was truly honoured to have as their speaker on 12 March Captain Eric
'Winkle' Brown CBE, DSC, AFC, MA, Hon FRAeS, RN. Bill Humble, Hawkers'
Chief Test Pilot from 1941-1948 said, "In an era of outstanding test
pilots 'Winkle' was simply the best." He flew 487 basic types (no Mks
counted) and made 2407 fixed wing carrier landings, both world records.
At the age of 89 'Winkle' is as spry and articulate as ever and made
our meeting a very special occasion, talking mainly about flying Hawker
The Hawker connection
might have been even stronger, said 'Winkle', because in 1947, when he
was flying at the RAE, Sydney Camm asked him if he would like to follow
Bill Humble as Hawkers' CTP. He replied that regrettably he was too
busy, because he admired Camm for his consistency in producing good
designs; there were not many duds. 'Winkle' said that he had flown 17
Hawker types and that in this talk he would pick out the intriguing
ones and say a bit about the German aircraft he had flown.
In 1939 he had flown the Fury II biplane at the Edinburgh University
Air Squadron as a reward for coming top of his course. Initially named
Hornet and built to a 1927 RAF Specification it was preceded by Bristol
Mercury engined designs which were not successful. The Fury, with its
closely cowled 525 hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel, its staggered, unequal span
wings differing in chord, incidence and dihedral was a high performance
"aerobatic gem". The MkI was the RAF's first fighter to exceed 200 mph
at 207 mph while the MkII, with 640 hp, reached 223 mph. The High Speed
Fury used by Rolls-Royce for engine development flight tests topped 231
For a comparison 'Winkle' mentioned
the Fiat CR.32, a contemporary biplane fighter. Used in the Spanish
Civil War, it was 10 mph faster than the Fury I and was nice to fly but
the Fury with its raised cockpit and better top wing position gave the
pilot a superior view, very important for a fighter. "Was the Fury a
great fighter?" asked 'Winkle'. Yes, but it was outstripped by
Glosters' later Gladiator, the RAF's last biplane fighter, which was
faster with smoother controls.
The Hurricane was another great aircraft without which there might now
be no Great Britain because the Battle of Britain would have been lost.
It had excellent harmony of controls with light ailerons and moderately
light elevators and rudder.
role was played by the 'Hurricat'. Supplies of food, fuel and arms,
essential for our survival, came to Britain from the USA across the
North Atlantic in convoys. The USA could protect the convoys for 1000
miles from her east coast, Britain could cover 1000 miles from her west
coast but when in the middle 1000 miles the convoys were vulnerable to
attacks by Focke-Wulf Kuriers and U-boats working together. The only
defence against this dire threat were surface escorts; destroyers and
corvettes equally vulnerable to U-boat attack.
Based on a suggestion by Churchill, merchant ships were
fitted with 70 ft catapult rails from which Hurricats could be launched
from a rocket propelled trolley when a Kurier was sighted.
After the engagement the fighter pilot would bale out close to a ship
because the Hurricane had poor ditching characteristics. 'Winkle' did
the launch trials of this successful project. The threat of
interception kept the Kuriers away and the Hurricanes stood up well to
the harsh conditions on 'deck'.
The Sea Hurricane had an arrester hook and operated from large carriers
with 800 ft decks and also from 'escort' carriers with short decks,
only 420 ft in the case of 'Audacity'. The large carriers had 8-18
arrester wires, escorts 6 but Audacity 3, the last of which was known
as the 'For Christ's sake!' wire. During deck landing trials 'Winkle'
found the Sea Hurricane to be very good except for the view and the
bouncy undercarriage, both of which were fine for land based use but
not up to the standards of aircraft designed specifically for naval
shipborne use where deck landings are made without flare. Naval
aircraft had undercarriages designed for an 18 ft per sec touchdown
whereas the RAF landed fully stalled causing no bounce or float.
