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
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
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
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
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