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Alan Bristow--Helicopter Pioneer: The Autobiography.

Alan Bristow--Helicopter Pioneer: The Autobiography. By Alan Bristow and Patrick Malone. South Yorkshire UK: Pen & Sword Aviation, 2009. Photographs. Index. Pp. 384. 25.00 [pounds sterling] ISBN: 978-1-84884-208-3 Best known as the founder of Bristow Helicopters, Alan Bristow had a remarkable and event-filled life. Most importantly for aviation, he played an important pioneering role in using helicopters in new and useful roles. He begin flying helicopters during World War II, but wasn't impressed. Eventually, his post-World War II helicopter experience transformed him into a very powerful and wealthy man.

Bristow served in the merchant fleet early in World War II and saw action against both the Germans and Japanese. After surviving several sinkings, he joined the regular navy so he could fight back. He entered Royal Navy pilot training hoping to fly fighters but instead found himself flying R-4 helicopters. He was the first pilot to land a helicopter on a battleship. When the war ended, he forgot about helicopters and sold airfield equipment for a living.

Bristow's life changed when Westland offered him a job as a helicopter test pilot. Westland sent him to the Sikorsky factory in the United States to learn to fly the S51, which Westland would build under license. As Westland's only S51 test pilot, he flew demonstration flights and trained other test pilots. He also helped demonstrate the helicopter's use in law enforcement, rescue work, and news reporting. Unfortunately, he had a falling out with Westland's sales director, punched him during an argument, lost his job, and was blackballed from the UK's still-small helicopter community. So, he left for foreign shores.

The French firm Helicop-Air hired Bristow to run operations, hire and train pilots, fly demonstrations, and sell Hiller 360 helicopters for use as crop-dusters and air taxis. He dusted crops in French West Africa and tried to sell helicopters in Indochina. Going into business for himself, he tried to interest the French in using helicopters for aero-medical evacuation. He flew missions on his own dime at the request of military commanders before the French bought enough helicopters from him to equip a squadron.

Bristow sold Aristotle Onassis on the idea of using the helicopter to spot whales for whaling ships. Onassis bought the helicopters and gave Bristow a lucrative service contract to operate them. Later, having witnessed the cruelty of harpooning whales from ships, Bristow invented an aerial harpoon that used an electrical charge to kill whales humanely. He sold it, made his first million dollars, and then exited the whaling business.

Recognizing that helicopters had much to offer the oil industry, Bristow offered his services to Shell and won a contract to support the company's Middle East operations. Eventually, Bristow Helicopters Ltd. would become a worldwide giant in the helicopter service industry with its primary focus on serving the oil industry. Bristow went on to many more adventures in business including the evacuation of his people and helicopters during the Iranian Revolution (best selling author James Clavell wrote his book Whirlwind based on the operation).

This book offers those interested in the business side of aviation a great deal of interesting insider information. Historians will find it interesting and useful as well. The military professional will find it of little use but an interesting read nonetheless. The book is richly illustrated with photographs. I recommend it.

David F. Crosby, former USAF history writer and doctrine developer for the US. Army Air Defense Artillery School
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Author:Crosby, David F.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2010
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