Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Last year was the 100th anniversary of U.S. naval aviation, and I believe the Royal Navy had observed its aeronautical centennial in 2009. But it occurred to me that nobody had asked the world champion carrier aviator about his technique. Captain Eric M. Brown, RN (Ret) is bound to retain the title approximately forever, based upon his 2,400 arrested landings during an exceptional career. He flew Grumman Martlets (aka Wildcats) from an escort carrier in 1941, shot down two Focke-Wulf 200s (another world record), got sunk, and became a world-renowned test pilot. His literary output is not only impressive but invaluable, considering the immense variety of aircraft he's flown.

So, having been acquainted with "Winkle" since the 1980s, I wrote him in May 2011 asking about his method of landing aboard aircraft carriers in the 1940s. He replied with a beautifully hand-written letter in response to my inquiry as to his method in trapping on a specific wire on all those CVEs. I also asked him about the RN's master baggers, and he confirmed that the Double Grand Club is limited to two members. He's "president" with 2,400 traps. This year he's 93 and, as you'll see, remains active.

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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, Lt. Cdr. Bill bailey, who just exceeded 2,000 DLs which he acquired during 3 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’m afraid Mike Lithgow was not a high scorer—about 200.

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 20 carriers in all, and this involved flying 4 types of aircraft (two torpedo bombers and two fighters) into each of normally 8 arrester wires twice each with each type of aircraft, followed by an accelerated takeoff.

At first I had 3 pilots to assist me, but they were soon withdrawn because their trap rate on a selected wire was too low and the process took far too long.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% 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 DL technique of never letting my approved speed creep above 1.1 VS, 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.

Thereafter in the six years as Chief Naval test Pilot at RAE Farnborough I was responsible for making the initial deck landings on virtually every new type of naval aircraft that came into service, including our first twin-engined 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 (2,407) because so many were made ashore. There is a wonderful book recording all the work at RAE entitled Farnborough and the Fleet Air Arm by Geoffrey Cooper, published by Midland Publishing in 2008.

I am still active in the lecturing circuit and tour around Europe quite a lot.  I see a bit of my astronaut friend Neil Armstrong—we were both given honorary doctorates by Edinburgh University at the same time.