Seventy years ago, on 24 September 1946, pioneering helicopter pilot, Lieutenant Alan Bristow Royal Navy, became the first Briton to land a helicopter on the deck of a naval frigate at sea.
Few would have seen in the flimsy Sikorsky Hoverfly KK969 of those pioneering days the forerunner of the sophisticated naval helicopters of today, or foreseen the significance of that landing as the precursor to every frigate or destroyer in the Royal Navy having an embarked helicopter as an integral part of its weapon system.
“Today is an important anniversary in the history of naval flying and of our naval aviation heritage” said Sue Eagles, Communications Director of the charity the Fly Navy Heritage Trust. “Alan Bristow’s landing on the River-Class frigate HMS Helmsdale off Portland was to have a far-reaching effect, transforming naval flying. Landing a helicopter on an aircraft carrier is relatively straight forward but landing on the small, pitching and rolling flight deck of a frigate, is much more hazardous.”
“In the seventy years since, naval helicopters have operated from frigates and destroyers in every theatre of operation around the world and although the aircraft may have changed out of all recognition from 1946, which in time is so near, yet in terms of development, so far away, the evolutionary story of the maritime helicopter is now an important part of our military heritage” continued Sue.
The anniversary was marked by a ‘Fly-in’ of historic naval helicopters hosted by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust at RNAS Yeovilton on 23 September 2016 with guests including Alan Bristow’s widow, Heather Bristow, who presented the charity with a cheque for £5000 in memory of the pioneering helicopter pilot.
On leaving the Royal Navy, Alan became a test pilot for the helicopter manufacturer Westland Aircraft. He later founded Bristow Helicopters Limited which grew with the oil and gas industry in the North Sea to become a global company serving the offshore oil and transport industry. Bristow Helicopters enjoys a 60 year heritage as an innovator and industry leader.
Bristow Helicopters Limited is an affiliated company of the Bristow Group and was represented at the event by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bristow Group, Jonathan Baliff. The Westland Aircraft company, now Leonardo Helicopters, was represented by Bob Crosby, Head of Sales UK Government Business, who flew into the event in a HM Coastguard SAR AW189 (92004) one of the latest generation high performance multi-role helicopters, to be purchased by Bristow for its UK SAR fleet.
The event also provided an opportunity for the charity, under its umbrella brand Navy Wings, to welcome two historic naval helicopters into the Navy Wings associate collection, the historic Westland Wasp G-KAXT and Navy Sharks Gazelle XX436. Current Royal Navy helicopters attending the event included a Merlin from the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), a Lynx from 815 Naval Air Squadron and a Wildcat from 825 Naval Air Squadron.
Speaking at the event, Jonathan Baliff said, “Alan Bristow was a true British aviation innovator and pioneer, one of the first Royal Navy helicopter pilots and it is impressive to see Navy Wings preserving and promoting its rich rotary wing heritage for future generations. Alan Bristow’s legacy lives on today in the Royal Navy and with the 5000 employees of the Bristow Group worldwide.