You are on page 1of 6

Come Fly With Me

The first ever scheduled air services in Scotland were to Campbeltown and Islay. Midland and Scottish Air Ferries Ltd. was owned by John Cuthill Sword, son of the Airdrie bakery family and by then general manager of Western S.M.T. buses in Kilmarnock - his house in Ayr, one of a row three built for affluent Ayr bankers, all of whom the story goes, ending up in jail for various reasons, became part of Ayr’s Wellington School. Sword had been frustrated by S.M.T. whose own entry into the world of aviation had been restricted to ‘joy-riding’ and occasional air taxi charters, at 1/- (5p) per mile. S.M.T’s board included London-based railway company directors whose main agenda was to discourage S.M.T. from starting up scheduled air services so that the big London railway companies could have time to begin their own nationwide airline and, though then totally unaware of this plot, Sword decided to go out on his own financed by his own money and in total disregard of his personal contract with S.M.T. which stated that he devote his “whole time and attention etc. to promoting the interests of the company and that he not accept directorships or other business appointments or employment without the written consent of the company” and there was another clause preventing him from competing in any way against the company for up to “two years after leaving the company’s service” ! So successful and threatening were the operations of Sword’s airline that, in June 1934, the S.M.T. railway company directors decided to use the ‘small print’ in Sword’s employment contract to put an end to his airline, or at best terminate his involvement with S.M.T.. Sword, who had spent some £40,000 of the £200,000 he had received when his own Midland Bus Services were merged to form S.M.T. in November 1931, was now earning a salary of around £10,000 a year from Western S.M.T. and, realising it better to stay with the group, pulled the plug on his but 18-month old fledgling airline in September 1934. By then he had 17 aircraft, it was the biggest operation in Britain and there would be no bigger airline until British European Airways was founded in 1946. Here then is the story of Campbeltown’s air services, the start of the Scottish air ambulance and, the founding of the now nationwide scheme, started first in Campbeltown, which provided funds enabling patients to travel to hospitals by air ambulance. Here fact meets fiction for it was one Nevil Shute Norway, later known to readers as the author Nevil Shute, who sold John Sword his first aircraft, the 11-passenger Airspeed Ferry G-ACBT, on December 9, 1932, which, via Edinburgh where it accidentally damage its starboard wing-tip and aileron on landing, was delivered to Renfrew on Sunday, February 12, 1933. John Sword too had also ordered a second aircraft, a new 4-passenger D.H. Fox Moth G-ACBZ which had actually been delivered at Renfrew four days earlier, on the Wednesday and two days later, on the Friday ordered a second Moth, G-ACCB. A week later, on the Saturday, February 18, he phoned Nevil Norway and did a deal to buy a second Airspeed Ferry G-ACFB, this being the fourth and last of the series that was to be built, the series made already obsolete by design of de Havilland’s new Dragon aircraft. Finally, before February was out, John Sword placed an order for a further two Moths G-ACCT and G-ACCU, his fleet investment now some £12,000. Now, with a capital of £20,000, ‘Midland and Scottish Air Ferries’ was registered, in Edinburgh on March 10, 1933. The new company’s choice of name could not have done much to appease the London-based S.M.T’s railway company directors thinking of setting up their own airline, it would have been all too convenient for them to have that called ‘The London, Midland and Scottish’ ! Doubtless too, S.M.T. were even less amused when John Sword now employed both their own Chief Pilot, Harold Malet and their own Chief Engineer, Sandy Jack ! Too there were another five pilots, Johnny Rae, de Havilland’s own test pilot; Jimmy Orrell, an ex-R.A.F. fighter pilot; Michael Noel Mavrogordato, ‘Mavro’, who was also from de Havilland’s Ned Sparkes, another former R.A.F. pilot and, Winifred Joyce Drinkwater, who, after a whirlwind romance in the spring of the next year, married Francis Short, a diector of Shorts, the flying-boat builders, in July 1934. All the pilots, like Harold Malet himself, were fully qualified aero-engineers. Winnie Drinkwater, who would return to Scotland and marry fisherman Bill Orchard after her husband’s death, born on April 11, 1913 and at the age of just 19 had achieved her “B” licence making her probably the youngest female commercial pilot in The World. She had also achieved her instructor’s rating and ground engineer’s licence though this 1

