Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Conrad Phillip Bristow RNAS/RAF 1899-2001

Philip Bristow joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1917. He was summoned to London for an Admiralty board interview, and on his 18th birthday made his way to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich as a Probationary Flying Officer, learning navigation, the principles of flight, and how to take apart and put together a machine gun.

The next stage of his training saw him actually get his hands on the controls of an aircraft, when he headed off for France, to Vendome in La Rochelle.

He was taken aloft in a Caudron bi-plane for a handful of flights until he was judged ready for his first solo flight. After circling above the French countryside and making a perfect landing on the bumpy grass, Philip taxied hurriedly over to his instructor to ask if he had qualified as a pilot. "Yes, but don't you taxi as fast as that!" came the reply.

The fledgling pilot then returned to the Naval Air Station at Lee-on-the-Solent for training in seaplanes - a completely different technique, as water presented a difficult platform for both take-off and landing.There was the added complication at Lee-on-the-Solent of having to avoid the jutting pier.Once fully trained, Philip moved on to Westgate-on-Sea to begin submarine surveillance flights. Coming down at sea was a serious risk for Naval pilots, not least because of the unreliability of the engines, and each aircraft trailed a long copper wire to act as a radio aerial - and two carrier pigeons as a back-up in calling for assistance.

On three occasions Bristow ditched with mechanical problems. He was rescued in turn by a trawler, a drifter and a British destroyer - twice employing his pigeons.

In April 1918 the RNAS was absorbed into the newly-formed Royal Air Force and Philip left the RAF as a flight lieutenant in May 1919 to rejoin the family glass merchants business in Cardiff, of which he became managing director in 1938.