12 February 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Wings on My Sleeve by Eric Brown

Wings on My Sleeve (Phoenix Press)Wings on My Sleeve by Eric Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Brown went to Germany in 1939 on an exchange course, and his first experience of the war came when the Gestapo arrested him, not knowing he was an RAF pilot. The rest is history. He is the only man alive to have flown every major and most minor combat aircraft of the Second World War (as well as all the early jets), and has been interviewed by the top Nazis. While testing the Nazi jets in war-stricken Germany, he interviewed (among others) Hermann Goering and Hanna Reitsch. A living legend among aviation enthusiasts, his amazing life story deserves to be told in full?from crashing in front of Winston Churchill to unmasking a Neo-Nazi ring in the 1950s to his terrifying flights in primitive jets and rockets.

This guy has had a life that most can only dream of. Obviously of good breeding and from the right family, Eric Brown becomes a naval aviator during the early days of World War Two and after a brief combat career becomes a test pilot. He is absorbed into the fascinating and intense world of developing aircraft for use in the war and also evaluating captured enemy machines. Later, because of his earlier pre-war experiences in Germany, he becomes involved in the testing and evaluation of surrendered German aircraft including the jets and rocket powered examples that he is particularly interested in. He also has the opportunity to question prominent German aviation personalities like Goering and various scientists and designers to obtain useful information about wartime German aircraft developments.
Brown was obviously a supremely gifted flyer who could learn an aircraft very quickly and evaluate it to the edges of its envelope as few could. Okay, we're getting Brown's own appraisal of his work, but I've no reason to suspect that he may be overstating anything, and in actual fact comes across like quite a humble man for the most part. Even later as he becomes quite a high ranking member of the British Admiralty he continues to fly operationally with his people as much as he can, and to continue improve how things are done.
To sum up, this is an excellent memoir that tells us much about Brown's working career and the various trials and tribulations of that work. However, he manages to keep his personal life completely out of it apart from a few vague references to his wife and children. It would have been nice to get more of a glimpse into this side of his life, but possibly his life outside of work was hopelessly dull, or he didn't have one. Maybe, but he does appear to be a remarkable man. My only other complaint is that Brown seems to stick to a chronological telling of his story for most of the book whereas I think that categorized chapters may be a better way to tell the various stories. A good book that most people interested in aviation, aircraft and machines will enjoy.

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