Project Description

Orkney Aviation Festival takes place this year online with three talks on Thursday 10 September. Orkney has played a significant role in aviation history, through two world wars and the peacetime transport needs of a scattered island group.

Those needs were brilliantly met with the design of the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft, which has transformed community life in the North Isles.

The breakthrough to its commercial development came through a chance meeting. It solved a problem for flying welders to the Tay Road Bridge construction, and it led to the development of Scotland’s airline, Loganair. We’ll hear from the man who made the contact and the man who has flown tens of thousands of Islander flights.

Orkney’s link with civil aviation goes back a long way. The longest running continuous air service in Europe is Orkney-Inverness which began in May 1933. Two years previous to this, the first Orkney resident to cross the Pentland Firth wrote lyrically about it, and set the tone that has continued ever since.

In military aviation, it was in Scapa Flow over 100 years ago that Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning made the first-ever landing of an aircraft on a moving ship. The story will be told by a well-known naval historian.

And we’ll hear stories of some of the women mathematicians who made technical contributions to aeronautical engineerinsg, including the R101 airship design and solving the De Havilland Comet’s crash problems.

All the events are free, and accessible from the links in the event descriptions below.


September 10, 2020 → 2:00 pm3:00 pm

Naval historian David Hobbs reflects on the career and life of Squadron Commander Dunning, the first man to land an aircraft onto a moving ship - in Scapa Flow in 1917.


September 10, 2020 → 3:30 pm4:30 pm

Retired neurosurgeon John Firth’s chance encounter with John Britten and Desmond Norman resulted in their meeting Willie Logan, whose company in Muir of Ord were building the Tay Road Bridge and needed to fly welders from the Highlands to Dundee. That meeting led to the commercial breakthrough for the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft and the formation of Loganair, Scotland's airline. Andy Alsop spent many years flying Islander aircraft in Orkney and later in the Falkland Islands. He went on to fly for the British Antarctic Survey. They're joined by Britten-Norman's managing director, William Hynett, and by aviation historian, author and publisher Dr Iain Hutchison. He's written extensively about air ambulances and Loganair and also about Eric Starling, chief pilot for Aberdeen Airways in the early days of commercial flying in the north.

Engineering historian Dr Nina Baker looks at the technical contributions by women mathematicians and engineers to aeronautical engineering development in the 20th century, including the design of the R101 airship and solving the crash problems of the De Havilland Comet.