Saturday, March 22, 2008

Capt Harry Albert 'Sam' Brown OBE 1896-1953

L-R, Bill Thorn, Capt Brown and Geoffrey Tyson
Capt H.A 'Sam' Brown OBE made all the first flights of prototype aircraft for Avro from the Tutor in 1929 to the Lincoln in 1944

Prototype Lancaster
Prototype Manchester

Sam Brown, like many a young man of his generation, could not wait for the Royal Flying Corps to be expanded in 1914, in case the war should end before he could take part in the fighting in France. (The 1914-18 war was very popular; we were a rich country and had a three power navy in those days.) Although a man of Kent, he joined the London Scottish after obtaining
release from his indentures as an apprentice at Gwynnes and, having fought on various sectors of the Western Front, including the battle of Loos, and having seen the slaughter on the Somme, he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service and was sent to Vendome to be taught to fly.
where Lt. Carr (became Air Marshal Sir C. R. Carr, K.B.E., C.B., D.F.C., A.F.C., Retd.) was one of the instructors.
His ab initio training was on a wing-warping, 45 h.p. Caudron biplane, which in his opinion required much more judgment for handling than present-day aircraft. It had practically no speed range, stalling speed was within a tew m.p.h. of top speed, and the nose had to be stuffed
well down before one dared to close the throttle. Sam never went on air operations, but, directly after learning to fly, was posted as an instructor to No. 2 School of Special Flying at Redcar. This school was run on the Gosport modtel to the principles laid down by Col. Smith-Barry. Major McMinnies (for many years public relations officer of Armstrong Siddeleys) commanded the
school, and when the Armistice came in 1918 he and Brown went into a huddle to find the means of earning a peacetime living. Joyridmg with Mono Avros converted into three-seaters
appealed to them, and McMinnies went to see the late John Lord, then managing director of Avros, and put the project before him. In passing, it is interesting to recall the part played by John Lord in the original establishment of Avros. In 1909 young A. V. Roe wanted financial
aid to help him carry on experiments with his selfmade 9 h.p. triplane John Lord supplied this money out of profits derived from manufacturing " Bullseye " braces, and that is why the first Avro aircraft ever to fly was called the " Bullseye." The joyriding idea was taken up by Avros in a big way, and McMinnies and Brown, and a number of other pilots from Redcar, started up at Blackpool, where a part of the sands was allotted to them as a landing ground, lt is said that in the first season alone some £10,000 was taken at this seaside resort.
Next year Brown, in partnership with Moxon, started up on his own at Rhyl, but the big profits had by then gone out of joyriding and only by virtue of John Lord forgoing all rent for the aircraft did the,two pilots make ends meet at all.
Sam's next venture, which lasted from 1920 to 1926, was in Barcelona supervising the training of Spanish naval air service pilots. One of his pupils was F/L. Duran, who later flew as navigator to General Franco's brother when he crossed the South Atlantic in a Dornier Wai in 1926.
Duran's end was curious. He was leading a flight of Martinsydes in a naval review when a collision occurred. Duran, in his disabled aircraft, nosedived vertically into the sea, narrowly missing a non-rigid airship also flying in the review. The remainder of the story is almost unbelievable. One of the airship officers dived from his gondola into the sea and was able to pick Duran from the wreckage under the water On reaching the surface, however, Duran died.
At the end of 1926 Neville Stack gave up his job as instructor to the Lancashire Aero Club, and Brown camt home to take on the job. This brought him into even closer touch with Avros, who were then busy turning out their famous 504 trainers with Lynx engines The late Bert Hinkler, who was then Avro's test pilot, spent most of his time at the Hamble works, and lo save him endless travelling Brown started to do the production test-flying at VVoodford Airfield in addition to the club instructing.
In 1928 the passion for record-flying persuaded Hinkler to leave Avros, and Sam Brown became the firm's chief test pilot. The Avian was in production at the time, and his first prototypes were the Tutor and the Avro Ten. The latter, for its time, was quite a complicated structure, but it is interesting to compare its 20 or so instruments with the 95 to be found on the Tudor II to-day. The initial flight on the Tutor—or Trainer, as it was then called—was made in September, 1929, and on the 19th of October, on Trainer G.AART, he had a crash which nearly finished his career. The Trainer originally had ailerons only on one plane, and while Sam was doing a -slow roll at 500 ft he went into an inverted stall and dived into the deck with engine full on. His memory of events after the realization that "this is the end" is very hazy in fact, there is a complete mental blank One eyhiulei of his engine was found 209 yards from the main wreckage,and his injuries included two compound fractures of the right leg, a fractured pelvis and a dislocated spine. Despite all this, he was test flying again on the 21st of May, 1930, and in 1932 competed in the Kings Cup race on the Avro Mailplane.

