Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown has died at the age of 97. This remarkable man flew 487 different types of aircraft, made 2,407 deck landings at sea and 2,721 catapult launches. The odds on those achievements ever being equalled are decidedly slim.
Brown’s talent for aviation was spotted by none other than Ernst Udet, the World War 1 fighter ‘ace’, who met the 17-year-old Brown in 1936 when his father took him to witness the Olympic Games in Berlin. Udet, the greatest air display pilot of the 1920s and 1930s, took the teenager up and threw him around the sky – noting that he was completely calm and attentive throughout.
Brown did indeed learn to fly and he returned to Germany as a student teacher, where he was briefly detained upon the outbreak of World War 2 before being allowed to drive his MG Magnette back to Britain.
During the war, Brown volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm and saw active service piloting the Grumman Martlet (a ‘rebadged’ F4F Wildcat), in defence the Atlantic convoys until his ship, HMS Audacity, was sunk in late 1941. He was one of only two aircrew to survive the ordeal and, once back on dry land, became a leading light of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, evaluating all manner of aircraft.
As a result of this job, Brown’s log book featured every major combat aircraft of the Second World War including gliders, fighters, bombers, airliners, amphibians, flying boats, helicopters jets and rocket-propelled aircraft. As the war in Europe drew to a close, Brown was attached to the Enemy Aircraft Flight, dispatched to evaluate the latest technology being produced in the Third Reich for potential future use.
It was while in this role that Brown’s German language skills were seconded to interviewing some of the most significant Nazis in captivity, including Josef Kramer ‘the Beast of Belsen’ and Irma Grese, ‘the Beautiful Beast’. It was while working among these killers that Brown identified a detainee who claimed to be called Heinrich Hitzinger but was in fact none other than Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.
After the war, Brown continued to work with new aviation technologies, including making the first deck landings by a jet and by an aircraft with tricycle undercarriage. He went on to become a leading light in the global aerospace industry, then a long-serving author and public speaker who was still appearing in person and in media interviews until late in 2015. And now the story ends: we shall not see his like again.
Eric “Winkle” Brown unveils his bust at the Fleet Air Arm Museum
Hot on the heels of noise about Alfa Romeo’s potential return to motor sport in the near future came word that Jaguar is teaming up with Williams to launch a full works Formula E effort.
This is a brave move, given the scorn that was poured upon then-owner Ford when it had the temerity to build a front-wheel-drive car with a Jaguar badge on it a few years ago. Now the purr of a six-cylinder is to be replaced by the whine of an electric motor, no doubt prompting much gnashing of teeth among gentlemen of a certain vintage that the ‘leaper’ is set to be seen on a glorified milk float.
Be that as it may, the automotive industry has some fairly major challenges ahead and these will only be solved by boldly going forth into new forms of powering its products. Electric vehicles are hideously inefficient, their production requires some horrendously toxic processes to take place and they are only ever likely to offer short-range inner-city transport solutions… but at least Jaguar is joining in the conversation.
Sadly the most obvious course of action for a brand like Jaguar, such as developing a hydrogen fuel cell Le Mans car, is a bit too much of a stretch at a time when its profitability is taking a bit of a beating. Jaguar Land Rover is temporarily on the back foot thanks to some poor luck in the Far East and investing half a billion dollars in new production centres, which presumably makes a relatively low cost/high visibility programme like Formula E more attractive.
But whatever the merits of Formula E, it is a positive thing that Jaguar is going to use motor sport to stake its place in the future of the industry. So to celebrate here is a gallery of loveliness to remind us all how much the big cat from Coventry has brought to the sport over the years.
Tommy Wisdom prepares for the 1936 Alpine Trial with his SS100 Jaguar
Ian and Pat Appleyard were almost unstoppable in their XK120 ‘NUB 120’ in the early Fifties
A virtuoso drive from a youngster: Stirling Moss leapt to prominence winning the 1950 TT in this XK120
XKs – from 120 to 150 – were a bedrock of rallying through the Fifties
Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton won the 1953 Le Mans 24 Hours and made a legend for themselves in the C-Type
Hawthorn, D-Type and pits: the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours
Jaguar won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1956 with the vast Mk.VII
Ecurie Ecosse carried the flame for Jaguar at Le Mans with consecutive wins in 1956-57
Mike Hawthorn and Tommy Sopwith assume the favoured cornering position of the 3.4 Saloon
John Coombs built a legend with his Mk.II touring cars
The E-Type went to Le Mans in 1962 thanks to Briggs Cunningham
Cunningham’s lightened 1963 Le mans squad of E-Types at Le Mans
The ultimate E-Types were the Lightweights of 1964
The XJ13 of 1965-66 was designed to compete with Ford and Ferrari – but never turned a wheel in anger
Broadside built the beefy XJ12c but British Leyland was more interested in getting its Trotskyite workforce back to the production line
Throughout the 1970s and early Eighties the American Group 44 effort kept Jaguar on track
A little bit of loophole exploiting saw the XJ-S qualify for touring car races, under Tom Walkinshaw’s guidance
In 1983 the big cats changed from black to white
In the 1970s, Jaguar started its proud tradition of providing wheels for Silverstone Syd – the circuit’s chief fire marshal
The 1985 debut of Tony Southgate’s Jaguar XJR-6 from which Le Mans and World Championship sports car success would soon be forthcoming
The mighty TWR XJ-S juggxrnaught won all there was to win n touring cars
TWR XJ-S in the crazy, waterlogged 1985 Tourist Trophy
In 1986 the much-improved XJR-6 began to make waves
Andy Wallace stands proudly beside his 1988 Le Mans-winning XJR-9
Jaguar won the Daytona 24 Hours twice in three years, here is the 1990 XJR-12
Ross Bawn anchored the astonishing XJR-14 project as Jaguar’s last in sports car racing
The old Le Mans cars were turned into barely road legal XJR15s for the Intercontinental Cup of 1991
The XJ220 made rather a cumbersome racer, but David Coulthard shone in 1993 Le Mans class win
Silverstone Syd kept Jaguar on the grid of every race throughout the 1990s
In 2000 Ford bought back the Stewart Grand Prix team and rebranded it as Jaguar
In the early Noughties, V8 Star was a European take on NASCAR values, with Jaguar fielding its S-Type body shell
In 2004, Jaguar bade a final farewell to Ford and F1
Another early Noughties project was putting the XK8 body shell into the Trans Am series
The British motorsport industry lost leading lights including David Leslie and Richard Lloyd when their aircraft crashed, ending this fabulous GT3 project
The Williams-engineered C-X75 hybrid got pulses racing but there was no budget to go into production
Silverstone’s fire tender is still a Jag. And Syd is still never far away.
Williams built seven of the C-X75s in ‘World Rally spec’ used as stunt cars in the James Bond movie Spectre (2015)
The new contender: Jaguar and Williams will run in Formula E from 2016
They were the most glamorous and celebrated couple in Nazi Germany… each of them winning honours in the technological marvels that were being produced throughout the pre-war days of the Reich.
In this photo we see them just weeks into their marriage. Elly Beinhorn, the celebrated aviatrix, embraces her victorious husband Bernd Rosemeyer after he has won the 1936 German Grand Prix.
She is already a record breaker and hero. He is about to claim the European Championship for Auto Union at only his second attempt against the might of Mercedes-Benz and the experience of Alfa Romeo and Maserati.
Together they are the human face of those years of astounding German achievement…