Vale one of the world’s greatest pilots

With a sad and heavy heart I learned that aviator and test pilot Captain Eric Melrose ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC HonFRAeS Royal Navy died on 21 February 2016.

Vale Eric Melrose Winkle Brown (1919-2016)

Eric Melrose Winkle Brown (21 January 1919 – 21 February 2016)  (Photo: Twitter)

“Winkle” Brown was to British aviation what Chuck Yeager is to the USA aviation.

 When you read his life story, it makes James Bond seem like a bit of a slacker (Kirsty Young)

“Winkle” Brown was the recipe for the right stuff.  He was probably the world’s greatest test pilot:

His knowledge, flying skills, experience and wisdom proved his resilience in his extraordinary high risk profession in which many perished.

At the end of the day I felt tremendous satisfaction in having beaten the odds.  This is one of the most attractive aspects of flying: taking on danger and winning.   Because you know what waits for you if you don’t win.   (“Winkle” Brown)

“Winkle” Brown gave back.  I viewed presentations he delivered in the UK up to about a year ago.  He could hold an audience spellbound for more than an hour without written notes.   He recalled aircraft designs, horsepowers, speeds and incidents of the last century as clearly as if he was still in the pilot’s seat.

be prepared for everything

He valued knowledge.  He understood his machines from the ground up.  This started with his first (500cc Norton) motorcycle.   He was a stickler for preparation before flight.   He said, “be prepared for everything”.

You will hear and read many extraordinary tributes about “Winkle” Brown over the next few months.  Here are a few:

Thank you Eric “Winkle” Brown for your contributions that made the sky safe for the billions of travellers on planet Earth.    You had the skills of Chuck Yeager with the knowledge and humility of Neil Armstrong.  Like both, you made a profound difference.  You were a teacher to many you never met.   Your legacy will endure to inspire aviators world wide.

Graham Reddin, my friend way back from our RAAF days writes at LinkedIn:

Truly one of, if not THE most remarkable aviator to have shared our profession.

As noted elsewhere, his encyclopaedic knowledge of everything aviation from the perspective of having written the history himself, and his ability to recall details of his extraordinary life with astonishing clarity right up until his passing is without equal.

The many interviews he has recorded over the years (some of which are on YouTube) are testament to his intellect and powers of observation, and make essential viewing for any aviation professional, as something we could all aspire to.



  1. Lionel Thompson · · Reply

    Hi Richard,

    It is certainly sad to hear about Eric “Winkle” Brown’s passing.

    I loved the articles he wrote for Air International many years ago. What is extraordinary is the number of aircraft he test flew. I would not have guessed anywhere near that number.

    He certainly outlived his contemporaries by a lot of years, even his fellow Navy pilot David Davies. I still have a copy of Davies’ book Handling The Big Jets – Third Edition which is always interesting reading.

    As far as other post-war test pilots are concerned, I do not know how many are left now. I remember reading about John Cunningham and Brian Trubshaw’s passing quite some time ago. I suppose pilots like Roy Falk and Jock Bryce are also long gone.

    Would you happen to know if there are any books written that deal with that particular period of test flying? Thank you for the ongoing emails and links that come out under the QF32 banner.

    Kind regards Lionel Thompson

    1. I concur with your comments Lionel. I am so sad to see the exemplars in our industry depart, as they survived and recovered from so many worse things in their past.

      Brian Trubshaw (Concord) has passed but his French partner André Turcat (Concorde) is in excellent health. So too is Bernard Ziegler, the father of Airbus Fly By Wire. I have had contact with both and if there is interest, I will write an article about their wonderful contributions to aerospace.

      Keep well. Rich

  2. Thank you , what an amazing and inspirational gift. Patricia

    Sent from my iPhone


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