BBC Radio 4 presenter Kirsty Young, who featured Brown on the 3,000th episode of the Desert Island Discs programme, said of him, “When you read through his life story, it makes James Bond seem like a bit of a slacker.”
Here, then, are seven excerpts from that life story that could, indeed, raise 007’s eyebrows and serve as a reminder that the aviation community is unlikely to see his like again.
1. The first jet aircraft landing on a carrier
Landing a plane on an aircraft carrier is notoriously difficult, thanks to the small size of the landing deck and lack of reference points in the landscape. Brown was the first person to do it in a jet. He made the landing on 3 December 1945 in a de Havilland Sea Vampire. The very plane he flew is now preserved at the Fleet Air Arm museum in Yeovil in the west of England. Brown made 2,407 carrier landings in total – a Guinness World Record that no-one has ever come close to breaking.
2. Tested experimental Nazi planes
During the war, the Nazis developed a variety of experimental aircraft – including several powered by jets and one by a rocket. Jets get the oxygen they need for propulsion from outside the engine – rockets carry oxygen on board. Brown was one of the only non-German pilots to make extensive test-flights in planes like the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the world’s only rocket-powered plane to enter operational service. Brown also tested all three of the Nazi’s more conventionally jet-powered warplanes too and made notes on their safety. The tiny, wood-constructed Heinkel He 162, for example was, he later wrote, a “first class combat aircraft”.