latter qualification couln’t properly be awared to her until her 21st birthday in 1934 ! Winnie’s sister, Mary, was also employed to be receptionist and company book-keeper. Thus to the morning of Tuesday, April 18, 1933 when the two Fox Moths, G-ACCU and G-ACCT, piloted respectively by Johnny Rae and Jimmy Orrell, set off together from Renfrew and landed in a field belonging to the Mitchell’s who farmed at The Strath, near the near the Southend - Machrihanish road junction. There they were greeted by the worthies of Campbeltown’s Industrial Development Committee and Dean of Guild McIlchere, that day’s morning newspapers then being delivered into the town and put on sale by 7.30 a.m., the flight, with a tail-wind, had taken less than 30 minutes from Renfrew. The planes’ passengers, some of the company’s representatives, the ‘Daily Express’ reporter Hardie Stewart and a photographer and others, were entertained to breakfast at The Royal Hotel and then, at noon, met with Provost Smith and The Town Council. Then, as now, Campbeltown’s unique geographical position as a focal point for communications and transport was highlighted, John Graham McDonald, the company’s office manager and accountant, noting it as “being ideal, a basic link, for trans-Atlantic steamship services and long distance aerial travel”. Despite the potential of Campbeltown’s geographical location and the potential for a new ‘inter-national’ airport, Lochgilphead was recognised and lamented for being in the geographical centre of Argyll itself and a newspaper editorial of the time led “We know perfectly well that in time the County Council administration will be based in Lochgilphead, the geographical centre. It is not too pleasant to realise that in a year or two, offices which have added to the dignity of the town and have provided for a number of our residents will be removed and the town to that extent will become poorer. With the establishment of a properly equipped aerodrome there will come an increase in population and an increase in employment”. With the war, a hard surface runway would indeed be built at Machrihanish in 1939 and, extended in later post-war years for military purposes, the ‘aerodrome’ did indeed contribute a little to the area’s prosperity. The flights then began operating daily, except of course on Sundays, though on Monday, April 24, 1933, there were, for some unknown reason, no flights. Among the earliest of travellers were Campbeltown café owner Alf Grumoli, his wife Morag, his niece Rena and her hairdresser husband, Dan Morrison. On the Thursday, April 20, 1933, one of the Fox Moths, piloted by Johnny Rae, flew on from Campbeltown to land with newspapers at Bowmore on Islay, the best landing field was to turn out to be at the Duich Farm, just north of the now Glenegedale airport. A week later, on Thursday, April 27, Winnie Drinkwater flew the second Fox Moth, GACBZ, her first scheduled flight and the very first time that a woman had flown a regular air service in Scotland. Sword’s first ordered aircraft, Nevil Shute Norway’s Airspeed Ferry G-ACBT, appeared on the run on Thursday, May 11, 1933 and found no problems landing or taking off from The Strath air-field. John Sword, a far-sighted man, had ordered a new de Havilland Dragon, G-ACCZ and given instructions that it was to be specially fitted for stretchers to carry seriously ill patients to hospital, a facility made quickly known to the Glasgow hospitals. On Sunday, May 14, 1933, just a day after the new Dragon had been delivered to Renfrew, the Bruichladdich doctor, Dr Stewart, sent a telegram from Port Ellen at 9.15 a.m. to the St. Andrew’s Ambulance Association in Glasgow “Please send airplane immediately to Islay. Urgent case. Reply where airplane landing to Kilchoman coastguard. Stewart.” The new Dragon took off at 10.25 a.m., landed on the sands at Bridgend at 11.15 a.m., took off again at 12.20 p.m. with the patient, John McDermid, a local 33-year old fisherman with peritonitis and Glasgow nurse Mrs A.W. Ferguson who had been holidaying on Islay. Forty minutes later, at 1 p.m., they landed at Renfrew and by 1.30 p.m. the patient was in hospital and being operated on. The patient, fully recovered, went home on Thursday, June 8, 1933. This then was the first official air ambulance flight in Scotland. On Tuesday, June 13, 1933, the new air ambulance carried out its fourth mission and this time it would be to collect the company’s own Islay agent, Thomas Caskie for transport back to Renfrew. The bill for the hire of the aircraft was often quite beyond the means of patients and their families and, as a result, they might contribute but what they could reasonably afford with the balance paid from funds raised by local communities at fund-raising events. On January 14, 1937, Campbeltown & District Co-operative Society Ltd. began a formal ambulance scheme to transport contributing members and their families to hospitals by steamer-rail connections and air ambulance flights and by 1939 75% of its 1,060 members had joined the scheme which made around 2,400 of the area’s population eligible for its benefits. The success of the scheme brought enquiries about its operation from home 2

