Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

LNT – Is this the right way to use lighter-than-air craft?

My engineering heart always sinks whenever I see some great new announcement proclaiming that someone has had a brilliant bright idea, and that they’re resurrecting the airship in some way.

The last revelation was Airlander 10, but like most of these giants, it ended up having an accident.

Since day one of this, I always pointed out that if the military (with its budget) didn’t think they could make it work, and dumped it, its chances of civilian success were slim to nil.

Airlander 10 crash-landed after mooring line snagged power cables

I’m willing to go out on a bit of limb and suggest that, with current technology at least, basic physics means that these giants are doomed from the day they are conceived.

I don’t know where the borderline lies, but the basic flaw is that their propulsion systems are limited in relation to their size.

While there is a practical limit to the force they can exert on a relative small amount of air, and impart a controlling force to the craft, as they get bigger and bigger their area (and volume rise rapidly, meaning that the effects of wind and buoyancy rise faster than any of the controlling forces available to the pilot.

The bigger the get, the slower they get, and also the lower the wind speed they can legitimately operate in.

While the financial rewards for smaller craft are less attractive for the big monsters, I’d always maintained they could be more successful if anyone dared downsize developments, instead of continually trying to make these things ever bigger.

It’s almost as if the first thing those involved do is throw all thoughts of ‘Commin Sense’ out the door.

Now, it seems someone has taken that step, and I’ll be interested to see if progress of these smaller craft leave the big monsters in its wake.

Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have helped create a revolutionary new type of aircraft.

Phoenix is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to stay in the air indefinitely using a new type of propulsion.

Despite being 15m (50ft) long with a mass of 120kg (19 stone) she rises gracefully into the air.

She looks a little like an airship, except airships don’t have wings.

“It’s a proper aeroplane,” says the UHI’s Professor Andrew Rae.

As the project’s chief engineer, he has overseen the integration of Phoenix’s systems.

“It flies under its own propulsion although it has no engines,” he says.

“The central fuselage is filled with helium, which makes it buoyant so it can ascend like a balloon.

“And inside that there’s another bag with compressors on it that brings air from outside, compresses the air, which makes the aeroplane heavier and then it descends like a glider.”

New aircraft rises ‘like a balloon’

First lighter-than-air aircraft I’ve come across in years that hasn’t made me say “Oh no” at first sight.

UHI Phoenix Via BBC

UHI Phoenix Via BBC


23/04/2019 Posted by | Aviation, Civilian, Transport | , | Leave a comment

Baird of Bute award announced and 2012 event (third) on Bute

Early monoplaneHaving only come into being during 2010, I was more than a little pleased to see that the Baird of Bute Society was still going strong, and that the 2012 Baird of Bute Festival had been announced for September 22 on the commemorative web site: Baird of Bute Home – First all-Scottish heavier-than-air powered flight

First Scottish powered flight

For those unfamiliar with the event, it commemorates the events of September 3, 1920, when Bute blacksmith Andrew Baird, and aviation enthusiast of the time, achieved the “first all-Scottish Heavier-than-air Powered Flight”, and which we summarised here: The first Scottish powered flight when the first commemoration took place on Bute in 2010.

Baird of Bute Society Scottish Aviation Award

The society has created this award, to be presented annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to aviation in Scotland and in so doing provides an inspiration to the youth of Scotland.

The first recipient of this new award in 2012 has been named as Mr Scott Grier OBE, Chairman of Loganair Limited, Scotland’s airline, which celebrates its own semi-centennial 50th year of operation at the same time.

Mr Grier will be officially presented with award at the Baird Airstrip, Kingarth, as part of the annual Baird of Bute celebrations on Saturday, September 22.

The society will also launch its first publication during Saturday’s event , a book entitled ‘Andrew Blain Baird – Aviation Pioneer’, and plans to place a copy in the library of each school in Scotland.

See Baird of Bute launch new award – Local Headlines – The Buteman for more details, and where updates will be published with more information about events being held on the island during the day of the event.

