Monthly Archives: February 2016

The ASTC team was really sorry to hear of the death of Capt. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. Our thoughts go out to his family.


1919 – 2016


It is with deep regret that the passing of Captain Eric Melrose Brown CBE DSC AFC is announced. Eric was the most decorated pilot of the Fleet Air Arm in which service he was universally known as ‘Winkle’ on account of his diminutive stature. He also held three absolute Guinness World Records, including for the number of aircraft carrier deck landings and types of aeroplane flown.

He was born in Leith, Scotland on 21 January 1919 and educated at Fettes College and the University of Edinburgh, where he learned to fly in the University Air Squadron.  His early flying experiences were with his father, a member of the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and later Air Attaché in Berlin. During trips to Berlin as a student, Eric Brown witnessed the 1936 Olympic Games and the first indoor helicopter flights by Hanna Reitsch, Germany’s greatest female aviator, with whom he corresponded until her death in 1979.

Germany was to figure in Eric Brown’s life for the next 75 years. He was a fluent speaker from time in the Third Reich as a language student, where, at one stage, he was arrested by the SS and deported.

To earn money for his studies, Eric Brown became a ‘wall of death’ rider on a small 250cc two-stroke motorbike, often sharing the wall with his boss and a fully-grown male lion riding pillion.

His flying skills were to send him to fly fighters from the world’s smallest aircraft carrier, HMS Audacity where he survived the ship being sunk by U-Boat on 21 December 1941. During this time, he survived the first of 20 flying accidents and, mid-Atlantic, was wounded by return fire from a German long-range bomber, which he promptly shot down.

At the end of the war, he returned to Germany at the direction of Winston Churchill to capture and fly advanced German aeroplanes. He flew them all and questioned their designers in detail.

He witnessed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen camp, acting as interpreter for the trial of the camp commandants. Later, he interrogated prominent Nazis, including Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler and the senior Luftwaffe.

As Chief Naval Test Pilot, Eric Brown achieved some notable firsts, including the landing the first jet, the first twin-engined aeroplane, and the first with a tricycle undercarriage on an aircraft carrier. His work with the navalised Spitfire, called the Seafire, was fundamental to giving the Fleet Air Arm a modern fighter aeroplane on a par with land-based contemporaries.

Other notable aviation achievements immediately post-war included work with experimental aeroplanes which were reaching the sound barrier, the great unknown of contemporary flight. In fact, had the Attlee Government not given away the technology, Eric Brown would have been the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound in the Miles M52.

He tested the world’s only jet-powered seaplane fighter in the Solent, learned to fly helicopters and was posted to support the American test programmes at Patuxent River, where he met the future astronauts.

In 1957, he put his German language skills to go use when he was appointed to train the embryonic German Naval Air Arm and he maintained his links with the country for the rest of his life, including addressing the Luftwaffe Veterans’ Association annual meetings in Berlin. He was British Naval Attaché in Bonn and ADC to the Queen.

Eric Brown retired from the Royal Navy in 1970 in the rank of Captain and became the Director-General of the British Helicopter Advisory Board at a critical period when helicopters were brought into service for the North Sea oil business. He was President of the Royal Aeronautical Society 1982-83.

Before and after retirement, he wrote a series of autobiographical books including ‘Wings on my Sleeve’, ‘Wings of the Luftwaffe’ and ‘Wings of the Weird and Wonderful’. He wrote detailed forewords for aviation books, the last one being ‘Spitfire People’ in 2015. Eric Brown was the subject of the 3000th edition of ‘Desert Island Discs’ in November 2014.

He was also honoured at No 10 Downing Street as a Great Scot in December 2015 and celebrated his 97th birthday with more than 100 pilots, including the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, at Buck’s Club in London on 27 January 2016.

In recent years, Eric Brown’s unrivalled aviation knowledge and talents were still in demand, including by Lockheed Martin for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s naval adaption and the Airbus A 380 super-jumbo.

Eric Brown passed away on Sunday, 21 February at East Surrey Hospital, Redhill, Surrey after a short illness.

Eric Melrose Brown born 21 January 1919 at Leith; died 21 February 2016

His first wife, Lynn McCrory died in 1998 and his son, Glen, and his second wife, Jean Kelly Brown survive him.

Notes to Editors

  1. Details of the funeral and memorial service have yet to be formalised.
  2. Pictures of Eric Brown in recent years are available from John Goodman 07956 680270
  3. Media and other enquiries to Paul Beaver 07836 622165


Issued on behalf of Captain Brown’s family by Paul Beaver.

