Born: United Kingdom
Primarily active in: United Kingdom


Captain Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown passed away on Feb. 21, 2016; he was 97.  Capt. Brown was a British Royal Navy Officer and test pilot who flew 487 different types of aircraft, probably more than anyone else in history.  He was also one of the most-decorated pilots in the history of the Royal Navy. Brown held the world record for the most aircraft carrier deck take-offs and landings performed, and achieved several “firsts” in naval aviation.

Brown, the son of a Royal Flying Corps pilot, was born in Leith, Scotland, on Jan. 21, 1919, and first flew before he was 10. During trips to Berlin as a student, Eric Brown witnessed the 1936 Olympic Games and the first indoor helicopter flights by Hanna Reitsch, Germany’s greatest female aviator, with whom he corresponded until her death in 1979.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1942 for his service. During his service with the Royal Navy he was called upon to test fly squadron aircraft, and was subsequently posted to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough, where he began experimental flying, including of captured Axis aircraft. 

He first piloted a helicopter — the Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly — in February 1945, as one of several UK pilots selected to do so with little more than a short briefing.

Brown later became a leading pioneer in transonic research in the 1940s and ‘50s. He was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) in 1947. In the 1950s, Brown served as an exchange officer at the US Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent, Maryland, where he flew a number of American aircraft, including 36 types of helicopters. Brown flew essentially every major World War II Allied and Axis helicopter, propeller-powered and jet airplane, and was called “Britain’s Greatest Test Pilot” by the BBC.

When Brown retired from the Royal Navy in 1970, he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He soon became engaged in setting up the British Helicopter Advisory Board, now the British Helicopter Association, and served as its first director general at a critical period when helicopters were brought into service for the North Sea oil business. He served as the president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 1982-83, and was named an Honorary Fellow.

Brown was a prolific writer, with countless articles and more than a dozen books, including The Helicopter in Civil Operations (1981). Brown was also an enthralling lecturer, active until the very end. In March 2015, a bronze bust of him was unveiled at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset; he also helped to officially open the exhibit “Saved! 100 Years of Search and Rescue” (see photo with Dave Morris, author and Curator of Aircraft at the museum). At Helitech in October, he gave the keynote for the Safety Workshop.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the head of the Royal Navy, called Brown “the most accomplished test pilot of his generation, and perhaps of all time.”


AHS Update: Vertiflite May/June 2016