Brown's knowledge of the Spanish language stood him in good stead when, at the end of 1933,he was asked to take a 626 military trainer and a Cadet on a demonstration tour of South America. While the machines were being erected in Rio he became friendly with Col. Mello, a star Brazilian pilot, who got leave of absence to accompany Brown on his demonstration tour with the Cadet in Uruguay and Argentina. In return for his services, Avros agreed to present the Cadet to Col. Mello, who used it as his private aircraft for over 11 years. The 626 trainer Sam flew over the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago, Chile. This is a difficult journey at any time of the year, but circumstances dictated that Brown should do it in mid-winter. The mountains are some 23.000 ft high, and the pass rises to nearly 14,500 ft. Add to this the knowledge that the theoretical ceiling of the Avro 626 was under 17,000 ft, and it becomes very apparent that, at its best, the journey was likely to be a sticky one.By following the road and rail he should have been in the mountains for just about an hour, but, because these guides were obscured by snow, and a compass is quite useless while winding in and out between mountain peaks,desolation, until, by sheer chance, he recognized the pass once more, and was able just to get back to Mendoza on the last cupful of petrol.' This was not all. Air conditions in the high mountains were terribly rough, and in one bump alone he lost 1,200 ft down and in another went up 1,400 ft. In the open cockpit the cold was also intense. Nothing daunted, however, he tried again, this time more successfully, and for his efforts he was rewarded by receiving in Chile an order for £70,000 worth of aircraft out of a total allocation of £100,000 by the Chilean Government. For good measure he sold the demonstrator machine as well.
1934 saw him back in England once more, testing 626.S, Ansons and, later, Blenheims. On July 24th, 1939, he made the first flight on the prototype Manchester, which was the forerunner of the Lancaster. To a large extent it was also a flying test-bed for the Rolls-Royce Vulture
engine and, in addition to a number of forced landings, it gave Sam a few of his most anxious moments. Under the pressure of wartime urgency some air screw tests were being flown under unsuitable weather conditions. On the morning of the day in question the aircraft had been flown by Brown at about 500 ft, owing to low cloud. In the afternoon he was able to get to 1,200 ft and, fortunately, was still within gliding distance of Woodford airfield when the port engine broke up, more or less completely. Sam perched smartly and skilfully, back on the airfield, and one of the flight observers, who had taken the incident somewhat to heart, ran from the Manchester, and Brown has not seen him since.
The first flight of the Lancaster prototype was made in December, 1940, on a pleasant day—not at all typical of Manchester in the winter—and it was obvious to a pilot of Brown's experience that here was an absolute winner. In fact, there were no major modifications done before the Lane went into mass production, and of the various marks no fewer than 7,366 were built.
One of the most interesting sideshows in the testing of Lancasters was the production of 26 special machines for "Operation Upkeep " (the official title of the Mohne dam-bursting venture). The explosive missiles, to the special design of B. N. Wallis, of Vickers, had to be dropped from
precisely 30 ft while flying a straight course at exactly 130 m.p.h. On the first rest run Sam Brown was at the controls and Mutt Summers, chief test pilot of Vickers, was watching the behaviour of the missile from the radar scanner blister. On impact with the water, part of the casing burst and the pieces, flying upward, hit the Lancaster, some severely bruising Summer's elbow, and others jamming the elevators. Fortunately, enough movement was left to enable Brown to keep control. For the actual run Guy Gibson ascertained his exact height by having beams from landing lights on each wing converging at such an angle that they joined on the ground when the aircraft was at the required height. For his long service as a chief test pilot, Capt. Brown was awarded the O.B.E. in the King's Birthday Honours List in 1946. He had over 10,000 hours' flying to his credit.