Time to break things!

Our client, Game Composites, have been liaising with the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority who is doing the certification for Game Bird 1 aerobatic aircraft and a plan has been developed to damage the airframe and then test it to see how the structure withstands this damage.

This is to replicate what could happen to Game Bird 1 in a real-life situation, for example, if it were to be stored in a hangar and it was to be damaged without anyone noticing whilst inspecting the plane. The testing we’ve already completed has qualified Game Bird 1 for 30 years of air worthiness certification, but with the damage testing we are going to do, this will help further help the plane gain it’s certification.

Game Composites have been on site whilst we have been damaging the airframe. There are seven points around the plane which are to be damaged from different heights and at different energies.

To do this, we fixed a ball into a bag and tied it to a rope and attached it to a crane over the aircraft, all very high tech at the Advanced Structural Testing Centre! Hovering the ball over the targeted point and graduated the string in metres meant we knew how high up we were suspending the ball to drop it onto the marked targets on the airframe.

Damage has been caused on the tail stabiliser and the wing and we then proceeded to run a few hundred fatigue testing cycles. Unfortunately but we got some rather unpleasant and unexplained noises. After a little bit of thinking about things we realised that when heating the airframe to 72 degrees for the ultimate test we had probably baked the grease off the wing pins and the engine bracket interface pin – the joints were running dry!

We were also concerned that we have got a little bit of movement in the engine mount, because over a period of time during testing it has elongated the holes in the composite material forming the aircraft. Not a lot, but enough that the bracket it moving and creating noise. So today we have taken that load bracket out and Game Composites are going to do the repair on these holes by filling them in with resin and putting the bolts back in. Then it will set and take all the play out.

We have slid the big bolts back in the wing spar to clean them up, add a little more grease, and then slide them back in.  Hopefully that will cure the groaning noises we are experiencing.

If this all goes as planned today, we are hoping to start running the new set of fatigue testing cycles through the night again; much to Shane’s wife’s delight with his constant checking of the live feed webcam when he’s at home!

Passed with flying colours!

Today was a great day! Last Friday, after all the ups and downs, we finished all the fatigue testing after we reached 71 633 cycles.

With this complete it was time for us to move onto the ultimate load test, performed once before, where the aircraft gets boxed in insulation and heated up to a toasty 72 degrees Celsius. This definitely helps take the edge of the February chills we have here in South Yorkshire.

So with the airframe all boxed up as you can see in the picture, we were all ready for the residual strength test to 64.85 kN which the airframe had no trouble getting through.

When this first pre-load test was complete, we moved onto the static ultimate load test which took the Game Bird 1 up to 82.65 kN. This is the highest loading that the airframe has seen to date, so it was a tense time for all involved. The Game Composites team were on site during the testing today, so we were all feeling the pressure!

The Game Bird 1, boxed in insulation for today’s ultimate load testing.


Fortunately relief spread across us all when the airframe passed with flying colours. There was the odd creak which was expected, although this didn’t help with the tension levels when we were all watching!

It has certainly been a very exciting week for us here at the AMRC and guided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), it is now time for us and the team from Game Composites to decide what’s next when it comes to further testing for the Game Bird 1 aerobatic aircraft!

Stay tuned!

ASTC’s fact of the week…

On the 13 February 1923, Charles Elwood Yeager, better known as ‘Chuck’ was born. Chuck joined the US air force and flew out of RAF Leiston. During the second world war, he was shot down, escaped to Spain and ultimately to the UK and was flying again before the end of the war.

Afterwards he became a test pilot for the USAF and on the 14 October 1947 he became the first man to fly above the speed of sound in an aircraft named Glamorous Glennis, which he named after his wife.

Only two days beforehand he had fallen off a horse and broken two ribs – he was so worried about missing the flight that he did not tell the air force of the incident and chose treatment by a local vet to keep it secret!

Heres to Chuck, a living aviation pioneer!

Sometimes good things fall apart, giving us a chance to build better for the future…

After having a great week last week running the Whiffletree through the night and flying through some more of the fatigue testing cycles, we unexpectedly encountered a failure of the bolts connected to the engine mounting bracket.

That area of the aircraft is more highly loaded during testing than it would be in real life when in-flight, so it is running through the fatigue cycles in an ‘over-test’ situation. Unfortunately the bolts, which are grade 12.9 high tensile bolts, simply weren’t strong enough and had fatigued over time.

The failure caused the bolts to shear and pop off the rig, allowing the engine mounting bracket frame to bend, ripping through the weld and bening the arm of the bracket out of line.

