Winkle Brown has written many articles during his life about his work and experiences as a unique test pilot from a time when test pilots were both highly skilled pilots and had practical engineering appreciation, flying not only new designs but designs that were beyond all established experience. What the naval aviator will appreciate is that many of these aircraft were being taken to sea for the first time without full naval modification for the most difficult landings any pilot can be called upon to make.
NAME: Wings on My Sleeve
CLASSIFICATION: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Capt. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, RN
PUBLISHER: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Orion Publishing
GENRE: Non fiction
SUBJECT: Naval aviation, RAF, RAE, Fleet Air Arm, technology, test pilot, Farnborough, experimental aircraft, aircraft carriers, CV01, Nazi, WWII, 1939 – 1945, 1937 – 1970, first generation jets, combat aircraft
DESCRIPTION: A challenge in reviewing any book is to convey the content and the value as perceived by the reviewer as objectively and critically as possible. When a book is published that demands a string of superlatives the reviewer tries even harder to be critical and to find errors and anomalies. The hardest book to review is always that which seems free of error, does not over state the subject, and has no apparent anomaly. This is one of those very rare books and one which tells a story that is almost incredible. When the author has achieved such a book and yet conveyed the impression of someone who is modest about an extraordinary life that book is exceedingly rare. Winkle Brown has written many articles during his life about his work and experiences as a unique test pilot from a time when test pilots were both highly skilled pilots and had practical engineering appreciation, flying not only new designs but designs that were beyond all established experience. What the naval aviator will appreciate is that many of these aircraft were being taken to sea for the first time without full naval modification for the most difficult landings any pilot can be called upon to make. For a reviewer who has read many of his articles over many years, it should have been no surprise that this book is delightful, engaging, informative, and easy to read for anyone from the complete novice to the aviation professional. The author has enjoyed a career that no one will ever duplicate, or even come close, within the field of aviation. Some indication of his skill and experience is demonstrated by the fact that at the age of 87 he is still engaged as a highly valued specialist on the Fleet Air Arm’s most important current project, the design, construction, and introduction to service of its two new aircraft carriers, the Royal Navy’s capital ships expected to serve for half a century. On an exchange course from Edinburgh University to Germany, Winkle Brown’s story almost never started. He discovered that war had been declared when the Gestapo came to arrest him. Luckily for him and for Britain, the German secret police failed to realise that he was a pilot in the RAF volunteer reserve and allowed him to return to start his amazing career. Back in Britain, he joined the Fleet Air Arm and began a career which placed him in the Guinness Book of Records as the pilot who has flown the greatest number of different types of aircraft. That record will never be broken. It is also unlikely that his world record of 2407 carrier deck landings will be broken either. He flew every major combat aircraft of World War Two and most of the minor types. This included all of the first generation jets and the highly dangerous German Me 163 rocket plane. He was denied the opportunity of being the first man to break the sound barrier when the British Government cancelled the programme and gave the technology to America. In 1945 he interviewed many senior Nazis and German aviators including Herman Goering and Hanna Reitsch when he was sent to test the Nazi jet aircraft. After 1945 he continued to fly an amazing cross section of new and experimental aircraft, fixed wing and rotary, and commanded the RAE Aerodynamics Flight at Farnborough. This reviewer read the short autobiography he was instructed to write by the Royal Navy in 1961 to assist recruitment. This book was also entitled Wings on my Sleeve and the reviewer is delighted that he has now produced a fully revised and greatly expanded version. It provides insights that we cannot afford to loose with the inevitable death of someone who has contributed so much in his field. When Winkle Brown retired from the FAA in 1970, his contribution continued. He is in great demand for interviews on history TV documentaries and is an irreplaceable source of information. This wonderfully written memoir contains extensive photographic illustration with many rare or never previously published images covering more than a half century of amazing technological discovery and implementation. This is a book that no one who claims even the slightest interest in aviation could afford not to buy and read and reread. It should appeal and benefit an even wider readership because it is a modest and warm human story from someone who has experienced a career that he has so clearly enjoyed and who conveys the feeling that he does not fully appreciate how uniquely important that career has been to his country and to so many naval aviators. Perhaps the greatest achievement has been in writing a book that not only contains so much content of value to today’s aviation professionals but is written in a way that will make it equally compulsive reading for those who have little or no real knowledge of the technologies involved. The reader is invited into the cockpits of the most amazingly varied range of aircraft for never to be forgotten flights.