Aviation came to this part of Scotland early. John William Dunne designed and built a number of early biplanes and flying tests were carried out in the area of Blair Atholl and Glen Tilt between 1907 and 1910. Preston Watson a pioneer in Dundee built a number of aircraft between 1903 and 1913.
The Royal Engineers Balloon Company carried out exercises in 1911 on Tentsmuir very close to what later became RAF Leuchars.
The Royal Flying Corps was still in its infancy when, in February 1913, No. 2 Squadron arrived in Angus not far from Montrose. Soon after setting up their camp at Upper Dysart Farm the conclusion was reached that the location was not very suitable and the squadron moved to Montrose where they set up a new base.
In addition to the Royal Flying Corps the Royal Naval Air Service was also setting up facilities in the area with flying boat stations established at Port Laing – North Queensferry – Leven and Stannergate at Dundee.
No 2 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps was based at Montrose until it left to go south on 3rd August 1914 and from there to the war in France. The Squadron never returned to Montrose, but several new ones were stationed there.
Flying began at Edzell in July 1918, just north of the much better known Second World War site, with the formation of No 26 Training Depot Station. Training was carried out using a variety of aircraft, including Avro 504s and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2Bs and SE5as.
The first unit to arrive to spend any significant time at Leuchars was the Grand Fleet School of Aerial Fighting and Gunnery, which was at the site from the end of 1918 until 1920.
Inter War years
RNAS Arbroath was first established in 1938 as a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) facility, also known as HMS Condor, two miles north west of Arbroath.
Crail opened in July 1918 with No 27 Training Depot Station forming shortly after. Fighter reconnaissance aircraft types such as the Avro 504K and Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b were used by this unit during its relatively brief life. There were short stays at Crail for the American 120th Aero Squadron and No 104 Squadron RAF in 1918 and 1919. However, the airfield was closed later in 1919 after use for aircraft storage and the site lay dormant until the Second World War.
Perth Airport, known locally as Scone, has had a long association with pilot training. No 11 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School (ERFTS) was the first unit to carry out this role at the airfield, being established by Airwork in January 1936.
At various times between 1920 and 1922 Nos 3, 203, and 205 Squadrons at what had now become RAF Base Leuchars operated aircraft such as Sopwith Camels, Parnall Panthers and Airco DH.9As. Subsequently, various Flights resided here while away from aircraft carriers as part of the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force. Leuchars was one of the main RAF Training Bases through the inter-war period. No 1 Flying Training School later reformed at the airfield in the spring of 1935, training Fleet Air Arm pilots before moving to Netheravon in 1938. Armament training was also carried out between 1935 and 1939, using the range at Tentsmuir.
In October1938 the Short Maia-Mercury composite flying boat/seaplane combination set off from the Woodhaven area of the River Tay to establish a record seaplane distance flight to South Africa. At the end of the previous month elderly Short Singapore and brand new company stable mate, Sunderland flying boats of No 210 Squadron had also arrived from Pembroke Dock at their designated war station of Tayport due to the Munich Crisis.
Arbroath was one of the busiest Fleet Air Arm (FAA) airfields during the Second World War, opening in June 1940 as HMS Condor, with HMS Condor being used as No 2 Observers School, a Deck Landing Training (DLT) School, and a Naval Air Signals School during World War II. From the first construction on the farmland to the landing of the first aircraft took only six months. In October 1940 the airfield suffered an attack by Luftwaffe Heinkel and Dornier bombers operating from Norway.
The Royal Navy commissioned the airfield at Crail on 1 October 1940 as HMS Jackdaw for use as a TBR (Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance) base, using aircraft such as Fairey Albacores and Fairey Swordfish. A large number of units visited Crail for varying lengths of time including brief stays from aircraft carriers and longer durations for training. Crail’s location gave quick accessibility to the sea ranges in the Firth of Forth and Navy ships with which to train, making the airfield ideal as a base for torpedo training especially. No 770 Squadron, a Fleet Requirements Unit, was one of the units that remained at Crail for a longer period of time, from June 1941 to the beginning of 1944.
Balado Bridge acted as satellite to Grangemouth from its opening for Supermarine Spitfires of No 58 Operational Training Unit. The airfield remained busy in this advanced instruction capacity until the now renamed No 2 Tactical Exercise Unit disbanded in June 1944, after which the War Department took over control in November of that year following brief use as a Relief Landing Ground by No 9 (P) AFU at Errol.
Errol, located between Perth and Dundee, opened as an RAF station for the training aircraft of No 9 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit on 1 August 1942.
