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Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown flies F-35!

One of the guests of honour aboard HMS Illustrious at Greenwich for the ‘Fly Navy 100’ flypast was legendary test pilot Captain Eric Melrose ‘Winkle’ Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, FRAeS, RN.


Eric 'Winkle' Brown, 90 years young. Key - Gary Parsons

A former Royal Navy officer, Eric is famous for flying more types of aircraft than anyone else in history, as well as being the Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated pilot. Now turned 90 years old, Eric belies his age with an awareness and spirit of someone twenty years younger. Slight of build, his diminutive figure contradicts one’s expectations of the chisel-jawed fighter pilot, but his openness and friendly banter soon puts one at ease. A centre of attention aboard HMS Illustrious, one couldn’t help notice the array of medals pinned to his chest, but also the small F-35 Lightning II pin badge on his lapel. Had he managed to add another type to his official record of 487 different aircraft flown?

“Oh yes”, he beamed. “Lockheed Martin were kind enough to let me loose in their simulator recently.” Did he manage to do a full sortie in the simulator? “Yes, very enjoyable, even down to a vertical landing! These days, you get a load of instrumentation with you and it’s quite remarkable - you sit in his cockpit and you get a total view of the battle field, everything that’s going on, brought right up to date. It’s quite incredible the way it can be done.”

It wasn’t Eric’s first taste of vertical movement in a fixed-wing aeroplane – he flew the P1127 and Kestrel in the sixties, the forerunners of the Harrier GR1. “The P1127 had a habit of preparing to go backwards before going forward!”

Born on January 21, 1919 in Leith near Edinburgh, Eric first flew when he was 18. With the sea in his blood he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1939, before committing to the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. During 1941 Eric was with 802 Squadron aboard HMS Audacity flying Martlets over the Mediterranean, during which time he downed two enemy Focke-Wulf Fw 200 ‘Condor’ maritime patrol aircraft.

Towards the end of the Second World War‚ Eric commanded the Enemy Aircraft Flight, flight-testing captured Luftwaffe aircraft, including the Me 163 and the Me 262. He then moved on to developing aircraft carrier landing techniques, including the first landing of a jet aircraft on December 3, 1945. He holds the world record for the most carrier landings at 2,407.

A career with aircraft manufacturers kept Eric flying until 1992, but since then his feet have been firmly planted on the ground. So why the nickname ‘Winkle’? “Well, it’s been a Navy tradition to always have somebody called that, and the one before me was Lt Commander Esmonde, who won the Victoria Cross in the ‘Channel dash’ (Operation Fuller). He and I were exactly the same stature, and the following day he was killed, somebody beat the ‘tom-toms’ and everybody started calling me ‘Winkle’.”

Filed Under Historic Aviation Features.


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Mick Dunn said on the 8-May-2010 at 03:48

Won't be a dry eye in the house when Winkle finally takes off for the last time!

Mick Dunn said on the 16-Sep-2012 at 21:58

Cri8key! ...this thread reaches back a loooong way! Anyhow, all a matter of opinion. I will certainly be joining 1,000s of other airmen from all over the world when 'Winkle' does his final take off!

Ross Mansell said on the 7-May-2015 at 14:30

He was Commander (Air)& I was his "runner/typist in the tower as a young man when at Brawdy RNAS. Proud to have served with him. "Hoagy" Carmichael was Little "F".

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