The German opponent was the Messersmitt Me 109E, "a pretty horrid
aeroplane." It was faster than the Hurricane and had a better rate of
climb but it was not a happy place for the pilot. He felt
claustrophobic in the small cockpit with a poor rearward view. It also
had poor control harmony and at 420 mph the elevator went solid causing
the aircraft to fly into the ground, or sea, when diving to escape. It
was nasty to land with its very narrow track undercarriage. Its only
advantage was that it could be bunted into a dive without the engine
cutting; it had direct fuel injection rather than the carburettor of
the Merlin, a problem solved later by a lady scientist at the RAE with
a special orifice plate; Miss Shilling's orifice. The Luftwaffe Me109
pilots had an advantage at the start of the Battle of Britain because,
unlike the RAF pilots, they had already been 'blooded' (in the Spanish
Civil War). However, in their place 'Winkle' would rather have been
flying the Hurricane.
favourite Camm aeroplane was the Tempest II which flew with Napier
Sabre, Bristol Centaurus and Rolls-Royce Griffon engines. In production
form it had the Centaurus. The Tempest V had the Sabre with its
reliability problems but was used very successfully against the V1
flying bombs of which some 10,000 were launched against Britain. They
flew at 400 mph at 1-2000 ft so were difficult to catch as no RAF
fighter at the time could do 400 mph at low altitude. However, the use
of high octane aromatic fuel was used to boost the speed for up to 5
Whilst flying performance levels in
a Tempest V 'Winkle' suffered an engine seizure at 6000 ft
over the Hog's Back near Guildford. As he descended through cloud he
saw the engine cowl aglow and could smell burning rubber from his
flying boots, so bailed out at 1200 ft. He landed in a duck pond,
gathered his parachute and headed for the nearest shore to see a large
black bull snorting and pawing on the bank. He turned 180 deg for the
opposite bank...but the bull ran round the pond. So he was stuck and
just had to wait for the emergency services, who on arrival hid behind
a hedge! After 20 minutes he shouted, "Fetch the farmer!" who came and
calmly took hold of the ring in the bull's nose and they walked quietly
The Tempest was a great
aircraft with its thin wing; a delight. He considered the Tempest V to
be one of the top three fighters of WW 2, after the Spitfire XIV and
the Fw 190D which with its Jumo engine could achieve 454 mph against
the Tempest's 445.
Next to "the
wonderful Sea Fury"; an absolute delight, powerful, fast and beautiful
to handle, "top notch." It was as wonderful a ground attack aircraft as
it was an air combat fighter. It was successful in the Korean War
operating safely off carriers, using RATOG (rocket assisted take-off)
from short decks, when there was poor wind-over-deck or when the
catapults were unserviceable. 'Winkle's' Sea Fury squadron worked up
the first Royal Navy aerobatic team with four aircraft doing very
demanding line-astern manoeuvres. During a visit to Sweden the King,
who had a stiff neck, requested a low level display so 'Winkle' led his
team beneath the middle span of a bridge in front of the palace. The
Admiral was not pleased but the King invited the team to visit him - a
very jolly and happy occasion.
The Sea Hawk was a beautiful aircraft; the Mk1 was not the best but
later Mks were much improved. During development Bill Humble called
'Winkle' to report puzzling phenomena: vibration from the back end and
snaking. Over at Farnborough they found solutions. An acorn fairing at
the tailplane-fin junction fixed the vibration and new pen-nib shaped
shields at the bifurcated jet pipes overcame the effect of
unbalanced thrusts from the two exhausts. Another peculiar
characteristic was a nose-down pitch at, on the Mk1, 0.8M followed by
nose-up at 0.82M and above. On later Mks the speeds were higher.
Although short of performance as a fighter the Sea Hawk was
"magnificent" for ground attack, beautiful to fly with harmonised
controls. It was a gentlemanly aircraft for jet tyros and excellent for
formation aerobatics including take-offs. All pilots enjoyed flying the
'Winkle' touched only
briefly on the well known Hunter which he said was "a joy in every way"
as was the Hawk, a "nearly perfect" aircraft.
