Incredible facts about Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown you might not have known 

The late Captain Brown was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished and respected naval test-pilots, flying more than 487 different aircraft during his distinguished career

1. Brown’s passion for German culture was ignited by a visit to Berlin with his father in 1936, where the pair became acquainted with Ernst Udet, a former World War I fighter ace. Eager for a taste of German aviation, he took the opportunity to fly with Udet in a two-seat Bücker Jungmann.  

2. Three years later, while participating in a student exchange program near Lake Constance, he was arrested by the Schutzstaffel (SS) following the declaration of war between Britain and Germany, but was later released at the Swiss border. To Brown’s surprise, his captors also returned his MG Magnette due to their fabled lack of car spares.  

3. On December 21, 1941, the naval aviator was serving with 802 Naval Air Squadron on the escort carrier HMS Audacity, when it was attacked and sunk by German submarine U-751. With rescue vessels turning away amidst the continued presence of U-boats close-by, Brown and 23 others were forced to await rescue overnight in the cruel conditions of the Atlantic Sea. 802NAS suffered a devastating number of casualties and was subsequently disbanded until February 1942.  

4. Shortly after World War Two, he commanded No. 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, which evaluated captured Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica types at RAE Farnborough. For Brown, this would later involve testing German jet designs including the twin-engined Messerschmitt Me 262A Schwalbe, and the single-engined Heinkel He 162A Spatz fighter. 

5. ‘Winkle’, as he was affectionately nicknamed due to his short height, was responsible for many pioneering chapters in Fleet Air Arm history. He performed the first landing of a twin-engined aircraft on a carrier, landing a de Havilland Mosquito on HMS Indefatigable in 1944, as well as the first carrier landing of an aircraft equipped with a tricycle undercarriage in a Bell P-39 Airacobra, a year later.  

6. His ability to speak fluent German saw him tasked with interviewing and interrogating various German leaders and individuals following the close of World War Two, including Hermann Göring, Willy Messerschmitt, Ernst Heinkel and Josef Kramer. 

7. On 3 December 1945, Lt Cdr Brown accomplished the first carrier landing of a jet aircraft, touching down on the deck of HMS Ocean in a de Havilland Vampire prototype. This marvel achievement ultimately sealed the future of naval aviation for years to come. His report, however, did not recommend the aircraft for carrier-borne operations, insisting that it was flimsy and unsuitable. 

8. As a test pilot, he flew the infamous and much-feared DH 108 Swallow, which had tragically taken the life of Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr. while diving at speeds close to the sound barrier. Its devilish and ill-tempered performance forged itself it an unforgiving reputation with Brown, who was almost killed during one flight when the jet inadvertently entered a sudden and violent stage of oscillation. All three examples of the experimental aircraft were eventually lost in fatal accidents. 

9. While testing the Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 jet-powered flying-boat in the Solent on 12 August 1949, Brown struck a piece of submerged debris, causing the aircraft to sink immediately. Despite being pulled unconscious from the cockpit of the wrecked aircraft by the company’s test pilot Geoffrey Tyson, he made a full recovery.  

10. Following the establishment of a West German Navy, the Marineflieger, on 26 June, 1956, Commander Brown was dispatched to the German Naval Air Headquarters at Kiel-Holtenau to advise officials on the problems of building an air arm, as part of a NATO cooperation. Having purchased examples of the Hawker Sea Hawk and Fairey Gannet, the Marineflieger relied on the experienced Brown to assist and prepare the next generation of German airmen.