The original Scottish Flying Club


The original Scottish Flying Club developed the airfield at Renfrew in the late 1920 and 1930s, only to be banned from flying from it after the War. That led it to search for another site to use as an airfield for nearly two decades until, finally, it bought Couplaw Farm at Strathaven in 1964  


The following brief history of The Scotish Flying Club's Golden Years was found tucked in its minute books, now lodged in Glasgow's Mitchell Library. It was written by Mr R F MIller, who was airfield manager and then club secretary.


    Scottish Flying Club 1927 to 1947


The idea of Forming a Flying Club in Scotland, was originally suggested by 5 men, all ex-pilots, who served in one of the flying services during the 1914 - 1919 war, and who were in the habit of meeting for morning coffee, somewhere in Glasgow Quite naturally, the chief topic of conversation over coffee, was aviation, and the happy times which had been spent in the R.F.C., R.N.A.S. and R.A.F. At about this time, the Flying Club movement was taking shape, south of the border, and 5 Clubs were already operating. Why not have a Flying Club in Scotland, suggested our friends one day. A good idea, let’s get busy so a Propaganda Committee was formed in April l927, comprising the aforesaid five men They were: Mr. B.R. Miller (RNAF) Mr. G.C. Walker (RFC) Mr. A. Dunlop (RAF) now deceased Mr H Smith (RAF) and Mr Donaldson (RAF). They were later joined by Mr G F Luke of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Mr K Mackintosh and Mr J Baldwin, who later became the Club's first secretary. This committee was successful in arousing considerable interest among the people in Glasgow and district to form a flying club, so it was decided to appeal for funds.


DH 60 Moth at Renfrew, with Arkleston Cemetry in the background


The existing clubs were appealed to in order to obtain information as to the amount of money required to make a start, and what difficulties were likely to be encountered. It was agreed that the sum of £2,000 would be necessary to ensure a good foundation being laid. This sum was soon forthcoming thanks to the generosity of many prominent business men such as Lord Weir (President of Club) Sir Harold Yarrow, Sir Maurice Denny, Mr James Weir, to name just a few. On November 3rd 1927, the Scottish Flying Club was born and housed at Renfrew Airport offices. The first aircraft purchased, was a Cirrus Moth, which was flown from Hatfield to Renfrew by a club member. In addition, Mr JG Weir. kindly lent the club his own Cirrus Moth. In order to stimulate further interest, the first machine was exhibited in Glasgow by Messrs Wylie & Lochhead, which brought many applications for member ship. The first flying instructor was one Bob Stirling, who had been employed by Beardmores at the airport. He was succeeded later by “Red Hot” Jones. Under the guidance of Mr JG Weir as Chairman and Mr J Baldwin as Secretary, the club became firmly established and made considerable progress during the first year of its life.


All members worked hard, and a great deal of the success was due to the House Committee, the convenor of which was Mrs. JF Mackenzie, assisted by Mrs G Miller. Although  the clubrooms consisted only of a portion of the hangar, partitioned off, a great deal of fun was had.  On February 25rd 1928, the Scottish Flying Club was formed into a Company Limited by Guarantee, the original five members of the Propaganda Committee being subscribers to the Articles of Association. By the and of 1930, the club was in a very sound financial position, thanks to the generous nature of its members, who had been invited to subscribe to an Establishment Fund which at this time stood at over £9,000. New machines were purchased and money invested. 


In May 1933, the club was granted a five-year lease for the entire aerodrome and outbuildings at Renfrew by the Renfrew Town Council, and it was agreed that the club should act as managers for the council. Aviation in Scotland, was gaining ground about this time and several operating companies were based at Renfrew, including Midland and Scottish Air Ferries Ltd,  Hillman Airways Ltd, and Northern and Scottish Airways Ltd. This last named was started by Mr George Nicholson, and later became known as Scottish Airways Ltd, which was associated with Railway Air Services Ltd. North Eastern Airways Ltd, came to Renfrew during 1938.


In addition to managing the aerodrome, the Scottish Flying Club was responsible to the Air Ministry for Air Traffic Control. The club trained Control Officers, who carried out their duties to the complete satisfaction of all concerned. The Secretary of the Club filled three roles of Secretary, Aerodrome Manager and Chief Control Officer. It says a great deal for the efficiency of the Control Staff,  of whom there were only three including the Chief Control Officer, when it is considered that some 30 passenger machines were handled every day in the summer months (Sundays excepted) in addition to club flying, without mishap. Weather observations were reported from Renfrew every hour. It was not until April 1939, that the Air Ministry installed its own Air Traffic Control Station, with six officers. 


