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RAF Errol

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RAF Errol lay on the seaward side of the A90 road, on northern shore of the Firth of Tay, just northeast of the village of Errol, about 16 miles west of Dundee.

Aerial photographs taken by the RAF in 1943, show the airfield was provided with five large hangars and 13 blister hangars sited at dispersal areas around the perimeter. A technical area lay to the northeast (18.04) containing a number of buildings related to the service and repair of aircraft. The airfield was constructed with three runways, in the usual A formation, of asphalt, with a width of 46 metres:

  • RWY 05/23 Asphalt 700 m
  • RWY 11/29 ** Now unusable
  • RWY 17/35 ** Now unusable

The station was built as an RAF airfield, opening on August 1, 1942, as No 9 Pilot Advanced Flying Unit (PAFU), which remained in operation until June 1945, just before the field's closure in July 1945.

RAF Errol home to the special 305 Ferry Training Unit (FTU), formed in January 1943, to train Soviet aircrew in the Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle for delivery to Russia. In October 1942, the Soviet Air Force had secured a contract for the delivery of 200 Albemarles to 306 FTU at Errol. During training, one aircraft was lost with no survivors. The first Albemarle flew from Scotland to Vnukovo airfield on March 3, 1943, followed by 11 more; two planes were lost over the North Sea - one to German interceptors, one unaccounted for.[1] Deliveries of the Albemarle ended in September 1943, however training continued until April, 1944.

From July 1945, 260 Maintenance Unit (MU) used the hangars at Errol for equipment storage, until the final closure of the airfield in June 1948.

The airfield was the subject of a question recorded in Hansard in 1946:

Errol Airfield
HC Deb 20 November 1946 vol 430 c832 832

15. Colonel Gomme-Duncan

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether Errol aerodrome was considered by the R.A.F. to be suitable for all types of aircraft, both from the point of view of weather conditions and absence of high-tension cables or other obstacles; and what special in structions were issued to pilots using this aerodrome.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

We considered this airfield suitable for twin-engined and single-engined aircraft, and it was used for flying training. Weather conditions are average for the district. There are no serious obstructions, provided normal care is taken. I am not aware of any special instructions having been issued to pilots who have used this airfield, but routine briefing would, of course, have taken account of local conditions.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Will the Under-Secretary say what he means by "conditions average for the district," and is he aware that there is a high tension cable which goes most of the way around this aerodrome?

Mr. de Freitas

As to the conditions, there is a good deal of low mist and haze in that region of the country. With regard to the second point, there is a high tension cable a mile away, but that does not alter in any way the answer I gave.

- Hansard, November 20, 1946.[2]

A number of buildings are reported to have survived on the site, including the control tower and one T1 hangar (18.03). Although the tower is derelict, many of the surviving building are said to remain in use, while the unused building have become derelict and decayed.

Postwar

Fairey Gannet T.5 XG882 at Errol, 2006
Fairey Gannet T.5 XG882 at Errol
in 2006
© James Allan

One surprising feature of the site is the presence of a Fairey Gannet T.5, identified as XG882. The Gannet was a British carrier-borne anti-submarine warfare and airborne early warning aircraft of the postwar era, developed for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) by the Fairey Aviation Company. The Gannet was a mid-wing monoplane with tricycle undercarriage and a crew of three, with a double turbo-prop engine driving two contra-rotating propellers through a combining gearbox.

The engine used was the Double Mamba, or Twin Mamba, an Armstrong Siddeley gas turbine turboprop engine design of around 3,000–4,000 hp (2,500–3,000 kW). A development of the single Mamba, the engine was mainly used to power the Fairey Gannet anti-submarine aircraft. Starting was normally by cartridge, however, forced air restart could be achieved in flight, allowing one engine to be shut down to conserve fuel.

The airframe is not associated with the airfield as such, but is a privately owned artefact. Also reported on the same site is the ex-Strathallan Museum Vampire, and a Buccaneer.[3]

Close up taken in December 2004, used with photographer's permission
Close up taken in December 2004
© Andy Sheppard

Built in 1956, XG882 served at RNAS Culdrose, HMS Seahawk (Helston, Cornwall - not the Ardrisahig based HMS Seahawk of World War II), with the station flight from 1959 and then 849 NAS for several years before being upgraded and returning to service in 1966 at RNAS Lossiemouth (still with 849 NAS). Retired in 1976 and used as a fire practice airframe, XG882 was returned to service in 1982 after being combined with parts of XA463 and XG889 to produce a complete aircraft. Unfortunately, the airframe has lain derelict since being finally retired and moved to Errol. One of the propellers has been lost, the starboard aileron is hanging down, many panels are missing, and the cockpits are lying open to the elements, so the interior will have been ruined by the effects of the weather and vermin.

One change that is apparent in 2009 is that since the later picture shown above was taken, in 2006, the airframe has been moved from its position on a dispersal pad near the surviving buildings, and relocated about 300 yards southeast, on to an area of grass land towards the grass track and go-kart track on the western end of the usable runway.

The western side of the airfield, toward Errol, has developed into a small industrial estate mainly occupied by a haulage company and a garden supplies wholesaler, and much of the land has returned to agricultural use. There is also a go-kart track sited on the western part of the field, which once occupied the grassy area to the west of the north-south runway, but was relocated on the asphalt stub at the west end of the northeast-southwest runway, which is also the one remaining usable runway.

Currently (2007), one runway remains serviceable and in use by light aircraft for activities such as skydiving, with heavy use reported for this activity. Both of the other runways are blocked by structures which have been built on the asphalt surface. One has been marked as a vehicle testing stating station.

The open space of the airfield is used for vintage car rallies and similar events requiring large flat open spaces, and events take place there throughout the year.

First powered aircraft flight story

Errol has been claimed to be the site of the first powered aircraft flight to have taken place in Scotland, in 1903.

This story is NOT true, and was retracted by the person who instigated it, the brother of the pilot.

The story begins in the summer of 1903, with eyewitness claims that Preston Watson made his first powered aircraft flights at Errol, however there is no substantial evidence to support the claim that Watson flew anything in 1903, and the eyewitness accounts alone cannot be relied on for accuracy or consistency, since it transpires that they were made at least fifty years after 1903. Preston Watson was only 22 years old at the time, and never made such a claim himself. A three page article written by Watson did appear in Flight magazine.

The claim was later discredited by the aviation historian Charles Gibbs-Smith in the book The Aeroplane.

He discovered that the person behind the 1903 claim was Preston Watson's brother James, who made the claim 50 years after the supposed flight took place. James Watson would later clear up the issue in an article which was published in the December 1955 issue of the magazine Aeronautics, explaining that the aircraft in question had been an un-powered glider.[4]

References

1 Williams, Ray. The Unloved Albermarle. Air Enthusiast, May-August 1989. p 29-42. ISSN 0143-5450.

2 Hansard, November 20, 1946.

3 Demobbed - Out of Service British Military Aircraft

4 Preston Watson, Flight magazine archive, 1955.

External links

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