Alan Bristow: founder of Bristow Helicopters 1923 – 2009
HAI is saddened by the passing of Alan Edgar Bristow on April 26, 2009. Bristow, a former chief executive of British United Airways was the founder of one of the world’s largest helicopter companies, Bristow Helicopters, where he served as managing director and then chairman from 1954 to 1985.
An astute businessman, test pilot, and helicopter pioneer, Bristow was loyal and generous to his employees. His helicopters played an important role in the development of North Sea oil and operated in nearly every country in the world.
Bristow was born in Balham, South London, in 1923, and was brought up in Bermuda where his father, Sydney, was in charge of the naval dockyard. Young Alan later moved to Portsmouth, England, and attended Portsmouth Grammar School.
After the Second World War broke out on his 16th birthday, Bristow joined the British India Steamship Company as a deck officer cadet. He was sunk twice, once aboard the SS Malda by Japanese warships, and again aboard the SS Hatarana by the German submarine U214 while off the Azores. In 1944 he joined the Fleet Air Arm, graduating in the top four of his pilot training course. Bristow was sent to America, where he became the first Briton to learn to fly the Sikorsky R4 helicopter.
Bristow was hired as Westland Aircraft Company’s first helicopter test pilot in 1947. He later moved to Paris, were he managed and flew a helicopter operation that included flying up and down the Seine with a pair of circus trapeze artists tethered beneath his helicopter. Later, after founding Bristow Helicopters, Bristow was convinced that North Sea gas and oil exploration was a direction the company should embrace, and it proved to be a profitable decision. In 1968 he took over as chief executive of British United Airways and restored it to profitability, before selling it to Caledonian Airways three years later and returning to Bristow Helicopters.
After his departure from the company, Bristow Helicopters passed through several hands before being bought out by an American multinational company, Offshore Logistics Inc., which retained the original founder’s name when they changed the company name to the Bristow Group. The company remains a significant player in the helicopter world.
Bristow was an inventor and innovator. He built a rapid transit vehicle for town centers in the late 1980s, and won the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for Agricultural Innovation.
During his lifetime he received many awards and honors, including the Order of the British Empire in 1966 for his contribution and services to aviation, and Croix de Guerre in 1950 for rescuing four wounded French Foreign Legion soldiers in Indochina, under mortar fire. He had moved to Indochina in 1949, in an effort to interest the French Air Force in buying Hiller Helicopters to evacuate their wounded. Bristow was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1967.
Bristow is survived by his wife, Heather, and a son from his first marriage. A daughter of his first marriage, and his first wife, predeceased him. Bristow was 85.
HAI extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Alan Bristow, his friends, and employees at Bristow Group Inc. At this time, funeral arrangements have not been finalized. HAI will keep you advised as additional information and updates become available.