Bute to celebrate a pioneer of aviation

THE man who made aviation history on a Bute beach one hundred years ago, when he made the first all-Scottish heavier-than-air powered flight, will be remembered during a weekend of celebrations on the island next month.

Rothesay blacksmith Andrew Blain Baird took off from Ettrick Bay on September 24, 1910 in a monoplane aircraft he had designed and built himself – and Mr Baird's son, grandson and family are among those who have been invited to Bute to mark the centenary of the landmark occasion.

A weekend of events from September 24-26 will include the unveiling of a memorial monument at Ettrick Bay, a ceremony at Mr Baird's grave in Rothesay Cemetery, and even the renaming of the island's airfield at Kingarth in his honour.

The full story of Andrew Baird's pioneering flight is told at a brand new website – www.bairdofbute.com – which, along with next month's centenary celebration, has been put together by Chris Markwell, who was born in Rothesay in 1944 before emigrating with his family to Canada seven years later.

Mr Markwell, now retired early from a career in finance which included a spell as president and chief executive of the Royal Bank of Canada Insurance Group, has for more than ten years divided his time between Toronto and Port Bannatyne.

He has spent several months putting together a programme for the Baird centenary which also includes a fly-past over Ettrick Bay by some of the present-day aviators who regularly use the Kingarth airfield, talks at the island's schools before the celebratory weekend, and a display of Baird-related artwork by local children – possibly using a site close to Andrew Baird's blacksmith's workshop in Rothesay's High Street.

The programme, planned for Saturday September 25, at Ettrick Bay 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, the ceremonial flyover and as many as two hundred local children selected by their schools flying rainbow coloured kites sent over from Canada by Mr Markwell.

"When I was here in January," Mr Markwell said, "I was invited to attend a planning meeting discussing the life of Bute over the next decade.

"At the same time I was introduced to the story of Andrew Baird by one of his relatives, Janet O'Sullivan at the Port Bannatyne Post Office.

"As I researched Baird at the museum and spoke with the few locals who are aware of his story, I became more and more gripped and inspired by his historic achievements.

"When I noticed in a 1910 Flight Magazine that this September is the centenary of his flight, I realised it must be celebrated this year."

Mr Markwell is also hopeful that the propeller from Baird'spioneering monoplane, currently on loan to the Lanark Museum, can be brought to Bute for the occasion.

Theaircraft's enginealso still survives, but is currently in storage with the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre – though it is due to return to public display when the city's new Museum of Transport opens on the banks of the Clyde.

Mr Markwell is in the process of establishing the Andrew Baird Society, which will serve to perpetuate the name and achievements of Andrew Baird, and he also hopes to create a permanent Baird of Bute Museum on Bute. Negotiations are under way with the Museum of Transport and the owner of the propeller to have the two items reunited in Bute as the centrepieces of the new museum.

Local MSP and enterprise and tourism minister Jim Mather, who said: "I am delighted to congratulate Christopher Markwell and his colleagues on their work in ensuring that the achievements of Andrew Baird are celebrated around the centenary of his pioneering flight on Bute in 1910.

"At a time when we all need role models and reminders of those of our predecessors who have achieved great feats, Andrew Baird is well worth remembering and honouring.

"His success was built on solid foundations that included his technical, networking, 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 who is well worth remembering; for he had attributes that are well worth triggering in new generations.

"I am particularly pleased to hear that Andrew Baird's son, grandson and family will be returning to Bute for the celebrations and I look forward to hearing their stories."

Baird's landmark achievement, and next month's centenary celebrations, have also been endorsed by the Wright Brothers' First Flight Society, of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, who told Mr Markwell: "The First Flight Society is honoured to acknowledge your honouring of Andrew Baird, a Scotsman and true aviation pioneer.

"What is remarkable is that he flew an airplane of his own design and construction at a time when aviation was in its infancy."