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Campbeltown Airfield

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Campeltown Airport Terminal, © http://www.geograph.org.uk/user/Johnny%20Durnan/
Campbeltown Airport Terminal
© Johnny Durnan

Campbeltown Airfield, now generally referred to as Campbeltown Airport (IATA:CAL,ICAO:EGEC), is a commercial venture which operates from the runway of the former NATO base established at RAF Machrihanish station. The base was closed and returned to the MoD in 1995, and the site is now known as MoD Machrihanish, maintained on an Extended Care and Maintenance basis for use by the British Army.

Civilian operations at Campbeltown Airport do not have access to the entire site at MoD Machrihanish, and are restricted to the eastern end of the runway, where they have their own facilities, offices, maintenance and service area. This follows from the location of the nuclear weapons silos and the United States Navy Sea, Air and Land Forces, (SEAL) detachment which was stationed at the western end.

The Strath

Midland & Scottish Air Ferries
Ltd 1934 Brochure
From the collections of
Björn Larsson

The airfield originally come into being c. 1916 as a small aerodrome with grass runways, serving non-rigid airships and fixed wing aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The end of World War I saw the military leave the area, and in the period between the two wars, the airfield was used for civil flying and referred to locally as The Strath. This was the name of nearby farm which contained Mitchell's field, which lay adjacent to the airfield, and had become the preferred site for landing. The airfield was billed as the Strath Aerodrome on timetables and brochures issued by Midland & Scottish Air Ferries Ltd, which, on April 27, 1933, became the first aviation company to operate scheduled, commercial flights from the airfield, flying to Renfrew, Belfast and Speke, using two Airspeed AS.4 Ferry aircraft. The AS.4 was built by Airspeed Ltd of York in 1932, and was a ten seat, three engine, biplane airliner designed by the aviation pioneer Sir Alan Cobham, specifically for pleasure flight - only four of the type were ever built. Midland & Scottish closed in 1934, one AS.4 was sold, and the other was eventually dismantled in 1941. Scottish Airways Ltd picked up the service, and civil flights continued to operate from the Strath, using DeHavilland Fox Moth, and DeHavilland Dragon aircraft.

Definitive naming of the airfield during this period is not really possible, as the brochures and timetables produced by Scottish & Midland used the names Strath Aerodrome, Strath Field Aerodrome and Campbeltown Aerodrome interchangeably.

One large hangar survives from the period, and can be found on Dalivaddy farm (where it is now used to store silage), together with a number of smaller brick buildings from the original airfield.

Although reading the various snippets of history available for the two airfield sites - the older Strath with its grass runways, and the later World War II development - describe the development, it is unclear when civilian operations ceased at the old site, and shared operation using the tarmac runway of the military facility began. If anyone can cite such a date, we would be most grateful, and include the information here.

1934 brochure interior, Björn Larsson
1934 brochure interior
Björn Larsson

Modern Campbeltown Airport

Scottish Airways Ltd
1945-1946 Brochure
Björn Larsson

With the conclusion of World War II, and the departure of the military, scheduled operations and civilian flights returned to the smaller airfield, which had lost its earlier names, and was referred to as Campbeltown Airport. The civilian schedule was soon taken over by British European Airways (BEA), formed in 1946 by an Act of Parliament. BEA compulsorily acquired the aircraft fleets and routes of most UK private airlines then operating scheduled services within the UK and Europe. At that time, flights were being undertaken with a variety of aircraft, including Rapide, DC3, Herald, and Viscount. An Air Ambulance service was also operating from the airfield, using Rapide and Heron aircraft.

Records indicate that the airfield had two grass runways and four hangars each measuring 60 ft x 70 ft, together with a perimeter road and dispersal areas during its World War II operations, however the fact that it overlapped the larger and more developed site of RAF Machrihanish led to its final closure during 1945.

BEA/BA services were flown to Islay and Glasgow, until taken over by Loganair in 1977.

Reports (uncited) indicate that in 1987, the airfield was used by Concorde, for pilot training.

Machrihanish VOR

Machrihanish MAC VOR, © http://www.geograph.org.uk/user/Johnny%20Durnan/
Machrihanish MAC VOR
© Johnny Durnan

The Machrihanish MAC VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Range) beacon lies to the east of the airport and runway.

UAV tested in 2006

In 2006, BAe Systems tested an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV ) at Campbeltown, with the event being reported as the first fully autonomous UAV mission within UK airspace:

Under the High Endurance Rapid Technology Insertion (HERTI) effort, BAE next put Raven and Corax technologies and lessons into a new set of UAVs built around airframes provided by the Polish firm J&AS Aeronew. Built on the J-5 airframe, the HERTI1-D demonstrator went from conception in June 2004 to first flight in Australia in less than seven months. It has a wingspan of 8 meters, a ceiling of more than 6,000 meters, endurance of more than 25 hours and an operational radius of more than 1,000 kilometers.

A second HERTI UAV, the 1-A, was built on the ultra-light J-6 airframe for greater payload and endurance. It features redesigned landing gear, a longer 12.6-meter wing and a BMW twin-cylinder piston engine. Last August, HERTI-1A launched from a civilian-operated airfield in Campbeltown, Scotland, and flew the first fully autonomous UAV mission in U.K. airspace.

BAE plans to have up to 10 HERTI1-As, depending on how fast J&AS Aeronew can turn them out. They are envisioned as low-cost alternatives to other high-endurance UAVs under development. They likely will be powered by four-cylinder turbo-charged Rotax engines, and at least one likely will be used to test a Selex lightweight synthetic aperture radar.
- Source April 17, 2006.

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