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RAF Connel

(Redirected from Oban Airport)

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RAF Connel was a World War II airfield, built at North Connel and located to the west of the A828(T). Later Known as Connel Airfield, and upgraded in 2006, now the site of Oban Airport (IATA: OBN, ICAO: EGEO).

A Sector Operations Room (SOR) was built near the airfield. After the war this was extended to become the Royal Observer Corps Group HQ Oban.

Pilot losses from RAF Connel

516 Combined Operations Squadron flew training flights from Connel. On February 6, 1944, three Hurricanes from 516 departed Connel to undertake a training exercise in the area of Kentra Bay, practicing low flying, mock attacks on amphibious landing craft. The exercise was completed successfully, but as the aircraft prepared to return to Connel, thick cloud and mist rolled in from the west. Unable to navigate accurately, the three flyers broke formation in order to try and find the somewhere safe to land. Pilot Officer Larry Figgis climbed above the cloud cover to 6,000 feet and was preparing to bail out just as he spotted a break in the cloud. Diving through the opening, he made a successful safe belly landing in a field at Carse Farm, Stirling.

His two companions were not so fortunate. Warrant Officer JE Stephen (24 years of age) had attempted to head for RAF Tiree - his crashed Hurricane was found three days later, by police on the island of Coll. Flight Lieutenant AJ Woodgate RNZAF (21 years of age) had attempted to follow a sea level route back to Connel via the Sound of Mull - his crashed aircraft was found a day later, on the side of Beinn na Seilg near Ghleamn Locha Kilchoan Bay on Ardnamurchan.

In 1995, a plaque dedicated to the memory of the two pilots was secured to a granite boulder, visible from both crash sites.

Postwar development

In 1967, the site was purchased by Oban Council, and was being used for glider launching. Some wartime buildings still remained then, together with a few concrete bases.

Oban Airport

Oban Airport has attracted considerable negative publicity since being taken over by Argyll and Bute Council, with claims that costs have soared and traffic has dropped following the upgrading of the airfield. Much of the controversy is aired in the letters and news pages of the local newspaper, the Oban Times.[1]

A letter in The Herald of 2008 refers to the £8.5 million cost of the new airport, which is also said to enjoy an annual subsidy £500,000 from the Scottish Government, and describes the airport as "the modern equivalent of the emperor's new clothes", claiming that the project was pushed through by the determination of the then council leader, taking priority over all other important capital projects.[2]

This extract is undated, but was obviously written when Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL) were in ownership. Anyone who may have happened to drop in to Connel Airfield may wonder what site the writer was describing, as visits to the airfield in the period 2000 to 2003 resembled a ghost field, not the hive of activity suggested in the text, which may explain the subsequent controversy after millions were spent, and a significant subsidy secured. Possibly optimistic numbers in the brief suggest something like 20 flights, moving nearly 300 passengers each day:

Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL), operates an efficient and safe infrastructure of ten airports in the Highlands and Islands. These airports offer vital social, business and welfare links to otherwise remote communities. With the prospect of oil from the Minch, oil traffic, increasing freight and tourism, daily school runs, search and rescue, police, air ambulance, ferry flights, RAF training, gliding, refuelling and the further development of aviation support provision, there has been a revival of local political interest in the expansion of Oban Airport at Connel Airstrip. This project assumes the viability of the foundation for a business case and the projection of the airstrip into HIAL's eleventh and fully licensed airport with facilities for passengers, freight and aircraft movements similar to that of Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands.The programme with focus on the design of a new terminal building for up to 150,000 passengers each year and eleven thousand fixed wing, rotary, training, test and over-flight aircraft movements.

- Extract from project brief - New Air Terminal Building at Oban Airport.

References

1 Oban Times

2 Who is responsible for Oban Airport fiasco? The Herald, private letter

Photographs

Connel Airfield from 235 metres, 2005
Connel Airfield from 235 metres
© andy 2005
Oban Airport from 600 feet, 2007
Oban Airport from 600 feet
© Bill Miller 2007


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