Scottish Airways Rapides lined up at Renfrew



The writer well remembers the many calls for the Air Ambulance machine during the night and early morning; when he lived on the aerodrome Capt D Barclay, the Chief Pilot would come knocking at the door at some early hour, with the news that there was a charter to Islay or Campbeltown, and flares ware required, also a weather report. As Airport Manager, the writer would assist with the flares, and as Chief Control Officer, get weather reports and stand by all the time the machine was out, give fixes and any other information required, finally help get the flares back in (they were the old fashioned kind with buckets filled oil and cotton waste)  Back to bed again for an hour or two, then up again for the early morning newspaper runs to the Isle of Man to be followed by obtaining route clearances for the scheduled services. It was hard but enjoyable. The job was done without fuss or bother and all concerned played their part, and what is more, all services were out on time and no delay, unless the weather was very bad. The public knew that they could rely on getting to their destination on at the time stated, which is more than they can do now under nationalisation. 


It was now obvious that the club required larger and better accommodation, as the membership had increased rapidly, so plans were drawn up to erect premises on the side of the four-bay hangar. This new building cost over £6,000 with new furnishings and comprised dining room, kitchen, stores, lounge, smoke-room and bar, offices, first aid room fully equipped, toilets and cloakrooms and a shop where flying equipment was obtainable. New crockery and cutlery was purchased and engraved with the club‘s badge.


1930s blazer badge for the Scottish Flying Club

A blazer pocket badge from the 1930s


A special floor was laid in the lounge for dances, dictaphones installed, also loud speakers from a radiogram to the bar and dining  room. The whole building was centrally heated. Besides the main building, there was a separate building where members could reside. This new club accommodation was opened in 1934 and was considered to be one of the finest flying club premises in the country.

Anyone visiting  Renfrew was sure of a good welcome, excellent meals and generous hospitality. The club’s fleet of aircraft was gradually increased and comprised 11 machines, including three cabin, by the time war broke out in 1939. The club did everything possible to encourage flying in Scotland, and for several years running, organised flying displays, which lasted tor three days. Those were a great attraction, and drew huge crowds. Not only did the club augment their funds, but the local hospitals also benefited as part of the proceeds were handed over to them. Many members were enrolled, after enjoying their first trip in the air at these meetings. 




There were two classes of membership, Pilot and Associate and by September 1939 the Club had 210 Pilot members and 320 Associate members. Although flying was the chief concern of the club, the social side was not neglected. Dances were held in the lounge, also bridge parties and whist drives. Treasure Hunts were organised, and badminton was a popular pastime of an evening. The Scottish Flying Club trained many now famous pilots, one of the best known in Scotland, being Capt David Barclay MBE. He created something of a record by going solo after only four hours dual. He later served in the RAF in India, and was afterwards chief pilot with Scottish Airways Ltd until BEA took over.


The Marquis of Clydesdale and Hamilton (now the Duke of Hamilton) was a club pupil and at one time commanded No. 502 City of Glasgow Auxiliary Squadron. He was the first winner of the Forced Landing Trophy in 1929. Many members of the above Squadron, which served with distinction during the war, had their initial training with the club under the guidance of "Jock" Houston, who became the chief instructor in the early thirties,


We shall always remember S/Ldr. Archie McKellar, who lost his life in the Battle of Britain, and who was decorated several times.  It will remembered how he brought down some of the raiders on the Forth Bridge in the early days of the war. Then there was "Gibby” Ray, who started as an engineer apprentice with Northern & Scottish Airways, and eventually obtained his "B" licence and flew for the same company. During the war he was flying with BOAC and lost his life whilst on the Leuchars - Stockholm service. On two occasions he was intercepted by enemy aircraft but managed to land his Mosquito safely. He was a product of the SFC. Mention could be made of many club pupils, who later served in one of the flying services during the war with distinction, not a few of whom paid the supreme sacrifice.


