Captain Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC (born 21st January 1919) is a former Royal Navy officer and test pilot who has flown more types of aircraft than anyone else in history. He is also the Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated pilot and holds the world record for aircraft carrier landings.
Brown was born on 21 January 1919, in Leith. He first flew when he was 18 (in 1936), following a meeting with Ernst Udet, former World War 1 fighter ace, at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Udet and Brown shared a love of flying, and after taking Brown flying in a two-seater Bucker Jungmann, Udet convinced Brown he needed to learn how to fly.
Whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh, Brown joined the University’s Air Unit, where he received his first formal flying instructions. While at University Brown was selected to take part as an exchange student at Salem International College in Germany, until one morning when he was awoken by a loud knocking on his door and the news that Germany and England were now at war. He was promptly arrested by the SS, but they fortunately merely escorted him to the Swiss border in his MG Magnette, stating he could keep the car as they had no spares for it.
Back in England, he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Fleet Air Arm pilot, where he was posted to 802 Squadron. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for “bravery and skill in action against Enemy aircraft and in the protection of a Convoy against heavy sustained Enemy attacks” after being one of only two survivors following the sinking of the HMS Audacity.
Brown was subsequently posted to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, where his experience in deck landings was sought. Owing to his aptitude for deck landings following testing with Sea Hurricane and Seafire, he was subsequently posted for the testing of carrier landing arrangements before they were brought into service. By 1943 he had performed around 1,500 deck landings on 22 different carriers, and led to a busy career as a test pilot.
After a short time of operational flying, he was posted to the RAE in the Aerodynamic Flight department, where during the first month he flew 13 different types of aircraft, including a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190. While at Farnborough as Chief Naval Test Pilot, Brown landed a Sea Mosquito on HMS Implacable, which at the time was the heaviest aircraft yet to be flown from a British carrier.
Following the end of the war, Brown headed the Enemy Aircraft Flight, an elite group of pilots who tested captured German aircraft. Fluent in German, he also helped interview many Germans after WWII, including Wernher von Braun and Herman Göring.
In 1948, Brown received the Boyd Trophy for his work trialling the rubber deck landing system. He is responsible for two large aviation firsts; the first carrier landing using an aircraft equipped with a tricycle undercarriage, and the world’s first landing of a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier. He holds the world’s record for the most carrier landings, 2,407.
He flew aircraft from Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and Japan and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the record for flying the greatest number of different aircraft. The official record is 487, but only includes basic types. For example Captain Brown flew several versions of the Spitfire and Seafire and although these versions are very different they only appear once in the list. Due to the special circumstances involved, he doesn't think that this record will ever be beaten.