Wednesday, 16 July 2014

" Britain's Greatest Pilot " - Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown documentary on BBC 2




Britain's Greatest Pilot - The Story of Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown. Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown recounts his flying experiences, encounters with the Nazis and other adventures leading up to and during the Second World War. Illustrated with archive footage and Captain Brown's own photos.

The recent BBC 2 documentary devoted to Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown was an absolutely fascinating programme. Brown must rate as one of aviation's leading test pilots of all time, a man who was there at the forefront of the development of aircraft from biplanes to supersonic jets. With his love for danger -   as a teenager he enjoyed earning some spare cash as a wall-of-death motorcycle rider- and having a father who had been a WW I fighter pilot - Brown's love affair with flight began in 1936 when he was taken up on an aerobatic joy-ride by German WW I ace Ernst Udet who made him promise " to learn to speak German and learn to fly.. it was a pivotal point in my life ".


Much of the programme was taken up with 'Winkle' Brown's subsequent dealings with the Nazis, from his own early imprisonment in Munich on the outbreak of WW II to his interrogation of Luftwaffe chief Goering, test flying the Luftwaffe's jet and rocket aircraft to 'liberating' Belsen concentration camp and interrogating the notorious camp Kommandant Franz Kramer and Kramer's 'deputy' Irma Grese " the most evil person I've ever met ". Brown's war started as a Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot flying Martlets (Wildcats) deployed on HMS Audacity which had a terrifyingly short flight deck and carried six aircraft..



Audacity (above) was a 'flat-topped former German 'banana boat' converted for Atlantic convoy escort duties protecting against bomber attack from the "Focke Wulf Kurier" (sic) or Condor, the most heavily armed German aircraft in the sky.." Audacity was torpedoed and sunk and Brown and twenty-four of his ship-mates were left for dead- only Brown and one other survived. Audacity's captain had already noted Brown's competence at carrier landings and reported this fact to his superiors, which marked Brown for some highly dangerous test flying ...

 Brown was the first man to land a twin-engine aircraft (a Mosquito)on a carrier and as a result became the chief naval test pilot at RAE Farnborough for the Fleet Air Arm.



He flew a world record 2,400 carrier landings, probably flew more types of aircraft than any other pilot, was the only Allied pilot to fly the rocket-powered Me 163 and als flew the Me 262.

Post-war he was the first man to land a jet on a carrier. The clip depicts Brown's first landing of a jet powered aircraft on aircraft carrier. "..The music is excellent. I feel slightly emotional watching it. I love the part about warming hands in front of the jet especially..."Where does the urge come from? Feeling's believing."





'Winkle' Brown was a test pilot as aerodynamics moved from bi planes to supersonic fighters - indeed supersonic flight was the 'holy grail' of aviation during this period. Brown was tasked with ascertaining why Geoffrey de Havilland died at the controls of the tail-less Dh 108 Swallow as it was attempting a new world air speed record.




The only shortcoming of the documentary was possibly the fact that it was an impossible task to condense this man's life into a one hour programme. Three hours and they may have done the man justice. I enjoyed his comment about Geoffrey De Havilland "..a Hollywood test pilot"; few people living or dead would have said that about him.

What he did as a pilot very few - if any - have equalled. not only for the 487 types flown (!). From interrogating Goering, flying as a young lad with WW1's second highest scoring ace Udet AND then testing the Luftwaffe's most advanced planes...and ending his career on the Buccaneer nuclear strike bomber.


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