Last December, I did a book review for A Higher Call, about an aerial encounter between a young American bomber pilot named Charlie Brown, and a Luftwaffe ace named Franz Stigler that resulted in an act of chivalry and mercy, 4 days before Christmas.
Eric Brown must rank as the most extraordinary airman alive. Indeed, open his memoirs at any page and you are left asking a single question: how on earth did this modest Scotsman live to tell the tale?
But Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown RN is very much alive and in sparkling form as he pours me a glass of sherry at his West Sussex home and reflects on an astonishing life. This is the man who has flown more aircraft than anyone else in history.
He was the first man to fly a jet on and off an aircraft carrier. He has set aviation records that will almost certainly never be broken and is revered as one of the greatest test pilots of all time.
But even if you take out the aerobatics, his story is remarkable. Here is a man who narrowly cheated death in the wreckage of a torpedoed ship, helped to liberate Belsen and took 2,000 enemy prisoners armed only with a pistol.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Eric had to interrogate a bewildering cross-section of leading Nazis, including Hermann Goering, as well as plane manufacturer Enrst Heinkel and designer Willie Messerchmitt.
What’s more, he then had to test all their aircraft. And all this before turning 30. Little wonder that when he arrived at Buckingham Palace at the grand old age of 28 for the fourth time, to receive the AFC in addition to the DSC, MBE and OBE he had already received, George VI greeted him with the words: ‘Not you again.’
In fact, young Brown would soon be back once more to receive the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
Years later, he would end up as an aide-de-camp to the Queen, who would add a CBE to his collection in 1970
Pin-sharp at 94, Eric is in constant demand from historians and documentary makers, while his autobiography, Wings On My Sleeve, is a must-read for any self-respecting aviator.
Now he is about to tell all as one of the star speakers at next month’s Daily Mail-sponsored Chalke Valley History Festival.
Read the rest of his extraordinary story and consider reading his 2006 autobiography, Wings On My Sleeve.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.