Archie McKellar by Cuthbert Orde

Sqd Ldr Archie McKellar DSO, DFC and Bar, killed in action 1st November 1940


It has been stated by the Air Council, that flying clubs' contribution to the war effort was negligible, It ls difficult to reconcile this statement, when the record of the Scottish Flying Club alone, is considered. Statistics are given later in this history which speak for themselves.


The Club had many first class women pilots, and it will not be out of place to mention a few and what they accomplished Miss Winifred Drinkwater (now Mrs Short of flying boat fame) was an outstanding pupil and won several trophies in various competitions.  Miss J Waters (now Mrs.S Scott) won the forced landing competition in 1939, also the trophy for being the best women pupil during the same year.  Miss Margaret Cunnison was a very apt pupil who gained her "A" Licence. She later had an instructors course and became an instructor with the Strathtay Aero Club. During the war she served with the ATA.  Miss E McDougall also flew with the ATA and was a sound pilot. The Hon Mrs.Margaret Fairweather became an instructor with the club after the Civil Air Guard was formed and later joined the ATA. (Editor note: She was the first woman to fly a Spitfire. This ground-breaking episode opened the doors for women of the ATA to progress from light training aircraft to armed fighters and eventually to large heavy four-engine bombers.) She was killed on a communications flight while making an emergency landing in a Proctor on 4th August, 1944, the day after her husband Mr Douglas Fairweather – a club pupil -  was killed. Douglas was asked to bring a seriously wounded Canadian soldier from an northern airfield to the south for an operation. The weather was very bad but he went nonetheless with a nursing Sister; they never arrived. Later Douglas's body washed up on the shore. (Editor note: Douglas's father, Sir Wallace Fairweather, was a chairman of Renfrew County, and had kept an Avro Avian plane in a field at King Henry's Know, Newton Mearns). Then there was Dr Elizabeth Cook, who was unfortunately killed at Heston, when bound for the Continent with Mrs Fairweather in 1938. These are a few of the women pilots who were trained to fly by the SFC (Note For Editor. See page 9 of programme for 1933 re Miss M. Gunnison.) 


The club sustained a great loss when the CFI "Jock” Houston was killed in 1937 whilst a passenger in a Vega Gull which was being demonstrated. He was a first-class instructor and was admired and respected  by all his pupils. His successor was “Sandy” Wren, and ex-RFC pilot, who carried on with the tradition of the club in turning out good pilots. He was instructing during the war at Perth for a time.



Winnie Drinkwater, who became the world's first female commercial pilot




The Scottish Flying Club was not only renowned for teaching men and women to fly, but it also had a great reputation for carrying out repairs and overhauls under the supervision of the chief engineer, Mr Hugh Train. Work was carried out to aircraft and engines owned by Northern and Scottish Airways Ltd., The Edinburgh Flying Club, Strathtay Aero club,  Allied Airways Ltd, and the Carlisle Club. A very high standard of work was maintained. The majority of the engineering staff served with the RAF. 





When the Civil Air Guard was launched in 1939 the SFC accepted  the scheme and dealt with hundreds of applications from men and woman who were anxious to learn to fly. Every applicant was interviewed and the most promising accepted. The club bought two Tiger Moths, increased its paid instructors to four, in addition to four honorary instructors.


 A spacious and well furnished clubroom was converted from a store, where meals and refreshments  were obtainable. Lectures were held weekly and everything possible done to ensure efficiency.  Several times the Unit was inspected by senior R.A.F.  Officers who spoke very highly of smartness of the members. The Unit leader, Mr M Dryborough, who  obtained his "A" licence, was not accepted by the R.A.F, so he joined the army and grained commission rank. On the outbreak of’ hostilities all club and private flying was banned. It is difficult to know why the CAG was not allowed to continue its good work, as one of the reasons it was formed was to create a reserve of pilots. 


During the 12 months the scheme was operated, club trained 74 plots who gained ”A" licences, whilst a further 120 were under instruction. Of the 74, eight served as pilots in the RAF, two in the RNAS and one in  the ATA; 12 were on aircrew duty with the RAF. The two in the RNAS were turned down by the RAF, but were accepted by the Admiralty and given  given commissioned rank immediately. One of them was awarded the DSC and another the DFC. All CAC members would become members of the SFC on payment of the appropriate subscriptions. 




