Bute pays tribute to the flying blacksmith

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HE took off in a plane built in his blacksmith's shop with silk wings sewn by his wife - and he became the first Scot to make a powered flight.

• Andrew Baird II and III - his son and grandson

Now Andrew Blain Baird's largely forgotten feat will finally win recognition this week with centenary celebrations to mark his epic achievement in the unlikely setting of the Isle of Bute.

On Saturday, the grass airstrip at Kingarth, which is used by air ambulances, will be renamed in Baird's honour, while a monument will be unveiled at the site of his historic flight at Ettrick Bay on the other side of the island.

A commemorative fly-past involving some 20 aircraft is also planned, with 200 island school children flying rainbow kites and the Rothesay Band playing the newly composed Baird of Bute, by Charlie Soane.

Baird's 91-year-old son Andrew, and his grandson, also Andrew, who live in Arbroath, are due to attend. They will also take part in an unveiling ceremony for a centenary plaque on Baird's headstone in Rothesay Cemetery.

Galloway-born Baird, then 48, constructed his aircraft weeks after being inspired by designs at an air show in Lanark.

He had also corresponded with early aviators such as Louis Bleriot, and his plane was similar to one flown by the Frenchman, who had crossed the English Channel for the first time the previous year.

Baird, below, never flew again after crash landing on his maiden flight from a Bute beach, but his plane influenced aircraft manufacturer Thomas Sopwith, who was responsible for the Camel fighter in the First World War.

Chris Markwell, who is organising the events, also hopes to establish a museum on Bute to display the aircraft's engine and propeller. The engine is in store at the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, while the propeller is on loan to Lanark Museum.

Markwell, a Bute-born former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Canada Insurance Group, who divides him time between the island and Toronto, said although Baird could not claim the first powered flight in Scotland, he was the first Scot to have achieved it, in a Scottish-built plane.

He said: "It was the first all-Scottish flight.The first flight was by the Barnwell Brothers in Stirling in 1909, but they were born in Kent.

"Andrew Baird was Scottish-born, his engine was from Edinburgh, his propeller was made in Scotland, he fashioned the frame from metal and wood, and his wife sewed the (silk] fabric for the wings."

Flight magazine, which reported on the event, said Baird's plane, which had a 29ft wingspan, had "travelled along the sands at good speed".

It said: "Naturally, on clearing the ground, the swerving influence of the axle ceased and the influence of the steering wheel brought the machine sharply round to the right, causing it to swoop to the ground. The contact was so sharp that the right wheel buckled and the right plane suffered some abrasion by scraping along the beach."

Markwell said Baird, who escaped uninjured, achieved his goal with the flight, whose distance is not known.

Markwell said he hit upon the celebrations when told about Baird while helping to develop future plans for Bute. He said: "As I researched Baird and spoke with the few locals who are aware of his story, I became more and more gripped and inspired by his historic achievements."

He has also launched the Andrew Baird Society to perpetuate his name. Baird remained a blacksmith and died in 1951, aged 91.

First Minister Alex Salmond praised the celebrations, and said: "I am proud to note that Andrew's personal drive and ingenuity once again emphasised how Scotland has produced many world-leading thinkers."

Aviation experts agreed that Baird's flight was a considerable achievement. Alex Robertson, curator of social history at Glasgow Museums, said: "Baird was a true pioneer of aviation in Scotland. His engine is a vital reminder of a time when aeroplanes were still just a dream for many."

Ian Brown, assistant curator, aviation, at 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.

"He was a blacksmith and had travelled to the international aviation meeting that was held in Lanark in August 1910. He was fascinated and inspired by the designs of some of the aircraft that he saw there, and came back home and built his own model based on his observations.

"It was a monoplane - really quite advanced for its time and quite similar to the aircraft that Bleriot flew across the Channel." However, Markwell said Baird's work had great influence.He said: "Noted aircraft manufacturer Tommy Sopwith sailed into Rothesay Bay in 1910 for the Highland Games and to view the monoplane.

"Very impressed, he was given permission to incorporate Baird's innovations into the aircraft he was designing and which would have such a great impact on the course of World War One."

Jim Mather, the enterprise minister and Bute MSP, also paid tribute to Baird's combination of skill and guts.

He said: "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 he is a man who is well worth remembering, whose attributes that are well worth triggering in new generations."

For more information go to www.bairdofbute.com