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Astonishing account, but rather hard going, 31 Dec 2010
on 31 December 2010
This is the bio of one of Britain's most celebrated aviators, the test pilot Eric "Winkle" Brown. Here is a man who started flying before the second world war on biplane trainers and ended his career in the seat of such aircraft as the F4 Phantom and Blackburn Buccaneer. In between, he must have flown pretty much everything capable of leaving the ground (and apparently a few types that never should have left the drawing board): helicopters, multi-engined bombers, fast jet fighters, gliders, embryonic airliners and high performance experimental types. As Fleet Air Arm pilot he flew from carriers (one of which was sunk from under him) in defence of the Atlantic convoys and bagged a fair few enemy aircraft (and subs) for himself. As a test pilot his job required him to fly a vast assortment of captured German warplanes, and to research new flying techniques such as landing aircraft without undercarriage on rubber runways.
All of this is written about here with clarity and precision - a fascinating documentation of a remarkable career and a must read for any aviation enthusiast. I can only imagine that Winkle was one of the last of a dying breed - most of the stuff that he had to do would undoubtedly be done on a computer these days and probably never make its way past the heaalth & safety review board to a real flying trial!
One criticism is that the book becomes a little repetetive - and many aircraft that the reader encounters are simply mentioned 'in passing' and in the briefest of detail so that it becomes a little like I would imagine a train spotter's note book to read... "flew the Hawker Havilland Wonderjet today. 33 minutes flight. Handling good, performance startling." etc etc. Perhaps that's unavoidable given the sheer number of aircraft he flew (the appendices include a list of types; close-typed in small font with no details other than the make and model, this runs to four pages).
Nevertheless, it's an absorbing account of the career of a test pilot that other chief test pilots looked up to.