The roots of Concorde, said 'Winkle' were in the Farren (WS Farren,
Director RAE), mission to Germany, as the war finished, to
get hold of advanced aeronautical technology ahead of the USA and USSR.
In January 1945, a fluent German speaker, 'Winkle's' task was to fly
German jet and rocket aircraft back to Britain. The Mission was also
tasked with bringing scientists back to Britain; five were 'obtained'
including Prof A Busemann, famous for his pioneering work on sweepback,
and aerodynamicists Dr Karl Doetsch, Dr Dietrich Kuchemann. In the
Autumn of 1947, Morien Morgan, Deputy Director RAE, called a meeting to
discuss 'Winkle's' handling experiences of tailless aircraft. Also
present were Phillip Hufton, Head of the Aero Dept Flight Section,
Doetsch and Kuchemann, both now members of the Aero Dept. Morgan was
exploring shapes for supersonic transport aircraft of possibly tailless
configuration. Kuchemann spoke persuasively in favour of the slender
delta but with reservations about low speed handling qualities as wind
tunnel work in Germany had all been high speed. Consequently the
Handley Page HP.115 low speed research aircraft was sponsored by
Morgan's Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee (SSTAC) to investigate
this area which it did most thoroughly at RAE Bedford. 'Winkle' was in
no doubt that Kuchemann's words were the initial inspiration for
Concorde, "that most remarkable aircraft."
Next, to the contentious P.1154. 'Winkle' was anti the project
believing that a VTOL aircraft would be out-performed by a conventional
one, such as the Mach 2.5 F-4 Phantom. At a meeting with Hawkers John
Fozard promoted the 1154 whilst Solly Zuckerman, Chairman of the
Defence Research Policy Committee, and 'Winkle' opposed it, the latter
asking how he could justify a top speed of Mach 1.6 to naval pilots
when their Grannies could fly at Mach 2.0 on Concorde? "Good point,
'Winkle'", said Camm!
mentioned that he had met Andy Green, the world land speed record
holder at 763 mph/M1.016. Films show that at top speed a front wheel
was 2 inches off the ground so that really was the maximum speed; any
faster the car would have pitched up.
During question time 'Winkle' was asked his opinion of the Hawker
Typhoon. He had to be tactful - it was probably the best WW2 ground
attack aircraft; but the worst fighter. Of naval fighters the Grumman
Martlet (Wildcat) was the RN's first purpose designed naval monoplane
fighter so was superior to the Sea Hurricane in having a sting type
hook, wing fold, floatation bags and a strong undercarriage; but
performance was no better. The Wildcat's successor, the Grumman
Hellcat, had a 19:1 kill ratio, the highest in the war. The RN operated
the Vought Corsair from ships before the USN did, a problem being
torque on approach which could roll you into the sea if you came in too
low and had to open the throttle.
As to his nickname, it is a Fleet Air Arm tradition always to have a
'Winkle' serving, and he succeeded Lt Cdr Eugene 'Winkle' Esmond who
was killed flying a Swordfish in the heroic attack on the German
cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen. He also was of small
stature, an attribute which helped 'Winkle' Brown survive five out of
his eleven life-threatening crashes.
Barry Pegram gave the vote of thanks for this wonderful, wide ranging
talk, particularly mentioning 'Winkle's' prodigious memory and his
ability so thoroughly to answer many questions. This was an event to
'Winkle' Brown has written many books on his test flying experiences as
well as his biographical memoir 'Wings on my Sleeve', recently
reprinted in a soft covered edition by Phoenix. This book cannot be too
Meeting our Secretary received the following letter from Captain Brown:
Thank you for your kind
letter of 16th inst. and let me just say how much I enjoyed my
with your Assoc. boys - there's something about Hawker products that
makes them special.
And what a
nice surprise from your Committee to be offered Honorary Membership of
your splendid Association; of course I shall be honoured to accept and
hope you will convey my deep appreciation of their thoughtful gesture.
I always think that for a lecturer the enjoyment of an occasion largely
can be measured by the quality of the questions, and the Hawker boys
are on the ball in that respect.
With sincere thanks.