On September lst 1939 when war was imminent, Renfrew Aerodrome was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, from the Scottish Flying Club. As the lease with the Renfrew Town Council had been  renewed in 1939 for a further five years, the club was allowed to stay on the aerodrome and acted as caterers to personnel on the aerodrome. The club aircraft were impounded by the RAF and the engineering workstations had to close down. Members were not permitted to enter the aerodrome or to use the  clubrooms.


On September 3rd, Messrs. Airwork General Trading Co Ltd were moved from Heston to Renfrew en bloc and took possession of the CAG Clubroom and the four-bay hanger. Things generally were in s state of chaos for several weeks, but eventuality some sort of order was maintained. The office staff of the club was taken over by the Air Ministry and the Secretary appointed Airport Manager. It was not long before drastic alterations took place to the club premises. The first room to go was the lounge, which was turned into offices For A.G.T. Co. Today these offices used by MCA and BEA.


In November 1940 No 309 Polish Squadron came to Renfrew which caused another upheaval. The dining room and smoke-room formed the Officers Mess and part of the sleeping quarters was turned into offices. The club acted as caterers for the squadron until May 1941 when it left Renfrew. More accommodation was taken from the club until eventually it was left only with the dining room and a portion of the smoke-room with much reduced sleeping accommodation.


309th Polish Army-Cooperation Squadron crest


309 Polish Squadron crest


The buildings suffered some damage during the raids on Clydeside and a 2,000 lb bomb landed close to the four-bay hanger but did not explode, Five years later it was removed from a depth of 20 ft and caused quite a stir as it suddenly came to life and everybody had to be evacuated from the airport.


It has been stated that the club had 210 pilot members at the outbreak of war. Of these 44 served in the RAF. as pilots, three in the RNAS, as pilots and eight in ATA. Four instructors were instructing in the RAF and 12 members were on ground duties with the RAF. As to casualties, 18 pilot members were killed in the RAF.


Decorations earned were as follows; two OBEs;  one.MBE; one DSO; one DSC; four  DFCs and seven.AFCs. Over 25 per cent of the club’s pilot members served in one or other of the flying services, and yet in spite of this wonderful record of which the SFC is justly proud, we are told that flying clubs did not contribute very much toward the war effort. 


Whilst it is not possible to give any precise information regarding other flying clubs, there is no doubt that they all played their part in as much as their members were in one of the services. It should be noted that our records are by no means complete, for on account of staff changes: an up-to-date register was not kept after 1943, also there were many members who served with the Army and Navy. 




On April lst 1946, civil aviation was nationalised and Renfrew became a State Airport, now that it had two runways, which had been laid down during the war, It had been hoped that the club would have been permitted to resume its activities at Renfrew especially as it had been allowed to renew the lease on a yearly basis after the expiration in 1943. It soon became obvious however, that any hope of returning to its old home was doomed, for in October 1946, the club received notice to quit in May 1947.


This was a hard blow, after all the money, time and energy which had spent during the pre-war years in encouraging aviation in Scotland, not to mention the the fact that the Scottish Flying Club had earned for itself a remarkable reputation in the flying world, and built up a club which was considered to be the finest in the country.


On May 28th 1947, the club relinquished  what little hold it had on Renfrew Airport, including all its premises for which no compensation was payable. This was because the Club was permitted to run the full term of the lease, which made the compensation clause in-operative. The club was allowed to retain an office on the airport which, by the irony of fate, is the same one occupied in November 1927.


Today the club is practically back to its starting point, except that it has a great deal of experience and tradition behind it. It also has some aircraft, a good membership, a little capital and a very keen committee, but what it wants more than anything else is an aerodrome. A great deal of time has been spent in searching for a site within easy reach of Glasgow but without success.  Several sites were inspected, but found to be useless.


In 1947 His Grace the Duke of Hamilton, who is an enthusiastic member, very generously offered the Club 192 acres, part of which it was considered would make an ideal site for Club flying. It was inspected, and although not exactly like a billiard table, it appeared to be suitable after a certain amount of work had been carried out to the surface. The Agricultural War Executive were approached to see if there was any objection to making an aerodrome on the site, and informed the club that it could go ahead. The Town and Country Planning Department were than consulted, and after four months delay stated that there were no objections. Then came the stumbling block in the shape of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. On making application for a licence, the club was faced with a schedule of requirements to are be carried out first.