The sheared bolts from the engine mount bracket


The failure ripped through the weld on the bracket


All testing stopped without any damage to the aircraft and we had to remove the whole front engine mount bracket to grind the entire weld out. This took Mission Controller Shane an entire day before we could then pull the bracket back into place and tack weld it together ready for re-welding.

The bracket was sent to our Nuclear AMRC colleagues who welded it back together on Monday. When it was returned we had some re-fitting to do, as the re-welding was done to both sides of the bracket instead of one this time. This caused the bracket to close up slightly from its usual shape so we had to jack it out to make sure it would fit.

The extra strength should serve us well as the fatigue testing continues, so taking the bracket off turned out to be a good opportunity to make some improvements and plan for future preventative maintenance; such as changing the bolts on a more regular basis.

The rig was back up and running this morning, so we conducted a 30 minute test run to bed the rig back in. We will then go round the rig, tighten everything back up and make sure nothing has moved out of place before resuming full testing again this afternoon and evening.

So even though we are only up to 54,400 fatigue testing cycles, should today go as planned, we could be back on 24 hour testing as early as Wednesday; maybe even finishing the fatigue testing completely by Friday!

Pop back next week to see what happens!


Making sure we have the perfect fit

After everything had been running smoothly last week, we began to notice an increase in movement and creaking of the air frame on the rig which we wanted to investigate.

Our client came in to also see what was going on and together we both decided to take off the wings of the Game Bird for a closer look. We re-looked at the bushings in the wings and realised there were a few tweaks we could make that would hopefully solve the unnecessary movement and creaking sound so these were changed and re-installed.

We also noticed on there wasn’t quite a perfect fit on the pin used at the front of the rig which was contributing to the unnecessary movement we had been experiencing. This was because it had been laser cut, which has the tendency to be a bit rough around the edges!

To solve this, we bored through with one of our lovely machines to make a bigger hole and fitted a brass bush so we could just push that onto the rig and the pin would go straight through it. Now we have a nice, tight-fitting pin which has reduced the creaking, so we are very pleased with the outcome.

All in all, everything took us about a week to complete but we are now back up and running.

Mission controller for the project, Shane, describes the plane running as “beautifully” so we have a very happy office. The alterations have made a great difference to the control so the movements are more progressive.

Shane decided to leave the aircraft to run through the night and has a webcam which is used to check the aircraft when it’s left to run alone. Unfortunately Shane has been checking it constantly through the night, much to his wife’s despair!

The plane did indeed run beautifully which was great news and this greatly increased the speed at which we are progressing through the fatigue testing cycles, having now completed 50,708 out of 71,000!

Here’s a quick video of the Game Bird aircraft during fatigue testing on our new and improved quieter and smoother rig…


We are going to run it through the night again which means we will be fast approaching the end of the fatigue testing cycle, when we will have another ultimate load test at high temperature to complete. Stay tuned for more news!

Introducing our aerobatic aircraft, the Game Bird 1

We can now announce the creators behind the aerobatic aircraft we have been testing here at the Advanced Structural Testing Centre (ASTC)!

For the first time in 30 years we can say that full airworthiness certification of a aircraft is taking place in the UK thanks to a pioneering partnership involving a championship-winning aerobatics pilot, an aircraft builder and ourselves.

Former German National Freestyle Aerobatic Champion and aircraft designer Philipp Steinbach is the brains behind the Game Bird 1 (GB1), which is being built by Lincolnshire-based Game Composites and is intended to be the world’s most fun to fly two-seater aircraft.

Headwaters of the Ganges River
The Game Bird 1 in flight!

The GB1 has been designed and built in the UK, but Philipp and Game Composites’ co-founder Stuart Walton, faced the expense of shipping the aircraft to the Czech Republic for full airworthiness certification, until Game Composites’ met our head of the ASTC (and project Show Boss) Phil Spiers at a Royal Aeronautical Society meeting.

Phil was determined that the production process should be kept within Britain, and although it would be the first time a plane has been designed, built and tested in the UK for 30 years; Phil was sure we had the skills and experience to make it happen.

The bespoke Whiffletree test rig was designed and built from scratch right here at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with the help of welding specialists from the Nuclear AMRC and the AMRC’s own apprentices.

Phil and the team believe that the successful completion of airworthiness tests will open the way for the testing of light aircraft to return to the UK.

You can see the aircraft’s amazing capability, designed to help it carry our impressive aerobatic feats in the video’s below.