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Alan Bristow: Renowned Aviation Leader, Test Pilot, Inventor and Pioneer

May 11, 2015

Founded Bristow Helicopters Ltd in 1955

Alan Bristow was a shrewd businessman, test pilot, inventor and pioneer. Known to be loyal and generous to his employees, he thrived on adventure and was revered by aviators. At one point in his career, he managed a helicopter operation that flew a pair of circus trapeze artists tethered beneath his helicopter up and down the Seine. His circle included industry greats Igor Sikorsky and Stan Hiller, and test pilots Harold Penrose and Bill Waterton.

Bristow received several prestigious honors and decorations throughout his adventurous life, including Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Royal Aeronautical Society's Silver Medal, Britain’s Champion Helicopter Pilot and the Croix de Guerre, for rescuing soldiers under Viet Minh mortar fire.

After flying airplanes and helicopters for the British Royal Navy during World War II, Bristow became Westland Aircraft’s first test helicopter pilot. He later sold helicopters for the company, and used his earnings to lease huts and a hangar and set up his first company, Air Whaling Ltd.

He formed Bristow Helicopters Ltd in 1955 after landing a contract to supply helicopter crews at Shell Oil Company to support rigs in the Persian Gulf. Over the next 30 years, with an unwavering commitment to safety, reliability and treating his staff fairly, Bristow expanded the business worldwide, providing services in the North Sea, Middle East, South America, Africa, Asia, India, Bermuda, Trinidad, Australia and New Zealand. The company provided pilot training, search and rescue services, underslung work and VIP charter transportation, in addition to helicopter transport services, and grew to become one of the largest civilian helicopter companies in the world.

Bristow stepped down from his leadership of from the company in 1985, yet maintained contact with its employees until the end of his life.

In addition to helicopters, Bristow flew light aircraft from his own landing strip and was an avid yachtsman. He was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1996. He died on April 26, 2009, at the age of 85.