and abroad and its model soon taken as the basis for the establishment of other schemes across the country. The Campbeltown society would later join the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1947. With the Renfrew - Campbeltown going like clockwork, the schedule was now extended to Islay, landing on the sands at Bridgend, on Tuesday, May 16, 1933, the aircraft on that occasion being the new eight-passenger de Havilland Dragon G-ACCZ flown by Jimmy Orrell. Thomas Caskie, the local Islay agent and his friend Robert Smith of Neriby, flew back over to Campbeltown for the night and returned to Islay on the following morning’s flight. Two days later, on the Thursday, when H.M.S. “Frobisher” anchored in Campbeltown Loch with some 700 crew, McIlchere, the bakers, phoned an extra order through to their suppliers in Glasgow, it was delivered on that evening’s Campbeltown flight, the first air-freight orders had begun. From the Wednesday of the following week, the company introduced calls at Rothesay and then, on Tuesday, May 30, 1933, the company began operating twice daily services through Campbeltown to Belfast with their new 16-passenger Avro 642/2m. The 1933 return fares from Campbeltown to Glasgow or Belfast were £2.10/- and the Campbeltown to Islay return £2 were actually reduced that winter and the return fares from Campbeltown to Glasgow or Belfast became just £2 with singles set at £1.5/-., the through Belfast to Glasgow return being £3.10/- and the single fare £2. Children under 14 paid two-thirds fare. The timetables now gave twice daily flights each way between Renfrew, Campbeltown and Belfast leaving both ends at 9.a.m. and 6.30 p.m. and having the Belfast-based aircraft simply going to Campbeltown to transfer passengers, the Renfrew-based machine going on through to and from Islay on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on other days, by request. Passengers were advised to book at least two days in advance to guarantee seats and to book in to airfields at least 15 minutes ahead of departure times. All baggage under 20 lbs was free, though not in the case of child passengers ! At Glasgow, passengers could, at least initially, avail themselves of a free Rolls Royce car to take them to Renfrew and The White Hart Hotel in Campbeltown too offered free transport to and from flights. The first ladies to fly from Campbeltown were a Mrs Blackwood and a Miss Watson, the youngest gentleman was John MacDonald of Hillpark, son of the company’s office manager and accountant. The first family to fly was that of the company’s Campbeltown agent James MacGeachy, his daughter Catherine, then aged two, the youngest lady to fly, would later work for her father and for B.E.A. at Campbeltown. James MacGeachy was Scotland’s first ever airline representative, Thomas Caskie in Islay following closely on his heels. The most important duty of all for James MacGeachy and indeed the other agents was the need to be at the telephone at exactly one-minute-to the-hour each day to take the pre-booked calls from The Meteorological Office to give exact on-the-spot weather reports of the local conditions, these dictating whether flights could operate and being of particular importance in operating air ambulance flights to Glasgow. By August 1933, when John Sword hired Dorothy Sparkes, wife of pilot Ned Sparkes, on August 22, 1933, as a stewardess, one of, if not actually, the first airline stewardesses, Midland and Scottish Air Ferries were already operating to The Isle of Man and Dublin and Sword was planning further links with his friend Ted Hillman, the Romford bus operator, to begin running through connections, via London (Romford), to Paris in the following year. The links began on Monday, April 9, 1934 and with the Glasgow to London service operating like clockwork, the London railway companies who, together with Imperial Airways, had formed ‘Railway Air Services’ March 21, 1934, were soon snapping at the heels of John Sword through their director’s on the board of S.M.T. who were now quick to remind John Sword of ‘the small print’ in his employment contract as general manager of Western S.M.T.! Close ‘Midland and Scottish Air Ferries’ or leave S.M.T. ! So it was, on Saturday, September 29, 1934, that the company flew their last Renfrew flight to Campbeltown and Islay, the air ambulance, which, in its short eighteen months of service, had already saved some twenty patients lives, was, to everybody’s relief, maintained by Sword until new arrangements could be put in place. 3

