SOLLAS: Civil landing area and airport (Aka SOLAS)
Airline user: Pre 1940: Northern & Scottish Airways
It was not at all unusual in the 1920s and 1930s for airlines to use beaches as 'Aerodromes and Airports'. See St Aubins Bay, Jersey for example.
Location: 1nm NE of Sollas
Period of operation: 1930s and still operational in 2001
Runway: 1936: Two grass runways, and possibly the beach used too?
2001: NE/SW 1mile firm sand public beach strip parallel to shoreline
NOTES: Northern & Scottish Airways inaugurated services to here in February 1936. According to Iain Hutchison in his book Air Ambulance prior to 1936 they would land either at: On the sands of TRÀIGH EAR, opposite Grenitote village, (roughly 1.5nm ENE of Solas), or on VALLAY STRAND. There is an island named Vallay just a couple of miles or so NW of Solas, so perhaps this site faces this island?
However, by 1936 Mr Hutchison relates that, “…aircraft were landing on a couple of strips at the southern end of Machair Leathann, near the small burial ground of Sollas village. For a time Captain John Hankins was based here and the landing site was fitted out with a hangar and a fuel pump.”
He goes on to say, “John Hankins, a New Zealander, was held in high regard in North Uist as Alick Macaulay of Paiblesgarry recalls. ‘He often landed on the machair which led out to Aird a’ Mhòrain and he could land there from either direction. There was no windsock, but he used the marram grass to judge the wind direction. The crofters would be informed in advance of the arrival of the plane so that they could remove their cattle from the machair.”
This I found to be very useful information as the Aird a’ Mhòrain is at the end of a peninsular extending NNE from Solas village. As the burial ground is unlikely to have been situated far from the village (?) this puts the airfield quite close to and just north of Solas?
ANOTHER POOR DECISION?
Here is a very interesting point Mr Hutchison makes: “In 1953 consideration of a replacement for the Rapide biplane began and by January 1954 this was becoming a matter of urgency because no natural successor, capable of landing on the smaller airstrips and beaches, appeared to be available.” But there was, which he then acknowledges, the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer, which first flew on the 25th June 1955 and was ideal for performing these duties.
"An example of such a landing strip was Sollas on North Uist. Sollas airfield had been opened by Northern & Scottish Airways in 1936. Two grass runways were laid out, a hangar erected, and a fuel depot built. Sollas fell into disuse as a stop on the scheduled service of BEA with the introduction of the DC-3s. To use the air service, passengers from North Uist then had to cross to Benbecula by boat or ford the channel separating the two islands in a cart. Air ambulences would still land at Sollas but the crofters on whose land the airstrips lay were anxious to return their land to full use because visits by aircraft became an infrequent occurrence."
"Landings on the adjacent beach therefore became the pattern whenever the air ambulance was required to make a visit to North Uist.”
Was it really just incompetence or perhaps malicious intent by BEA management driven by means we still have no knowledge of? “When, in December 1954, the Secretary of State announced he had agreed to the purchase of two de Havilland DH.114 Heron aircraft to replace the Rapides on the Air Ambulance Service and the scheduled service to Barra, he reserved the right to ask for their replacement later by the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer if the latter proved to be a more suitable choice for air ambulance work.” Needless to say the Twin Pioneer was ideal for this work, so naturally BEA didn’t order any.
A TRICKY DESTINATION?
A very tricky destination according to notes in a flight guide published in 2001. However, probably not quite as tricky as some claim as a Fly-In was organised, to take place on the beach, from the 23rd to 27th June 2011.
In the January 2018 edition of Light Aviation magazine it appears that another Fly-in took place in soggy conditions during the summer of 2017.
Glen WardThis comment was written on: 2017-06-11 19:36:25
Ok, why is it such a tricky destination ? I am planning a flying trip and hope to land on Barra but if you reckon your destination is better and the beach landing safer then I will reconsider !
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Glen, I have not landed at either of these destinations and can only comment on what I have heard. I would highly recommend looking at videos of Islanders and Twin Otters landing at Barra, and they invariably seem to encounter standing water, resulting in them getting well and truly soaked. If you don't mind the possibility of getting your aeroplane drenched in seawater, then give it a go. Possibly of course there may be times when the beach dries out. Ring them and ask is, I would think, the best answer. Happy landings, Dick
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