Bristow Helicopters was founded by Alan Bristow in 1955. After flying aeroplanes and helicopters for the Royal Navy during World War II, Bristow joined the Westland Company as chief test pilot, establishing his own company – Air Whaling Limited – in 1951. In 1955 Bristow Helicopters secured a contract with the Shell Oil Company to support rigs in the Persian Gulf. The company expanded rapidly into markets worldwide, with varied services including chartered flights, training, and search and rescue operations.
In 1959 Bristow Helicopters was acquired by Airwork Limited, which combined it with helicopter operator Fison-Airwork. Alan Bristow continued to run Bristow Helicopters following its sale.
Airwork merged with Hunting-Clan in 1960 to form British United Airways (BUA) with Air Holdings created as a holding company the following year. In 1967 Alan Bristow began a two-year stint as joint managing director of British United Airways (BUA).
Bristow Helicopters later took advantage of the 1980s North Sea oil boom, becoming Aberdeen Airport’s largest single employer and the UK’s biggest helicopter company. It had proven to be a highly successful investment for British & Commonwealth, which acquired the company in 1985.
In 1988 Bristow Helicopters was sold on as a component of the Bricomin Group. It was later acquired by American helicopter operator Offshore Logistics in 1996 and, in 2006, rebranded as The Bristow Group.