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The following article on the career of Eric “Winkle” Brown, a World War II naval pilot, is an excerpt from Barrett Tillman’s book On Wave and Wing: The 100 Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier. It is available to order now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The world champion carrier aviator was Captain Eric M. “Winkle” Brown, RN, who logged 2,407 shipboard landings in his lengthy career. He also flew a record 487 aircraft types, excluding variants (i.e., various marks of Seafires, etc.). In 2011 he explained his carrier landing technique to the author:


As to the subject of deck landings (DLs). I have records of the top “scorers” in the Fleet Air Arm, and besides myself we had one other, Lieutenant Commander “Bill” Bailey, who just exceeded 2,000 deck landings which he acquired during three years as a “clockwork mouse” (demonstrating landings to endless courses of wartime recruited naval pilots). However, after this there is a big gap down to 600 with very few in that bracket.

I started my score in 1941 and really piled them up in 1942 and ’43 when I was graded as an escort carrier specialist and proofed all the new “Woolworth carriers” coming over brand new from American shipyards, and some also from UK shipyards. I proofed twenty carriers in all, and this involved flying four types of aircraft (two torpedo bombers and two fighters) into each of normally eight arrester wires twice each with each type of aircraft, followed by an accelerated takeoff.

At first I had three pilots to assist me, but they were soon withdrawn because their trap rate on a selected wire was too low and the process took far too long. When on my own my trap rate on a selected wire averaged about 80 percent without a LSO, which I dispensed with largely because he was replaced too frequently or none was readily available in wartime.

I employed a standard deck landing technique of never letting my approved speed creep above 1.1 Vs (stall speed) then aiming for the wire beyond the one that was my target, and cutting the throttle as it disappeared from my forward view.

In 1943 I was mainly engaged in deck landing various models of Seafire while in the Navy’s Service Trials Unit, and logged over 500 traps in that somewhat tricky aircraft.

After 1941 I also became heavily involved in catapulting trials, particularly at Farnborough where we had every type of new catapult installed. In fact, my total catapult launches (2,721) exceeds my total traps because so many were made ashore.

Brown retired as a captain in 1970, having flown a record 487 types of aircraft. He died in 2016, age ninety-seven.


This article is part of our larger education resource on the Army Air Corps. For a comprehensive post on the history of the Army Air Corps, click here.

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"Eric “Winkle” Brown: The RN’s Most-Decorated Pilot" History on the Net
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