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World’s greatest test pilot remembered with commemorative tribute

22 July 2016
Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC FRAeS Royal Navy, who died earlier this year, has been remembered with a commemorative tribute and flypast at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton.

Eric was the most celebrated test pilot and naval aviator of his generation and flew an incredible 487 different aircraft types, both fixed and rotary wing. 

He also carried out an unbeatable 4,678 take offs and landing from aircraft carriers, which to this day stands as a world record. He will be remembered forever as the first man to land a jet aircraft on the deck of a carrier.

As the Royal Navy’s test pilot he flew every category of military aircraft including gliders, fighters, bombers, vertical take-off, amphibious and helicopters, playing a key role in the design of an entire generation of aircraft.

“Captain Eric Brown set the most exacting of standards,” said Commander Henry Mitchell, Commander Air at RNAS Yeovilton.

“His exceptional skill in evaluating complex test programmes pioneered many new developments and his influence continues to inspire today’s pilots, many of whom will be flying from the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.”

Eric’s legacy lives on in the future of the Royal Navy and his memory will continue to inspire generations of aircrew to come. He is simply a true legend.

Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE

The commemorative event, attended by over 600 guests including HRH The Duke of York KG, paid an emotional tribute to Eric’s remarkable career and achievements and included a flypast of more than 40 different naval aircraft, many of which he had flown and tested.

Glenn Melrose-Brown, Eric’s son, was a guest of honour at the event. He said: “My dad was very dutiful to his Royal Navy uniform and to his country.

“He was a very compassionate man, and that is why he encouraged many young people to get into aviation. He wanted to give back some of what he had taken. I would like to thank the Royal Navy, the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, the Fleet Air Arm Museum, and all those who have gone to such effort to make this a memorable day.

“He was an outstanding man, but most of all he was my dad.”

Born in 1919 in Leith, near Edinburgh, Eric Brown joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1939 as a fighter pilot, initially flying the Blackburn Skua. In early 1941 he joined 802 Naval Air Squadron flying Martlets on board HMS Audacity. Eric described landing on her tiny deck as: “challenging to say the least!”

Eric was a keen practitioner, pioneer and advocate of naval aviation all his life. He achieved many notable firsts including the first landing on an aircraft carrier in a twin-engine Mosquito, the first in an Airacobra tricycle undercarriage aircraft and the first in a jet powered Vampire. 

Testing up to eight different aircraft a day by 1944, and speaking perfect German, he was appointed as chief pilot on a joint UK/US mission to retrieve Germany’s most closely guarded technological secrets. He flew many captured German aircraft, including their top fighter, which was 125mph faster than our equivalent.

The birth of the jet age saw the top speeds of military fighters increase to a blistering 1400mph, bringing with it new levels of risk for pilots who tested these aircraft. Eric’s ability to remain calm in the face of danger set him apart as he pushed the boundaries of landing faster and heavier aircraft on aircraft carriers.

“The innovative advances of so many of our aviation achievements came at a price,” said

Eric. “It was like playing Russian roulette and test pilots were routinely killed.”

Eric’s courageous and dedicated work helped set in place the high operational safety standards of today. His bravery, ingenuity and indomitable spirit were matched only by his fierce commitment to keep the Navy’s historic aircraft flying as an inspiration to future test pilots.

“Eric was one of the most accomplished British aviators in history and is widely acknowledged as the world’s finest test pilot,” said Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE, Rear Admiral Fleet Air Arm.

“His accomplishments in the field of carrier aviation are insurmountable and his expertise has been used to inform the design of the nation's new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers as well as the F35B Lightning II jet. 

"Eric’s legacy lives on in the future of the Royal Navy and his memory will continue to inspire generations of aircrew to come. He is simply a true legend.”

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