Northern Ireland’s first air rally is held at Ards Airport despite the weather (1937)
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According to Squadron-Leader F V Beamish, Aldergrove, who made the meteorological flight on the Saturday morning, “this ought not to have been”.
“Meteorologically, the weather was fine. Actually, it rained in the afternoon, and when Lord Londonderry, president of the North of Ireland Aero Club which organised the rally, took up his machine as last competitor in the forced landing competition, visibility was very poor,” noted the News Letter.
Fourteen aeroplanes of diverse types arrived at the airport during the day from such different points Hamble, Southampton, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Yeadon (Yorkshire), Carlisle, Perth, Renfrew (Glasgow), Heston (London), and Hanworth (London).
Rally competitors were due to arrive between 12 noon and 1 pm, and the majority of them did, but there was one “stray,” who visited Ardglass before he came to Ards and several late comers.
A Hornet Moth, flown by Mr Cairn Smith, from Renfrew was the first arrival, and he and his passenger received a cordial welcome.
From Scotland, also, came a twin-engined Stinson Reliant. In it were Mr and Mrs J R Bryans, whose son Patrick, aged four, and his nanny usually fly with them. Patrick has travelled in aeroplanes since he was baby. Mrs Bryans, who was a daughter of Sir John Gilmour, the former Home Secretary, said they had air-toured from London to their home in Perth, from Perth to Inverness and Navar, and had left Perth that morning, flying down by way of Montrave. Fifeshire, the home of her parents where they circled round and were greeted from the ground. They crossed from Scotland at 7,000 feet, in about 20 minutes.
The vivid yellow of the third machine to fly in was calculated to conquer very bad visibility. It was the twin-engined D H Dragonfly, bringing one of the merriest parties that came to Ards. They were students of the Air Services Training flying school at Hamble, Southampton, in charge of Flight-Lieutenant Beaumont, an Irishman. He had with him Mr D E Eveleigh, an Englishman; Mr J P Park, South African; and Mr J R Goalen, from Scotland.
Their particular opposition was the Percival Vega Gull, also from AST, Hamble, in which were Mr Fenton and one of his pupils. The latter machine came via Carlisle and Portpatrick, but the two-engined Dragonfly was able to come direct from Liverpool. Mr Beaumont’s party met bad visibility over the Isle of Man and had to to 2,300 feet.
The Dragonfly was completely equipped for blind flying training. The comfortable seats inside were similar to those in the Stinson, but 17 instruments, switches, and so on were massed in front of the piloting seats. The Vega Gull from Hamble landed just two minutes after the Dragonfly, and there was a reunion of Hamblonians.”
Of the air rally an editorial in the News Letter stated: “An air rally such as was held at Ards Airport on Saturday will, doubtless, become an annual event and in due course attract as much popular interest as the Tourist Trophy race did.
“It was made possible by the enterprise and enthusiasm of the Marquess of Londonderry, who, as a former Minister for Air, realises that if Britain is to retain its place in the forefront of air Powers it must be able to rely on the ‘air-mindedness’ of the people, and is doing what he can to encourage aviation in his native province.”
It added: “Of the value of private flying in spreading knowledge of the theory and practice of aeronautics there can be no doubt. Was it not the individual pioneer who led the way by air across the oceans and showed how the longest distances could be traversed in the shortest time and with the greatest economy of weight and power?”