News

Legendary naval aviator’s medals and papers find home at Fleet Air Arm Museum
25 November 2016

The medals, photographs and log books of Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, the most accomplished pilot in the history of aviation have been bought by the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

The generosity of the anonymous donor allowed the museum to buy the personal effects of the naval flier, who died earlier this year aged 97, when they came up at auction yesterday.

Capt Brown in front of a Vampire; he was the first pilot to set it, or any other jet aircraft, down on the deck of a carrier

THE medals, photographs and log books of the Navy’s – and nation’s – greatest aviator today have a new home: the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, the impressive personal collection of Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown has been saved for the nation.

No man flew more aircraft (486), took off from a carrier flight deck on more occasions (2,407) and landed back safely on a carrier (2,271) than the quiet Scotsman, who passed away earlier this year aged 97.

Such was his esteem and expertise that long after he’d left the RN and reluctantly given up flying, he was consulted on the design of Britain’s two new aircraft carriers.

From the Brown scrapbook: landing a Mosquito on a flight deck

And over the past decade or so, the aviator was ‘rediscovered’ by historians who championed his deeds in print, on the radio and in television documentaries.

Capt Brown also worked extensively with the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton – among his last public appearances was to unveil a bust in his image in the galleries – sharing memories of his service, which form a key part of the archive.

When his papers and medals – among them the Distinguished Service Cross(1942), Air Force Cross (1947) and CBE (1970) – were listed for auction at Bonhams in London with an asking price starting at £150,000, it was feared the historic collection might end up in a private collector’s hands.

Look mum, no hands... At the controls of a Sikorsky Hoverfly, the first helicopter in service with the FAA and RAF

But thanks to what it describes as “the intervention of an incredibly generous donor” the National Museum of the Royal Navy – the umbrella organisation for all the official Senior Service museums – was able to acquire the collection for £165,000.

“It is fair to say that Captain Brown was by many measures the Fleet Air Arm’s most significant pilot of the post-war period and we are thrilled and honoured to be able to class this collection as one of our own,” said Prof Dominic Tweddle, the Director General of the National Museum.

“We can now preserve the record of innovation which is contained within Capt Brown’s log books which includes previously untapped information and display them for the world to see.”

The pilot’s personal effects will now join the De Havilland Vampire which he landed on HMS Ocean in 1945 – the first jet ever to touch down on the deck of an aircraft carrier – as well as the goggles and gloves which he wore during his tests.