Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN
A British Royal Navy officer and test pilot who flew 487 different types of aircraft, more than anyone else in history.
Anyone who has flown 487 different types of aeroplane has obviously sampled the products of almost every manufacturer in the world – but we know that Captain Eric Brown had a soft spot for de Havilland, who contributed many of the highlights of his long career.
Eric was the first pilot to land a twin-engine fighter on an aircraft carrier when he landed a Mosquito on HMS Indefatigable in March 1944, and was then the first to land a pure jet aircraft – the DH.100 Vampire – on a carrier, HMS Ocean in December 1945. Again in the Vampire, he pioneered the unusual technique of landing an aircraft without undercarriage on a rubber-covered “flexible deck” on HMS Warrior in 1948: this scheme was intended to save weight on carrier-borne aircraft and while Eric thought the idea had considerable merit, it was not proceeded with.
Not all his experiences in de Havilland aircraft were happy ones, though. In 1949 he flew the DH.108 Swallow, a tailless high-speed experimental aircraft and was nearly killed when it started oscillating violently at speed. Sir Geoffrey de Havilland’s son Geoffrey Junior had been killed flying the first prototype: Eric Brown’s calm handling of the situation saved the second aircraft and revealed much valuable information about the pitfalls of high-speed flight.
Over the years we were privileged to welcome Eric to the Museum for pilots’ reunions and signing events, and also to open the “de Havilland At Sea” exhibition in 2014. A question he was often asked was whether he had a favourite aircraft, and his usual response was that in his view, the DH.103 Sea Hornet was almost perfect –“A true flying fish, bred for the sea” as he put it. At the de Havilland Aircraft Museum we are honoured that he chose to give a de Havilland aircraft that accolade, and we are proud to have been associated with him.