Findo Gask near Perth originally opened in June 1941 as an intended Satellite Landing Ground for dispersed aircraft storage. This role in the event never materialised and No 309 Squadron at Dunino used the airfield as a satellite prior to this Polish-manned Army Co-operation unit fully moving in during November 1942. By then North American Mustangs had joined the squadron’s more venerable Westland Lysanders but the famous American type struggled at Findo due to considerable waterlogging of its landing area, resulting in No 309 Squadron having to move to Kirknewton in March 1943.
In 1938 Leuchars passed to RAF Coastal Command control, with Avro Ansons of Nos 224 and 233 Squadrons moving in as the summer ended. By the time of Germany’s invasion of Norway anti-shipping patrols had become the primary task for these and various subsequent units, which often stayed for considerable periods of time. Notable among them mid-war were Handley Page Hampden elements, Nos 144 and 455 Squadrons. Other prominent aircraft types around this time included Bristol Blenheims, Beauforts and Beaufighters, as well as Lockheed Hudsons, while the de Havilland Mosquito landplane portion of Norwegian No 333 Squadron formed at Leuchars on 10 May 1943 prior to moving to Banff in September 1944. By the end of the Second World War several U-boats had been sunk by aircraft flying from Leuchars.
Advanced fighter training took place for a relatively short but intensive period during World War Two at Tealing to the north of Dundee. Initially referred to as Kirkton of Tealing while still being constructed, the airfield welcomed No 56 Operational Training Unit from Sutton Bridge on 27 March 1942. Hawker Hurricanes from then on remained the primary aircraft present as their unit evolved to become known as No 1 Combat Training Wing in October 1943 and then No 1 Tactical Exercise Unit the following January prior to disbanding on 31 July 1944.
In February 1942 a Norwegian detachment arrived at Woodhaven with Consolidated Catalinas. By May 1943 this unusual element had evolved through Flight status to become known as No 333 Squadron and performed excellent work on clandestinely assisting the Norwegian resistance and more conventional maritime patrols, in June 1944 sinking a U-boat.
In the early 1950s, both day and night fighters moved into RAF Leuchars, which switched to RAF Fighter Command control. No 151 Squadron’s Vampires were eventually replaced by Gloster Meteors, de Havilland Venoms and subsequently Gloster Javelins by the end of the 1950s. Another long serving unit was No 43 Squadron, initially operating Meteors, then Hawker Hunters from 1954. The unit moved to Cyprus and then Aden during the early 1960s before disbanding, then reforming at Leuchars in 1969, flying McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantoms. More Javelins and English Electric Lightnings of Nos 11 and 23 Squadrons in turn appeared before the 1970s saw the arrival of No 111 Squadron, as well as the RAF Post Operational Conversion Unit (later known as the Phantom Training Flight) to train Fleet Air Arm aircrews. After many years, shore-based operational naval activity returned for a time too, between 1972 and 1978, when Phantoms of No 892 Squadron were not aboard HMS Ark Royal. During all this time Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters also ensured that Leuchars continued to be firmly in the public eye.
The RAF’s Phantoms were replaced by the Panavia Tornado F3 during the late 1980s. These were replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon, with No 6 and then No 1 Squadrons reforming at the start of the 2010s. Leuchars was transferred to the Army shortly afterwards and the majority of flying has since ceased, aside from limited use as an Emergency Landing Ground and for training.
British Airways briefly used Perth for flights to Stavanger at the beginning of the Second World War but this and a brief BEA service to Renfrew after the war have been the only scheduled commercial flights from the airport. Airwork Services eventually bought the site after the Second World War and continued the long tradition of pilot training. The school became known as Air Service Training Perth, instructing students for a large number of airlines. ACS Aviation are the current airfield operators and they run Scotland’s busiest commercial flight training school. Other users of the site include Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) since 22 May 2013, the airfield’s location giving excellent access to most of Scotland.
Tayside Aviation was established in 1968 with one aircraft at Riverside Airstrip in Dundee, built on land reclaimed from the River Tay. The Riverside Airstrip evolved into the current Dundee Airport. Since then it has grown to a company that operates over 15 aircraft over two sites at Dundee and Fife. The company is the largest light aircraft training organisation in Scotland and operates an aircraft engineering facility at Dundee Airport.
Preston Watson – thought by some to have been the first true aviator – was said to have made several flights over land near Errol 115 years ago, in August 1903. The claims were backed only by circumstantial and anecdotal evidence including that of Preston Watson’s older brother, James Y Watson that the machine was actually a powered aeroplane. Watson’s apparent flight on the banks of the Tay is said to have taken place five months before the Wright brothers made what is now generally accepted to have been the first manned flight of a heavier-than-air powered aeroplane. Watson’s wire and wood flying machine was hoisted by means of ropes and weights into the trees, catapulted with engines running, and flew some 100 to 140 yards before landing.
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