Just as some Major League ballplayers don’t know much about George Herman “Babe” Ruth, some career naval aviators have never heard of Captain Eric M. Brown, Royal Navy. But the difference is one of scale—the Babe’s 714 career home runs finally were eclipsed by Hank Aaron in 1974. Nobody will ever log more carrier landings than “Winkle” Brown. When he died on 21 February at age 97, Brown left a legacy that exceeded his numbers. Apart from 2,400 “traps” on an enormous number and variety of carriers, he is frequently cited as flying more distinct aircraft types—not models—than any aviator.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1919, Brown grew up around aircraft. His father had been a balloon observer and pilot in World War I and became active in reunion organizations. Owing to Brown Senior’s connections, young Eric knew many of Europe’s prominent aviators and, ironically in view of future events, one of his favorites was Great War German ace Ernst Udet, whom he met during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.