Legendary Test Pilot’s Flying Helmet Raises £20,000
The world’s greatest test pilot, Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE DSC AFC Royal Navy launched his most recent book ‘Too Close for Comfort’ at a charity reception and auction in Mayfair, London last week raising over £50,000 for the Nation’s Naval Aviation Heritage.
The special limited edition book, which tells the story of fifteen of the most gripping and hair-raising close-calls in Eric’s legendary flying career proved a best seller, with the Collectors’ leather bound edition selling particularly well. The book is dramatically illustrated by a series of stunning paintings by renowned aviation artist and President of the Guild of Aviation Artists, Michael Turner FGAvA and each copy was personally signed on the night by Eric and the artist.
The highlight of the evening was the sale of the complete collection of fifteen original paintings in the book which sold for £55,000 and the surprise auction lot of Eric’s flying helmet which went under the hammer for £20,000!
“The Fly Navy Heritage Trust is a cause I support with a passion and proceeds from the sale of the book and the auction will go to the charity to preserve the Nation’s Naval Aviation Heritage” said Eric. “It is imperative we remember the important part Naval Aircraft, and the men who flew them, have played in our country’s history.”
Retold in the author’s own inimitable style, ‘Too Close for Comfort’ tells the stories of fifteen incidents in which ‘Winkle’ narrowly escaped death, including surviving an attack from a Messerschmitt Bf 109 in a Norwegian fjord while flying a Blackburn Skua, developing the tactics of head-on attack on a heavily armed Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, and being dragged unconscious from the Solent after hitting some floating debris and cartwheeling the prototype SR/A1 jet seaplane.
The danger and drama of each incident is powerfully brought to life by Michael Turner’s paintings and none more so than the closest shave of all - the heart-stopping painting of the sinking of HMS Audacity in the freezing Atlantic in December 1941.
“I will never forget that fateful day” said Eric “We were hit by three torpedoes from German U-boat U-751.The ship reared up so steeply that the aircraft plunged down the wildly tilting deck. She sank taking all her aircraft with her. I lost many friends and was very lucky to survive.”
One of the guests at the reception, Vice Admiral Sir Michael Moore KBE LVO lost his father in HMS Audacity. “Audacity was an escort carrier providing air cover for Gibraltar. My father, Lieutenant Anthony Moore was among the 73 men who lost their lives that day. He was the ship’s navigator and was a good friend of Eric’s. I wanted to view Michael Turner’s painting. It was superbly done and deeply moving.”
Michael Turner has a world-wide reputation as an artist of great technical skill and has exhibited his work in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia. Speaking of working with Eric on the book, Michael said “It was very emotional – Eric’s account of each incident was so vivid that I could immediately visualise ‘Guy Fawkes night in the cockpit’ or the ‘turquoise green glow of phosphorescence surrounding the U-boat’. Interpreting his experiences, and painting each white-knuckle moment, was a privilege. I felt as though I lived through each of them with him!”
Speaking of the inspiration for the book Eric said “The book came about after an evening with my dear friend and fellow naval test pilot, Neil Armstrong. He was looking through my log books, all thirteen of them, and he said to me - you have had so many close shaves – you should write a book! Neil Armstrong and I had very similar interests and careers – except of course for the moon!”
Eric’s flying helmet, which he wore while serving at the Flight Test Centre at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, USA was bought by a naval aviation enthusiast and entrepreneur. “I loved that helmet and felt very safe in it,” said Eric. “We had not developed bone domes in the UK at that time.”
Auctioneer, Nicolas Martineau, Director and Head of Paintings Christie’s South Kensington said “It was an exceptional sale! The collection of paintings was a significant and important collection and I am delighted that the buyer plans to keep the collection together. It was also the greatest pleasure standing on the rostrum with Captain Eric Brown auctioning his flying helmet! It was brilliant to see it realise so much for the Nation’s Naval Aviation Heritage.”
The fifteen paintings were bought by Tim Manna, former US Navy pilot, collector of classic historic naval aircraft and owner of Kennett Aviation.
‘Too Close for Comfort’ is available as a signed casebound edition price £150 or a signed Collectors’ leather bound edition price £350 from the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, RNAS Yeovilton tel. 01935 849200 or email [email protected]