“Britain’s greatest pilot” reunited with infamous aircraft 70 years after he flew it

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A 96-year-old pilot has been reunited with his aircraft – 70 years after he first flew it.

Captain Eric Brown CBE, often referred to as Britain’s greatest ever pilot, first boarded the plane after capturing it in Germany at the end of the Second World War.

The Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a Komet was capable of reaching speeds of up to 600mph and was the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to have been operational.

Copyright of Neil Hanna Photography
Copyright of Neil Hanna Photography

Captain Brown, from Leith, Edinburgh, had given up hope he would ever see the aircraft again.

But a visit to the National Museum of Flight in East Fortune, East Lothian gave him the opportunity to be united with the impressive plane.

He said: “I was pleased to have the opportunity to see the Komet again, 70 years after I flew it.

“I was very determined to fly this rocket aircraft back in 1945 because to me it was the most exciting thing on the horizon, a totally new experience.

“I remember watching the ground crew very carefully before take-off, wondering if they thought they were waving goodbye to me forever or whether they thought this thing was going to return.

“The noise it made was absolutely thunderous, and it was like being in charge of a runaway train, everything changed so rapidly and I really had to have my wits about me.

“I had been used to the top fighters in the game with rates of climb of about 3,000 feet per minute, but this thing climbed at 16,000 feet per minute.

“The angle of climb was about 45 degrees and I couldn’t see the horizon. It was an incredibly volatile aircraft, and its operational record – just 16 kills and 10 aircraft lost in combat – made it, in my opinion, a tool of desperation.”

A young Captain Brown
A young Captain Brown

He was brought to the museum as part of a £3.6 million redevelopment of two nationally significant Second World War hangars.

Steve McLean, General Manager at the National Museum of Flight said:“An important element of the redevelopment at the National Museum of Flight is the opportunity to tell the human stories behind some of our aircraft using interactive digital displays.

“We were delighted to welcome Captain Eric Brown to the Museum to record the extraordinary story of his test flight in our Komet, and look forward to sharing that story with our visitors when the redevelopment opens in the spring.”

Captain Brown flew the infamous German aircraft in 1945 after capturing it at Husum, Schleswig Holstein, at the end of the war.

Under instructions from Winston Churchill – who wanted to learn as much as possible about Germany’s technological weapons – he was part of a mission to travel to Germany, test rocket aircrafts and then bring them back to Britain.

It was also the fastest aircraft of the Second World War.

However the explosive rocket fuels that powered the motor made it highly dangerous to fly.

Pilots would be required to wear special rubber suits to protect themselves in the event that the fuel leaked.

(Copyright of Neil Hanna)
Copyright of Neil Hanna Photography

Following its capture at Husum, the National Museum of Flight’s Komet went to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield in 1947.

It was later refurbished and eventually donated to the Museum by Cranfield University.

An interview with Captain Brown will be displayed on an interactive digital touch-screen alongside it when the redeveloped hangars open in spring 2016.

They will also incorporate interactive digital displays showing archive footage and interviews exploring the history, technology and personal stories behind each aircraft.

The hangars will dramatically present military, commercial and leisure flight and will, for the first time, explore in detail the human stories linked to individual aircraft.

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