Gone were the old days, when it was only necessary for a "B" licensed pilot to make a few landings on the site and than sign on the dotted line, to obtain a licence. The new requirements call on two strip-ways 500 yards long and 100 yards wide, 60 degrees apart, with provision for a third strip-way. The overall gradient had not to exceed 1 on 60 and local gradients not more than l in 40 for 300 feet. In addition we had to state how many man hours would be required for engineers, labourers, vehicles etc.before a licence could be obtained to carry out the work.


The club employed a firm of civil engineers to survey the site and give an estimate for the work to be done to meet these requirements. It was no less than £9,000, and that merely to put the ground in order. A fair sized hangar was reckoned to cost £4,500, plus a further £4,500 to lay a concrete floor. There still remained clubrooms offices to he provided, at an estimated cost of £3,500, making a total estimated cost of £22,000, before flying could start. On top of this there was the cost to buy fire-fighting equipment and all the other odds and ends to satisfy the MCA. Obviously this was beyond this financial resources of the club, so it was with reluctance that the club had to terminate negotiations with the Duke of Hamilton.


Hearing of the club's desperate position, Messrs. Airwork Ltd, who owned Perth Aerodrome, suggested that the SFC should operate from Perth on a contract basis at a set figure for dual and solo flying and that all SFC members should become honorary members of Airwork Club, which was also used by the Strathtay Aero Club.  The committee agreed to this suggestion, and lost no time in getting two of the Tiger Moths, which had been previously dismantled, into the air.


Thus it was that the club started to fly again in August 1947. The members are charged the same rates which are paid to Airwork, consequently there is no profit on flying, but a loss, as the club pays for Insurance on the aircraft, and the cost to assemble and obtain British C of As was far beyond that expected. As there was practically nothing to offer members, the annual subscriptions were considerably reduced, and are now Ten Shillings p.a. for associate and £1.p.a. for pilot members, The Entrance Fee has been waived. 


 Perth Aerodrome from the air 1947

Perth Airport from the air, 1947


Whilst it is very pleasant at Perth, and members are heartily welcomed, the distance from Glasgow is over 60 miles, and it is this fact that the distance prevents members taking advantage of the facilities offered by Airwork Ltd. A little flying has been done - just over 130 hours in twelve months - which looks silly when compared with the average of 200 hours a month, when the club was operating at Renfrew. The result is that during the year ended 31st December 1947, the Club lost £1,250. and it is estimated that at least £1,000 will have been lost during 1948. The club can stand these losses for a time, but it means that the capital is gradually dwindling, and we have no means of adding to it. 


It was thought that if a centre could be found in Glasgow, where members could meet and have meals, it would assist in interest being maintained, but as soon as we came on a likely building, it was either the cost to buy, or some government regulation which prevented the club from going ahead. No matter which way the club turns, it is barred by rules, regulations and prohibitions laid down by the powers that be. Frustration is everywhere, enterprising bodies are hide-bound by red tape, so much so, it would appear that flying clubs are not wanted


So today the once-renowned Scottish Flying Club is almost at a standstill through no fault of its own. Practically the whole of the West of Scotland has been explored for a suitable site and the only available ground is either swamp or marsh, which would cost a fortune to drain. The club applied to use Abbotsinch, but were turned down flat. Grangemouth was also considered, but the aerodrome is being given up to make way for a large industrial project. Application was made to use Renfrew on Sundays by experienced pilots, but to no avail. For tail-wheels, permission could not be given. Yet in spite of this ruling Tiger Moths belonging to Volunteer Reserve schools are allowed to come and go without question. The suggestion to use the grass was not entertained. It is not for the want of trying, that we find ourselves in this deplorable position. There is another aerodrome at Dundonald near Ayr, but it is understood that it is not for use by any aircraft. If you are able to suggest any way by which the club can find a new home, not too far from Glasgow, it would be appreciated.


On the 10th December last (1949), the SFC celebrated its 21st Anniversary by having a dinner-dance at the Central Hotel Glasgow, when over 300 were present.  In conclusion it might be mentioned that the present Secretary, joined the Club in September 1939, being successor to Mr Oliver Cochrane now of NCA. Mr. Miller rejoined the Club as Secretary in October 1946, after resigning his position as Airport  Manager, Renfrew. But that is another story.




An airfield at Strathaven


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