The first aircraft to land in the South West of Scotland was in Aug 1913. A detachment from 2 Squadron RFC based at Montrose were on their way to Ireland and used Cults Farm, later Castle Kennedy airfield, as a landing ground. They were scouting out a route between the two countries and stayed a few days. The South West was on the aviation map.
In 1915 the Royal Naval Air Service opened an airship station at Luce Bay to patrol the Irish Sea and protect against German U-boats. The RN were joined by the RAF in 1918 when fixed wing DH6 aircraft arrived for maritime patrol duties. Up the coast at the world famous Turnberry Hotel, the Royal Flying Corps took over in 1917 to create a pilot training unit with aircraft operating from the greens and fairways of the golf course and the hotel became the Officers’ Mess. There is a memorial on the golf course to commemorate the Turnberry pilots who lost their lives during the war.
In the build up to WW2 the South West witnessed part of the UK’s airfield expansion programme specifically for flying training, maintenance storage and maritime patrol. The RAF brought Luce Bay back into operation as a weapons training base renaming it RAF West Freugh and also built training airfields at Castle Kennedy, Dumfries, Kidsdale, Kirkpatrick and Wigtown. Training was also conducted at Annan, Low Eldrig and Winterseugh which were all Satellite Landing Grounds (SLGs) but also used for storage. Annan is still very visible as the site of the Chapelcross nuclear power station. At Turnberry the RAF returned and levelled the golf course laying tons of concrete and building hangers for Liberator and Beaufighter maritime patrol aircraft. Thankfully for the golfing fraternity, British Transport Hotels were determined to recover Turnberry to its pre-war golfing glory and following a massive effort re-opened the course in 1951. Maritime operations were also flown from RAF Wig Bay which was a flying boat station and operated such types as the Sunderland and Catalina. It ended the war as a flying boat storage unit housing up to two hundred now surplus flying boats awaiting disposal. The bombing range at Braid Fell just to the north of Castle Kennedy provided these south west airfields with target practice throughout the war.
The only two units to stay open as military installations much beyond WW2 were RAF Dumfries and RAF West Freugh. Dumfries found a role as a gliding school hosting 661 (Volunteer) Gliding School operating Cadet and Sedbergh gliders and they eventually moved to Turnhouse in 1958. Dumfries also had a maintenance role as a sub-site for the Maintenance Unit at Carlise till 1957. It is now the home of the Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum. West Freugh found a new lease of life in 1956 under the control of the Royal Aircraft Establishment which used it for test and evaluation for the next 40 years. In 2002 it was handed over to the British defence technology company QinetiQ who currently use it to host a satellite ground station established to receive and distribute data from the European Space Agency's ERS radar satellites. The airfield is also used for military exercises and trials utilising the adjacent weapons ranges in Luce Bay.
Military activity finished at Castle Kennedy in 1947 after use as an aircraft storage and disposal site for Mosquito and Wellington aircraft. It reopened in 1955 when it was used by Silver City Airways to transport cars to Ireland in Bristol Freighters and Dakotas until 1957. It is now a General Aviation (GA) airfield with one surfaced operating runway and plans to activate a second. The South West also has another GA airfield at Kilkerran near Turnhouse. It is a private grass strip opened in the 1960s.
The Arrol-Johnston car factory at Heathall near Dumfries was built in 1913 to produce motor cars but converted during WW1 to produce aircraft engines and later in the war, complete aircraft. Completed aircraft were delivered by rail to the aircraft acceptance park at Renfrew near Glasgow. The Galloway Engineering Company factory at Tongland, near Kirkubright was built in 1917 for the manufacture of aero engines to support the war effort. This continued till the war finished in 1918 when the workforce converted to producing cars.
The South West of Scotland is the birthplace of two people to whom the RAF and the country owe a great debt of gratitude. The person described as 'the maker of the RAF', General Sir David Henderson from Girvan, Ayrshire and Air Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding, the architect of the RAF’s defence of the UK in the Battle of Britain. There is a memorial to Lord Dowding in Moffat in addition to a memorial tapestry commemorating the Battle of Britain. The South West of Scotland has its fair share of aircraft crash sites, over thirty, which is testament to the number of inexperienced crews training here during WW2 combined with the unforgiving high ground found around the Merrick hill and in the Southern Uplands. There are many aviation memorials in this part of the world to commemorate that sacrifice such as the Cairnsmore of Fleet stone cairn erected in memory of the airmen killed on that hill and the plaque in Dumfries in memory of the local men and women of the RFC and RAF who gave their lives during both world wars.
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