BUTE IS AT LAST paying tribute to the largely forgotten feat of blacksmith Andrew Blain Baird who died aged 91 in 1951. He was the first Scot to make a power flight in an aircraft built in Scotland – made in his blacksmith’s shop with silk wings made by his wife.
The airstrip known as Kingarth on the Isle of Bute has been renamed in his honour while a monument has been unveiled at the site of his historic flight at Ettrick Bay.
Galloway born Baird, then 48, constructed the aircraft after having been inspired by designs at the air show in Lanark and had corresponded with aviators such as Louis Bleriot. The plane he built was similar to the one flown by the Frenchman who crossed the English Channel the previous year.
Baird never flew again after crash landing on his maiden flight on a Bute beach but his plane influenced aircraft manufacturer Thomas Sopwith, who sailed into Rothesay Bay in 1910 for the Highland Games to view the monoplane, he was so impressed he incorporated Baird’s innovations into the aircraft he was designing, the Sopwith Camel fighter, which had a great impact in the First World War.
Chris Markwell, a Bute-born former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Canada Insurance Group, who divides his time between Bute and Toronto, has heard stories of the remarkable achievement over the years and said although it cannot be said it was the first powered flight in Scotland it was the first Scottish built plane, and the first all Scottish flight. He is hoping to establish a museum on Bute to tell Baird’s story and to display the aircraft’s engine and propeller but has already established the Andrew Baird Society to perpetuate his name.
The original engine is presently stored at Glasgow’s Museums’ Resource Centre and the propeller is on display at Lanark Museum.
Flight magazine, which reported the occasion in 1910, said that Baird’s plane, which had a twenty-nine foot wingspan, travelled along the Bute sands at good speed and on clearing the ground the pilot swerved influencing the axle to cease which made the plane dive sharply to the right causing it to swoop to the ground. The contact was so severe that the right wheel buckled and the plane suffered abrasion and scraping as it hit the beach.
Baird escaped unhurt, but the actual distance he covered is unfortunately unrecorded.
Ian Brown, assistant curator of aviation to the National Museum of flight at East Fortune in East Lothian said, “Baird was the first Scot to achieve the feat in an aircraft he built himself.”
Jim Mather, the enterprise minister and Bute MSP also paid tribute to Baird’s skill and guts. He said “His success was built on solid foundations and that included his technical networking and collaborative and project management skills that were coupled with the raw courage necessary to get his plane in the air. The net effect is that he is a man well worth remembering, whose attributes are well worth triggering in a new generation”.
Baird's son, also Andrew Baird, who lives in Arbroatht is pictured.