From the archives:

Baird airstrip

Baird airstrip opening (from 2010) – Courtesy of Zak

Seen holding the new sign for airstrip are Andrew Blain Baird II and Andrew Blain Baird III.

07/09/2012 Posted by | Aviation, Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Second Baird of Bute commemorative event for 2011

After the success of last year’s centenary event: The first Scottish powered flight « Secret Scotland, when the first powered flight in Scotland was commemorated and the airstrip near Kingarth on the Isle of Bute was named Baird Airstrip in honour of Andrew Baird (on the 60th anniversary of his death), the celebrations are to make a return this year.

Scheduled to begin on the morning of Saturday, September 24, 2011, light aircraft will arrive at Baird Airstrip until 10:30 am, and will be on display to the public from 11:00 am onwards. Parking, refreshments, entertainment, and toilets will be available, and the pilots will be on hand to discuss their aircraft, most (if not all) of which will have been home-built.

In the afternoon, activity will move to Ettrick Bay where, at approximately 1:30 pm, a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter will carry out a simulated rescue from the waters of the bay, to be followed (at approximately 2:00 pm) by a fly past of the aircraft seen earlier at the airstrip.

At 2:45 pm, a short ceremony will be held marking the 60th anniversary of Andrew Baird’s death on September 9, 1951, with a wreath being laid on the monument which was erected last year.

Baird airstrip

Baird airstrip opening  (from 2010) – Courtesy of Zak

There will also be a kite flying competition, with some two hundred children from the island’s schools being invited to participate again this year.

Mount Stuart provides a further venue for activities from 2:00 pm onwards, including family games on an aviation theme, and displays by the Bute Astronomical Society, and a ceilidh in the evening.

Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, Scotland

From 2:30 pm, the University of Edinburgh Hot Air Balloon Club will be offering flights about the island.

At 4:15 pm, there will be a thirty minute aerobatic display by Scottish pilot Jim McTaggart (I assume in his Starduster Too stunt aircraft).

The Baird of Bute Society will also be hard at work during the day, hoping to recruit new members to the society.

Home – Baird of Bute Society

Finally, if the Saturday should be a washout, events are to be rescheduled for Sunday, September 25, other than the ceilidh, which will still take place at Mount Stuart on the Saturday evening,


Welcome return for ‘Baird of Bute’ celebrations – Community – The Buteman

I used to have a web site link with details of the airfield, but it seems to have died and not been replaced in recent years, but I did note the following a while ago (so check for yourself, as this is not claimed to be current information for flight purposes):

The airfield is a grass strip about 480 metres long. 09/27 runs slightly uphill if using 09.

There is a local frequency of 135.475 call sign Bute Traffic.

Care is advised when landing on 27 – a gap is reported in the trees, but the road may still have hidden traffic, and if the strip is wet, braking action is reported to be poor downhill.

PPR is from the Bute Estate Office on 01700 502627 or


By all accounts, the day was favoured with good attendance – some 18 aircraft were reported at the field – and the promised events were able to go ahead as planned, since the weather stayed fair on the day. Even the post-hurricane winds and rain we ‘enjoyed’ during the week went away, so the hot air balloon was ably to fly at Mount Stuart.

Click on the montage below to see a full gallery of the day’s events on Bute:

Baird of Bute II

Baird of Bute 2011 gallery – courtesy of Zak

16/09/2011 Posted by | Aviation, Transport | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The first Scottish powered flight

Early monoplaneIt looks as if one of the least known Scottish achievements is going to become a little better known by the end of September.

I first learnt of Bute blacksmith Andrew Baird some time back in the early 2000s, when I happened to pick up a book containing a number of photographs of old Bute. Flicking through the new acquisition to see if there was anything out of the ordinary on offer – and I thought I had at least heard of most of the unusual event on the islands, even if not in great detail – I was more than a little surprised to see photographs of an early monoplane included, both in a workshop, and on the green of the Esplanade.

