck to the Americans, and flew several of the initial trials with these systems.
Following this, he became the 804 Squadron commander at Royal Navy Air Station (RNAS) Lossiemouth and the commander (air) of RNAS Brawdy. In 1958, Brown returned to Germany as the head of the British Naval Air Mission in order to reintroduce aviation to the German Navy. In 1961, he was appointed deputy director of the Naval Air Warfare Division at the Admiralty in London, and was then assigned as the naval attach to Germany. He finished his military career as a captain in 1970 as the RNAS Lossiemouth commander. After that, Brown served as chief executive of the British Helicopter Advisory Board, chief executive and vice president of the European Helicopter Association and president of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He lives near London and is retired.