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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.

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Bristow was born in Balham, South London, in , and was brought up in Bermuda where his father, Sydney, was in charge of the naval dockyard. In he joined the Fleet Air Arm, graduating in the top four of his pilot training course.

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Bristow was sent to America, where he became the first Briton to learn to fly the Sikorsky R4 helicopter. 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 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.

Alan Bristow: Helicopter Pioneer: The Autobiography by Patrick Malone

After his departure from the company, Bristow Helicopters passed through several hands before being bought out by an American multinational company, Offshore Logistics Inc. The company remains a significant player in the helicopter world.