According to the notes, Baird had a long standing interest in aviation, and had been in contact with other early aviators, such as Louis Bleriot. After attending an Aviation Week in Blackpool in October 1909, he returned to his workshop on Bute, inspired to design and build his own monoplane. While this would be outwardly similar to Bleriot’s, Baird would develop his own design and control systems. Significantly, these would go on to be adopted in later designs by subsequent manufacturers.

Baird went on to display his aircraft statically, on Rothesay’s esplanade, and went on to make a test flight on the beach at Ettrick Bay, on September 24, 1910. Although the short flight was deemed a success, part of the undercarriage was buckled in the heavy landing, and after returning the aircraft to his workshop, Baird never flew the aircraft again.

You can read much more about Baird, his aircraft, and the developments which followed in his wake at:

Baird of Bute Home – First all-Scottish heavier-than-air powered flight

A weekend of events is due to take place between September 24 and 26 of 2010, to mark the centenary of the flight. These will include the unveiling of a memorial monument at Ettrick Bay, a ceremony at Mr Baird’s grave in Rothesay Cemetery, and will even see the renaming of the island’s airfield in his honour.

The programme, planned to begin at Ettrick Bay on Saturday September 25, 2010 will include the Rothesay pipe band, possibly playing the new song ‘Baird of Bute’ written by Charlie Soane, the unveiling of the Baird of Bute monument on the patio at the Tearoom, a ceremonial flyover, and up to two hundred local children selected by their schools to fly rainbow coloured kites sent over from Canada by Mr Chris Markwell, responsible for the Baird web site, and much of the research into the history of Baird and his aircraft.

The story was also featured, together with a photograph, in one of a series of books:

Stenlake Publishing – Old Bute

The aircraft’s original engine still survives, currently in storage while Glasgow’s Museum of Transport is relocated to its new premised on the banks of the River Clyde, and the 4-cylinder, air-cooled engine with water-cooled valves – built for Baird in Edinburgh by the Alexander Brothers – is due to go on public display in the new museum.

The propeller has also survived, and negotiations are in progress with the hope of possibly uniting it with the engine in the Bute Museum – it is currently on loan to the Lanark Museum.

Full details of the weekend, and of the remaining artefacts can be found in Bute’s local paper:

Bute to celebrate a pioneer of aviation – Buteman Today


The day went well, and was even blessed with fine weather for the various ceremonies and activities.

Baird of Bute celebrations a “flying success” – Buteman Today

Johnny Bute, Marquis of Bute, had graciously agreed to the re-naming of the airstrip in recognition of Baird’s achievement.

Baird airstrip

Baird airstrip opening - Courtesy of Zak

Seen holding the new sign for the airstrip are Andrew Blain Baird II and Andrew Blain Baird III.

More pictures of the day’s celebrations and activities can be found here: Baird of Bute Photo Gallery by Zak

03/09/2010 Posted by | Aviation | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Delays threaten Nimrod

RAF Kinloss in Moray is home to the country’s fleet of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, often referred to as ‘ageing’ in the media, it was due to to see the end of its service life in 2003. However, increasing costs and delays in the MRA4 replacement programme mean that it is now some eight years late, and £800 million over budget, leading MPs on the Commons Defence select committee to suggest that an order for eight replacement aircraft might as well be cancelled.

The (UK) Government has responded by stating that it remains committed to the MRA4 Nimrod replacement programme.

The current Nimrod MR2 has become of a matter of concern, with a number of relatively recent media stories referring to problems with the aircraft, and concerns over leaks in the fuel system. In September 2006, 14 crew members died (12 based at RAF Kinloss) when their aircraft crashed in service in Afghanistan.

Although the aircraft has seen considerable upgrading over the years, to extend its life, and the operator has said that it is operating satisfactorily, suggestions that the replacement programme be scrapped, without an alternative, have led to calls that such a move could put lives at risk if the existing aircraft are subsequently obliged to extend their operating lives even further than currently expected.

27/03/2008 Posted by | Aviation, military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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