Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, 96, claimed that now is not the time to cut back on British defences and the UK should stand up to Russia.
His comments came days after RAF jets scrambled when two Russian long-range bombers were spotted off the Cornwall coast.
The veteran of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm holds the world record for flying the greatest number of different aircraft and also piloted Britain’s first supersonic flight.
He was also one of only two men to survive an attack on HMS Audacity, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in December 1941. And he also helped interrogate Nazi chief Hermann Goering.
Mr Brown yesterday delivered this year’s Edinburgh University Mountbatten Lecture, entitled Britain’s Defence in the Near Future.
Speaking at the Playfair Library, he said: “They [the Russians] are playing a very dangerous game of chess.
“So far, I’m not sure they have actually violated British airspace, they have only stayed on the outside of it.
“As long as they do that it is perfectly legal. We should still go up and pursue them to let them know we are playing the same game of chess.
“They are playing it to the hilt. It may develop into that. It is certainly showing the same signs as what caused the Cold War.”
Previous speakers at the lecture include astronaut Neil Armstrong, broadcaster Kate Adie and Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson.
Mr Brown, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s most decorated aviator, was chosen to give the lecture after he received an honorary degree from the university seven years ago. He was a languages student at the institution, and was on an exchange course in Germany when the Gestapo arrested him in 1939.
He subsequently joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and became the first person to land a jet on an aircraft carrier.
Brown’s aptitude for flight deck landings – acknowledged as one of the most difficult manoeuvres a pilot can make –led him to test aircraft carriers before they were brought into service. He has tested 487 aircrafts, including experimental Nazi jets, and for more than 65 years has held the world record for most flight deck landings.
Brown received the affectionate nickname “Winkle” from his Royal Navy colleagues – given to him because of his short stature of 5ft 7in.