Reginald A.C. Brie
Reginald (Reggie) Alfred Charles Brie played a significant and important role in the development of the Autogiro and the early development of helicopters.
He was born on Nov 27, 1895. Unfortunately, both his parents died whilst he was quite young. After school he became an apprentice at 16 ½ with Submersible and J.L. Motors of Southall but, as WW1 broke-out, he tried to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). There were no vacancies and he subsequently ended up in the Royal Field Artillery. After attaining the rank of Battery Sergeant, he was graded as an Observer and posted to Bomber Squadron where he flew in bombing missions over Germany from France.
In September 1918 he was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner, passing through 6 Prisoner of War camps. After returning to the UK he was granted a Short Service Commission in the RAF until 1922.
On leaving the RAF he joined Shell as an oil products salesman. With a continuing interest in aviation he achieved a Commercial B flying license and found weekend work providing joy rides in an Avro 504K. He remained in the RAF Reserve, which required him to maintain his flying proficiency. During one of these flights he ran into bad weather and ended up crash landing, writing off his aircraft. This event spiked his interest in Autogiros that were just beginning to appear. He contacted the Cierva Autogiro Company to arrange a demonstration and subsequently by the end of 1930 he had achieved 1 hour of solo flight. Due to an accident that caused the then Cierva Test Pilot, Herbert Rawson, to break his leg Brie obtained a short-term contract from Cierva to perform some flight demonstrations they had arranged for France. Following that, he was seconded to fly an Autogiro in the Daily Mail Air Tour of Great Britain for 6 months.
After gaining a permanent job as a demonstration pilot with Cierva he, with assistant Alan Marsh, then set up the Cierva Flying School. He subsequently flew on versions of the Cierva C.19, C.30, and C.40 and the development of direct control and jump take-off techniques for Autogiros.
In January 1935, after Italian Navy interest in Autogiros, he made the world’s first take-offs and landings from a ship using a Cierva C.30 from the deck of the cruiser Fiume. These were carried out both in the harbor, off La Spezia in Italy, and sailing in the Mediterranean.
Following negative feedback from Royal Navy on the suitability of Autogiros for carrier operations, he demonstrated the first landing on a carrier on HMS Furious in the English Channel using a Cierva C.30 thus proving that it could be done easily.
Following the outbreak of WWII, In the winter of 1939, he was seconded to the RAF to develop the use of Autogiros for radar system calibration, to replace the slow and ineffective process using balloons. He became Squadron Leader of the Radio Maintenance Unit operating out of Duxford. As this role had become more administrative, he took the opportunity to join an experimental flying unit operating from Ringway, Manchester where he became Wing Commander.
In August 1941 he was posted to the Admiralty for special duties in the USA to stimulate American interest in the use of Autogiros in the submarine-hunting role, which the U.S. Navy bitterly opposed. To help foster enthusiasm, Brie was given a merchant ship (SS Empire Mersey) to develop Autogiro operations at sea. In May 1941 he demonstrated the first deck landings on this type of ship in the Chesapeake Bay using a Pitcairn PA.39.
After becoming aware of Sikorsky’s work with the VS-300 he became good friends with Lt. Col. Frank Gregory at Wright Field and they both became ardent advocates of helicopter development. He became the only foreigner to fly in the Sikorsky XR-4, which subsequently resulted in Sikorsky’s first production order from the British Government.
After the end of WWII, he joined Fairey Aircraft for 6 months before becoming a consultant. In 1947 he received an offer to work for Sikorsky but within 24 hours he received an offer to join the newly created British European Airways (BEA) to help them explore and develop potential commercial helicopter as leader of the Experimental Helicopter Unit. During the next 10 years under his leadership, BEA explored commercial passenger services and ran the first night air mail service.
He left BEA in 1957, joining Westland Aircraft as an Assistant to the Directors developing potential helicopter operations. During the 12 years he was at Westland he was instrumental in developing the Westland Heliport in London.
Reggie Brie can be considered one of the founders of helicopter development as is evidenced by his signature of the program for the 1st AHS Annual Dinner on 0ct 07, 1944.
Source: “Audio: The Reggie Brie Interview”, AeroSociety Podcast, Royal Aeronautical Society, National Aerospace Library, 15 March 2018 (Available via the Royal Aeronautical Society's SoundCloud site www.aerosociety.com/podcast)