New plaque honours Bute aviation pioneer

A plaque honouring Bute blacksmith and pioneering aviator Andrew Blain Baird was unveiled in Rothesay on September 11.
A plaque honouring Bute blacksmith and pioneering aviator Andrew Blain Baird was unveiled in Rothesay on September 11.

An official Historic Scotland plaque has been unveiled in Rothesay honouring the pioneering contribution to aviation of Bute blacksmith Andrew Blain Baird.

The plaque, commemorating Baird’s achievement in flying - albeit briefly - an aeroplane of his own design and construction at Ettrick Bay in September 1910, was unveiled on Friday at the old drill hall in the town’s Broadcroft Lane.

The inscription reads: ‘Andrew Blain Baird, Blacksmith and Aviation Pioneer 1862-1951 in this drill hall in 1910 built an aircraft in which he made the first attempted all-Scottish heavier-than-air powered flight.’

Chris Markwell, who founded both the annual festival and the Baird of Bute Society which seeks to use Baird’s example to inspire today’s young people, said: “This is a great honour for the island and for Baird.

“The island is at last receiving recognition by a national body for its place in Scottish aviation history and Andrew Blain Baird is now officially accepted as the first Scot who built and attempted to fly an aeroplane.

“The plaque will remind locals and visitors of his achievement but will also, I hope, draw the attention of young people and make them aspire to innovation, imagination and creativity which are the key ingredients for success and which the Baird of Bute Society exists to promote.”

Flight Magazine reported both the building and the flight of Baird’s monoplane back in September 1910.

Their pre-flight story told readers: “Visitors to Rothesay for the Highland games were much interested in a new monoplane, entirely built in Scotland, and exhibited on the sports ground.

“As a result of a visit to the Blackpool meeting last year, Mr A.B. Baird, a blacksmith of Rothesay, decided to commence the construction of a monoplane embodying certain features of the Bleriot, Antoinette, and Santos-Dumont types of machine.

“The construction was commenced in March last, and the machine is now ready for trial. It has a span of 29 ft.; the total wing area is 180 sq. ft., and the weight 380 lbs. The tail is similar to that on the Demoiselle machines.”

Afterwards, under the headline ‘Trials with Monoplane at Rothesay’, the magazine reported: “Last week the monoplane which has been built by Mr A.B. Baird and Mr E.B. Steven, at Rothesay, was taken out for trial at Ettrick Bay.

“With Mr Baird acting as pilot, the monoplane made a trial, but exhibited a tendency to swerve to the left.

“On the elevator being operated the machine rose in the air, but made a sudden turn to the right and fell, sustaining some slight damage.”

There is no record of Baird having flown the plane again after that first, brief, trial; instead he returned to the relative obscurity of life as a country blacksmith, and died in 1951 at the age of 89.