Now George Nicholson, a Newcastle bus operator, formed ‘Northern and Scottish Airways’ on November 21, 1934 and began operations at Renfrew on December 1, 1934, with a twice-weekly service to Campbeltown and Islay, the charge being £1.10/- single to Campbeltown. The new company took over responsibility for the air ambulance service a month later and then, from February 1, 1935, the Renfrew to Campbeltown service began running on a daily basis with extensions to Islay on alternate weekdays. In May 1935, financial control of ‘Northern and Scottish’ was taken over by Whitehall Securities who, at the end of that year, having acquired a number of other small and emerging U.K. airlines under their ‘United Airways’ banner, then merged with ‘Spartan Air Lines’ and John Sword’s old friend Ted Hillman’s ‘Hillman Airways’, the new company, ‘Allied British Airways’, soon became, of course, ‘British Airways’ ! Then, in July/August 1937, came ‘Scottish Airways’ combining ‘Northern and Scottish Airways’ interests - which, for a short time had been re-named ‘Northern Airways’ - with Fresson’s ‘Highland Airways’. The new company’s shareholders were The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company with a 60% holding and the other 40% being split equally between David MacBrayne Ltd. and The North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland Shipping Company Ltd.. The new ‘Scottish Airways’ and David MacBrayne then each owning 50% in ‘Western Isles Airways’, the holding company. Shortly after this, the government formed an Air Transport Licensing Authority to license routes to all the various operators. Noteworthy of the 1930’s operators were ‘British Amphibious Airlines’, founded in 1932 and using two Saunders-Roe ‘Cutty Sark’ amphibians between Renfrew, Greenock and Rothesay and ‘British Flying Boats Ltd.’ who, for a week in August 1932, operated their Saunders-Roe ‘Cloud’, named “Cloud of Iona”, between Greenock and Belfast. Then, formed in 1935 and using Fox Moths, was ‘West of Scotland Air Services’ which, at a single fare of £1.5/- , flew from Greenock to Arran, landing at Shiskine. Margaret Cunnison, another of Scotland’s pioneering commercial women pilots, flew for them until 1938 in which year, using a Short Scion Senior float-plane, she ran a series of trips from Greenock to the Hebrides. Though all civilian air services were withdrawn on the outbreak of war, on Sunday, September 3, 1939, Scottish Airways were quickly brought into the National Air Communications Scheme and was one of the first companies to resume operations and first of all was their return to the Renfrew - Campbeltown - Islay service. Some of the companies unarmed Rapides were flown south on June 14, 1940, to help with the French evacuation but these were all to return home safely by the end of the month.

From Strabane to Machrihanish
Unusual in that it was built not by the R.A.F. but by the Royal Navy, the airfield at Machrihanish, constructed between 1940 and 1941, was opened first as “Strabane” Naval Air Station, its name changed then to H.M.S. “Landrail” and then finally, on Monday, June 23, 1941, to R.N. Air Station “Machrihanish”. The new station’s heraldic crest, a claymore to symbolise the medieval warriors of the area laid against a water ‘barry wavy’ symbolising the sea and its motto “Airm A Dhionadh Na Fairgeachan” - ‘Arms to Defend The Seas’ - chosen to reflect the station’s role. The airfield at Machrihanish was constructed in July 1918, when 272 Squadron was formed and air cover was brought at last to The North Channel. The pilots, flying their little D.H.6 aircraft, soon called their efforts ‘scarecrow patrols’ for, with only a single small bomb, they had little chance of doing any real damage to a U-boat. At least three airships, SSZ 11, SSZ 12 and SSZ 13, operated over The North Channel. The poor weather of September 1918 caught out airship SSZ 20 escorting an outward-bound convoy and she had to make a forced landing at Machrihanish on September 20 to deflate her envelope. When conditions permitted, the D.H.6’s, operating in pairs, carried out 2-hour patrols covering up to 100 miles. On September 30, 1918, just ten days after SSZ 20’s forced landing at Machrihanish, the airships and the D.H.6’s began operating joint patrols for the first time. The final phase of U-boat activity to affect the local bases was on October 10, 1918, when the “Leinster” was torpedoed in heavy seas, Machrihanish airfield then being forgotten and the civilian scheduled flights, beginning in 1933, preferring to use the Mitchell’s field at The Strath rather than the WWI field. 4

