Brian John Main

United Kingdom



Brian Main, MBE, Westland EH101, Chief Designer

British engineer Brian John Main was born on Feb. 5, 1942, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to missionary parents, Main’s early childhood was spent in Maun, Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and was greatly influenced by both the wide variety of wildlife and the African mentality of repair rather than disposal. From an early age, he was dismantling, reassembling and repairing all forms of mechanisms, an innate skill that would serve him well as a practicing engineer in later years. After gaining his Higher School Certificate, he accepted an apprenticeship linked to degree studies with British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) at Filton. Graduating from Bath University in 1966 with a BS in Engineering, Main stayed on at BAC for another three years.

After marrying in 1969, Main working in Israel, South Africa and Italy, before returning to the UK and joining Westland Helicopters in 1975. There he was engaged in structural design; in this role his involvement with the Sea King helicopter replacement began with the design of a flying testbed for the dynamic systems.

The Sea King replacement program would develop as a joint Anglo-Italian enterprise. Main was appointed as the senior engineer for Westland assigned to the project and he would immediately find himself engaged in the complex matter of negotiating and agreeing workshare with the Italian partner, Agusta. He had already established himself as both skilled as a structural engineer and possessing a good grasp of the wider design disciplines; now his negotiation skills would be tested. His early life in Africa together with his previous experience working in Italy may have had some bearing on his approach. He was always prepared, firm when necessary, driven by facts and his decisions were underpinned by common sense. Main’s appointment to this role could not have been more fortuitous for the two companies and their joint design endeavors, as proven by the success of the EH101 aircraft and its supporting program.

As Chief Designer for the Westland workshare, Main led the EH101 helicopter engineering team at Yeovil throughout the design, manufacture, flight test and into series production. Of the two companies, he was the one engineer who exercised a contiguous influence through each of these phases of the program. When he stepped aside from that role, he was initially tasked with considering a growth path for the EH101, which has now largely been implemented in the AW101 product; he was then “seconded” to GKN Westland, Inc., in Washington, where he was responsible for managing the technical presentation of the aircraft to the US Navy. In this latter role he was able to lay a foundation that would be relied upon later when the competitive contract proposal for the VH-3 Presidential Helicopter replacement was submitted.

Returning to Europe in 1997, Main took a new role providing a single point of engineering oversight for the EH101 program as it entered service with UK and Italian operators. He retired in 2000 after 25 years of service to the company, mostly dedicated to the EH101. His engineering achievements in this period were the foundation for his election as a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In 1995, he was awarded its Silver Medal, “in recognition of outstanding work on rotorcraft projects, notably the collaborative EH101 in seeing it through from preliminary definition to production launch.” He also received the distinction of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for 1995, for his services to the British defense industry.

Main’s engineering skills were not restricted to the academic aspects of aircraft design, extending to the restoration of old cars and motorbikes. In retirement, he took a further step and, over a 10-year period, he built three aircraft; he kept one (shown), sharing its use with two Westland test pilots and accumulated over 1,000 hours as pilot in command.

His colleagues attest to his clear-sighted sense of what needed to be done, his attention to design detail and his equally close attention to the wellbeing of those that worked alongside and for him. Main handled conflict with calm diplomacy and wasrespected by the entire engineering community of Agusta and Westland. He was a natural academic engineer, skilled with his hands and yet devoid of ego.

Brian John Main passed away on July 22, 2023 at the age of 81.

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