Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown

Captain Eric Melrose Brown CBE DSC AFC KCVSA PhD Hon FRAeS RN (Retd), one of the greatest aviators to have ever lived, passed away peacefully in East Surrey Hospital on 21st February, after a short illness, aged 97.

Known since his naval flying days as ‘Winkle’ due to his diminutive stature (he was 5 feet 7 inches tall), Eric had been due to visit the BBMF at its home at RAF Coningsby on 27th February, something the Flight was very much looking forward to. The visit was cancelled when he fell ill and was admitted to hospital; sadly he died 6 days before it was due to occur.

Winkle had flown a remarkable and unbeatable 487 types. This list includes only basic types, not marks, for example he had flown 14 versions of the Spitfire and Seafire, but the Spitfire appears only once in his list of types flown.

In addition, he had completed 2,407 carrier deck landings – a world record which is unlikely ever to be beaten – between 1941 and 1953, in aircraft ranging from Grumman Wildcats (Martlets to the British) to naval jet fighters.

Eric Winkle Brown as a naval lieutenant and with RAF test pilot colleagues
Left: Eric as a naval lieutenant. Right: With RAF test pilot colleagues on a Spitfire.

Amongst his life-threatening adventures, he survived the torpedoing and sinking of his aircraft carrier HMS Audacity, the flight testing of numerous captured German aircraft of uncertain airworthiness, and extensive flying as a test pilot during an era when it was a very dangerous profession. He really had no right to survive all that he did as a pilot and to live to a ripe old age. Amongst the many aircraft types in his logbook, Winkle had flown all those operated by the BBMF. The Lancaster and the Spitfire were in his ‘top twenty’ list of aircraft, based on the sheer joy of flying them. Comparing the many marks of Spitfire and Seafire he flew, he said that he enjoyed the Griffon-engine Mark XII most. Of the Lancaster he said, “Just to sit in the cockpit was sheer joy. It exuded self-confidence.”

Aviation expert and author, Paul Beaver, a friend of the BBMF and of Winkle Brown’s for the last 40 years, paid tribute to him as “a self-effacing, modest man and an absolute delight”. He said: “He was a great Scot and one of the greatest living pilots. Nobody will ever beat his records. He was a man whose life will never be repeated.”

The BBMF is saddened to hear of Winkle Brown’s death and extends its condolences to all his family and friends. We will now never get to hear from him, first hand, how he once barrel-rolled a Lancaster.

Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown photographed at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune in September 2015, with a German Messerschmitt Me 163 ‘Komet’ rocket fighter
Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown photographed at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune in September 2015, with a German Messerschmitt Me 163 ‘Komet’ rocket fighter, which he test flew in 1945. By his own admission, he wondered if he would survive that flight. Fortunately he did.

Share this post

Join the club

Free newsletter

Register to receive our latest news and competitions by email.

We’ll also set you up with an account for our Forum and Gallery. You'll be able to post in these if you are a Club member.

Sign up