The principal function of the WWII airfield was at first to house ‘772 Fleet Requirements Squadron’ and then, in August 1942, to accommodate ‘766 Squadron (Operational Training)’, both of these remaining there till the end of the war and ‘766’ making use of the attached firing and bombing ranges around Kintyre. From mid-1943, the station carried out ‘Deck Landing Training’ with ‘768 Squadron’ now too in permanent residence. More than 60 Fleet Air Arm squadrons passed through Machrihanish, many more than once. At its peak, in the spring of 1943, there were no less than ten ‘first line’ squadrons plus the resident squadrons on the station at one time and virtually every type of aircraft used by the Fleet Air Arm during the war appeared at the station. The Royal Air Force’s anti-shipping Beaufort ‘Strike Wings’ made occasional use of Machrihanish’s local torpedo training facilities and, briefly in 1943, ’65 (Fighter) Squadron (Spitfires)’ too would appear to learn how to ‘deck land’. From time to time squadrons would be disembarked from carriers to be given training at the station and amongst these were the Barracudas of “’830’ and ‘831’ and the Corsairs of ‘1834’ and ‘1836’ squadrons who were to ‘work up’ at Machrihanish prior to their famous attack on the “Tirpitz”, lying in Alten Fjord, on Monday, April 3, 1944. After the end of WWII, in April 1946, the station was put on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis till, because of the Korean War crisis, it was again reactivated for a year, from December 1, 1951 till December 1, 1952. This time there were the Harvards of ‘799 Squadron’, the Fireflies of ‘821’ and, ‘working up’ prior to embarking on H.M.S. “Indomitable”, in May 1952, the Fireflies of ‘826’ squadron. The airfield was extended eastwards in the 1950’s and 1960’s as part of a N.A.T.O. plan to allow Machrihanish’s use by naval aircraft and, in 1962, R.A.F. Vulcans, of the medium bomber force, began to use the new 10,003-foot long runway on a regular basis. On Wednesday, May 22, 1963, the station was taken over by The Royal Air Force to become part of ’18 (Maritime) Group’, Coastal Command and, as a N.A.T.O. forward operating base for maritime patrol aircraft in the 1980’s, up to 300 military personnel, 180 R.A.F. and 120 U.S. Navy men, the ‘SEALS’, were stationed there.

Up By Air, Back Wi’ Blair
Campbeltown’s air service, begun on Tuesday, April 18, 1933 by Fox Moths and then a Dragon from John Sword’s ‘Midland and Scottish Air Ferries’, then operated successively by ‘Northern and Scottish Airways’, ‘United Airways’, ‘Allied British Airways’ and then ‘Scottish Airways’ using de Havilland Rapides, the ‘souped up’ versions of the old Dragons. ‘British European Airways Corporation’, was the European division of British Overseas Airways Corporation, founded on August 1, 1946. Between then and February 1, 1947, ‘Railway Air Services’ and ‘Scottish Airways’ operated on behalf of ‘B.E.A.’ and, following ‘Railway Air Services’ trial of an Avro XIX in the autumn of 1945, several of these aircraft, taken over by ‘B.E.A.’, appeared on Scottish routes along with some Junkers-Ju 52/3ms aircraft. During May 1946, 20-seat DC-3/C-47 aircraft too began to appear in ‘Railway Air Services’ colours and by October 1952 the Scottish routes, with the exception of Barra and the air ambulance flights which continued to be operated by the old Rapides, were all being operated by DC-3 aircraft, converted into 32-seat Pionairs by Scottish Aviation and given new radio equipment and ‘air stairs’. When John Sword founded ‘Midland and Scottish Air Ferries’ in 1933, he had considered using Stranraer, rather than Campbeltown, as the mid-way landing point for his main Renfrew - Belfast service, if that had happened then Campbeltown would not perhaps seen any civilian aircraft until after the war, if at all ! Now, in November 1954, Silver City Airways Ltd., a member of the British Aviation Services Group, which had The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Group as its main shareholder, applied for an air licence to operate up to twelve vehicle and passenger flights each day between West Freuch, near Stranraer and Newtonards Airport, at Belfast. Contractors were soon busy at Stranraer’s Castle Kennedy and, on Thursday, February 17, 1955, the first plane for ten years landed for trials. On Thursday, April 7, 1955, Silver City Airways, using a DC-3/Pionair, flew an official party across the channel from Stranraer to Belfast, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland crossing at the same time in a Bristol 170 air freighter, these to be the main-stay of the fleet and capable of carrying variously either up to 48 passengers or three 14-foot long cars and 20 passengers. 5

