Thursday, July 11, 2013

A/Cdre Cyril 'Cyclops' Brown AFC CBE 1921-2003

Cyril Bob Brown was born on January 17 1921 and educated at Southend Grammar School. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1939 as a sergeant, completing his pilot training in time to join the Hurricane-equipped 245 Squadron in the latter stages of the Battle of Britain.

Based in the Orkneys, his squadron flew patrols in protection of the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. He was commissioned in 1941 and joined 616, flying patrols over the Midlands until he was wounded.
Brown was serving with 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron when he was scrambled on May 25 1942 to intercept a German bomber approaching Leicester. Although he managed to achieve cannon strikes on a Dornier 217, his Spitfire was hit by return fire from the bomber's rear gunner. As the windscreen shattered, Brown was hit in the face by splinters, causing severe damage to his right eye.

Notwithstanding his wounds, he was able to struggle back to his airfield near Peterborough, where he landed safely before staggering to the control tower to report to his station commander, Group Captain Basil Embry; he explained that he had experienced "a bit of a problem" before collapsing. Brown was then placed on a stretcher but, as the party descended the stairs, he fell off and tumbled to the bottom. He later claimed that this was the most frightening aspect of the whole event.

Surgeons were unable to save Brown's eye, and after his wounds healed he was fitted with a clear blue false eye. The effect of a boisterous night out was that the colour no longer matched his remaining eye, in which case he would remove the false one, invite someone to "keep an eye on it", and place a black patch over the socket. Later he adopted the patch permanently.

Although medical staff wanted to ground him, Brown was able to display all his old piloting skills when he flew with Group Captain Embry, who immediately cleared him to return to operations as a fighter pilot. Once he had become fully fit again, Brown had a further spell on operations before joining the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down as a fighter weapons test pilot.Since using the gun sights of fighters required binocular vision, he specialised in flying and testing the Typhoon and Tempest aircraft in the ground attack role. He commanded the Fixed Gun Firing Flight and became an expert in rocket-firing.

On one occasion Brown almost shot himself down when a rocket struck the ground, and the subsequent ricochet hit his Typhoon. After three years of test flying he was awarded the AFC.

After attending No 5 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School, Brown returned to Boscombe Down to test fighter aircraft, including the new jets, before being appointed to command 220 Squadron flying Shackleton maritime patrol aircraft from St Eval in Cornwall.

He resumed his test piloting career in 1956 when he became a senior instructor at the Empire Test Pilots' School, which had relocated to Farnborough.

On one occasion he gathered together a one-armed colleague and another with a broken leg, and - with Brown sporting his eye patch at a jaunty angle - the trio hobbled arm-in-arm into the officers' mess bar to announce to the new students that they were the staff running the test pilots' course.

In 1958 Brown took command of D (Helicopter) Squadron at Boscombe Down. In August 1960 the new twin-rotor Bristol 192 helicopter, later known as the Belvedere, was due to fly to Idris, in Libya, for hot weather trials. He decided to use the transit flight to establish a long-distance helicopter record.

Setting off from Gatwick in the early hours of the morning, Brown and his crew arrived on Malta just over 12 hours later, after stopping twice to refuel en-route. The record still stands.

Promoted to group captain, Brown took command of the V-bomber airfield at Waddington, near Lincoln, in 1963. The three Vulcan squadrons he commanded formed part of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent and were frequently tested to respond to no-notice dispersal and scramble exercises. He regularly flew the four-engine bomber, and his piloting skills were readily apparent; but, as one colleague recalled, Brown was never able to learn how to park his staff car without colliding with the steps.

It was during his appointment in command at Waddington that Brown learned that the last airworthy Lancaster was due to be retired to a museum. The engineers of one of his squadrons suggested that they should collect the bomber from Cranfield and fly it to Waddington, where they would maintain it in a flying condition. Brown was full of enthusiasm for the idea.

Although he incurred much displeasure from higher authority, the Lancaster was restored and subsequently became the flagship of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight; it still graces the skies.

Brown was promoted to Air Commodore to take up the post of Commandant at the Air Warfare College, where he continued to remain in flying practice.

After spending three years as the Director of Flight Safety in London, he decided to retire in 1972 in order to pursue business interests and his passion for yachting.