Famed Test Pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown Dies

Decorated British pilot was first to land a jet on an aircraft carrier.

Eric "Winkle" Brown
Eric "Winkle" Brown holds Guinness records for the number of aircraft types flown.Imperial War Museum

Eric Melrose Brown, one of the most decorated pilots of all time, died last week at age 97. Brown joined the Fleet Air Arm of the British navy in 1940 and, in an era when aviation was developing rapidly for military use, he beat the odds on many occasions, surviving 11 airplane crashes. During his 31-year service during and after World War II, Brown flew every major helicopter, propeller and jet airplane of the Allied forces and Axis powers, and was part of the test program for one of the most celebrated airplanes of all time – the P-51 Mustang.

“Eric was the most decorated pilot of the Fleet Air Arm, in which service he was universally known as ‘Winkle’ on account of his diminutive stature,” a family statement said. “He also held three absolute Guinness World Records, including for the number of aircraft carrier deck landings and types of aeroplane flown.”

It was reported that Brown flew 487 different types of aircraft and made 2,407 aircraft carrier landings, including the first one ever completed in a jet airplane – a de Havilland Sea Vampire landing on the H.M.S. Ocean in 1945.

Brown’s accomplishments earned him much recognition and several meetings with both King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He was awarded with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) honors.