Initially, but excluding Sundays, there were three daily return flights but the demand for the 15-20 minute crossing was higher than expected and the freighters were sometimes making up to fourteen return trips a day, during the first winter of 1955/1956, the service was reduced to a single daily return. A bus service, from Glasgow via Ayr and Kilmarnock, connected with flights for Belfast and the Isle of Man, these started on August 6, 1956 by Manx Airlines, then immediately taken under the fold of the British Aviation Services Group. Despite the success of these services, the need for car-ferry aircraft crossing The English Channel put an end to the Scottish - Irish and Isle of Man services at the end of the 1957 season. A probable effect of these, some would say isolated, air ferry links was that special, ‘reduced’, car fares were introduced by the British Transport Commission in the summer of 1956 when they their car ferry “Hampton Ferry” into operation on the Stranraer to Larne route. The last of these DC-3 Pionair/Leopard aircraft, G-ALTT ‘Charles Grey’, carried out the Campbeltown and Islay service on the morning of Saturday, May 19, 1962 and finished in Renfrew at 11.35 a.m. and 69-seat Vicker’s Viscount aircraft, the first trialed on August 1, 1950, then took over most of the services, some 44-seat Handley Page Dart Heralds too had appeared on the runs around 1960, G-APWD, the last Herald to operate the Campbeltown and Islay service, doing so on Halloween, Monday, October 31, 1966 and arriving back at Abbotsinch Airport at 5.36 p.m.. The new airport at Abbotsinch was opened for traffic on Monday, May 2, 1966 and then officially opened by The Queen on Monday, June 27, 1966. In the 1950’s, using a green-painted 29-seat Bedford OB coach, Archie Malcolm, owner of Campbeltown’s Royal Hotel, provided an airport connection to meet British European Airways’ flights at Machrihanish airport. A Handley Page Heron G-AOFY, ”Sir Charles Bell”, the first two had been delivered in 1955, had been called out in atrocious weather to uplift a seriously ill lady from Islay on Saturday, September 28, 1957 and, turning in to land, a wing tip hit the ground - Her three crew, Captain Paddy Calderwood, Radio Officer Hugh McGinlay and Nursing Sister Jean Kennedy, were all killed instantly, a cairn to their memory and the memory of all air ambulance crews was unveiled there on Sunday, October 23, 1966. The Civil Aviation inspector noted that “it is obvious that the pilot was determined to do everything possible to save a desperately ill woman. He went to the uttermost limits to bring the plane in.” ‘Loganair’, evolved from the 1961 founding of Chief Pilot Captain Duncan McIntosh’s own Capital Services (Aero) Ltd., was formed on February 1, 1962 as the aviation division of the Logan Construction Company and commenced its first scheduled service, between Dundee and Edinburgh, in October 1962. Willie Logan, the company founder, was killed in an air accident on January 23, 1966 and the company moved its base to Abbotsinch on May 2, 1966. Loganair was in fact to be the ‘launch customer’ for the new twin-engined Britten-Norman Islander aircraft, G-ATWU arriving at Abbotsinch for proving trials in July 1967 and the company would grow to be The World’s largest operator of Britten-Norman three-engined Trilanders flying to more U.K. destinations than any other airline - Though beginning air amulance flights in 1968, the company was not awarded the full Air Ambulance service until 1973. In October 1968, the company was acquired by The National Commercial Bank of Scotland, itself acquired by The Royal Bank of Scotland in the following year. On Monday, January 8, 1973, Mrs Ann Heads of Ardbeg became the air ambulance’s 10,000th patient as she flew to Glasgow for the birth of her baby. She returned home to Islay in the company of a special V.I.P. party among whom was John McDermid, the service’s very first patient in 1933. Loganair took over the Abbotsinch - Campbeltown and Islay services in 1977, at first using Britten-Norman Islanders and Trislanders and then Twin Otters, their first DHC-6 Twin Otter, G-BELS, having been delivered on March 17, 1977. On occasion, in the early 1980’s, Shorts Skyliners would be used for the service too. In 2002, the company acquired five Saab 340 aircraft, the first pressurised aircraft on the route for twenty-five years. On December 13, 1978, Burnthills Aviation began a new weekday helicopter service from Abbotsinch to Fort William and then, at the end of 1981, started an Abbotsinch to Rothesay and Lochgilphead helicopter service which was suspended in March 1984, though a limited and short-lived service to Rothesay began again in August that year. Of passing interest maybe the fact that, on March 24, 1981, as a result of changes in magnetic variation, the main Abbotsinch runway’s designation was altered from 06/24 to 05/23 and, of course, the ‘Blair’ in the title, Alasdair Blair, the Campbeltown undertaker - ‘Up by Air (Ambulance), Back Wi’ Blair (the undertaker)’ ! 6