Sullom Voe is the sheltered inlet between North Mainland and Northmavine that leads out into Yell Sound. Named after the tiny settlement of Sullom on its east shore it was a quiet backwater, home to a few fishing settlements, until the onset of World War II.
The the settlement of Graven, on the east shore of the Voe, became home to a base for RAF flying boats, patrolling the North Atlantic in search of German U-Boats. To protect the flying boat base, a fighter airfield was built at RAF Scatsta, also to the east of Sullom Voe. Work began on the first runway at the beginning of 1940, and it was complete by 25 April that year. A longer second runway was built between July 1941 and April 1942.
During construction, pipe mines were laid beneath the runways in case of invasion. These were made safe and cleared of explosives at the end of the war. After the war the flying boat base ceased to exist, and RAF Scatsta fell into disuse.
In 1968 a US Coast Guard radio navigation station was built on one of the disused runways, but bigger changes were on their way. The early 1970s saw the discovery of oil under the North Sea to the north east of Shetland. The best way to move it to markets around the world was to pipe it to a sheltered location to be loaded onto tankers. Sullom Voe was ideal.
Between 1973 and 1982 Sullom Voe was one of the biggest construction sites in Europe, with up to 6,000 people employed building the oil terminal. Vast amounts of peat had to be cleared, and Orka Voe, to the north of the site, was filled in. Today millions of gallons of oil flow each week from the Ninian and Brent oilfields to Sullom Voe. Here it is loaded onto tankers berthed at the piers in the Voe. These can take up to four 400m-long tankers at any one time.
And with the oil boom has come renewed activity at Scatsta. With Shetland's main airport at Sumburgh, at the southern tip of Mainland, Scatsta became the natural place for an airport to support the building and operation of the oil terminal. It reopened in the middle of 1978.
After the oil terminal was finished, demand for flights from construction workers ceased, and in 1995 it was announced that Scatsta Airport would close. However, at the same time the offshore oil support operations from Baltasound Airport on Unst were running down, and the decision was taken to move these to Scatsta instead.
In 1996 the runway was extended and other improvements made (and the pipes used to contain the WWII mines were finally removed). The result is that today Scatsta is a hive of activity, with planes arriving from the south transferring cargo and people to helicopters that then head north east to the oil platforms.
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