Andrew Blain Baird lived from 1 January 1862 to 9 September 1951. He was a blacksmith in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute who on 17 September 1910 completed the first flight by an entirely Scottish designed and built heavier-than-air aircraft, the Baird Monoplane. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Baird was one of three sons born to a fisherman, who lived beside Luce Bay in Galloway. The young Andrew was apprenticed to a local blacksmith before working first as a lighthouse keeper on Lismore and then in an ironworks at Gartcosh on Clydeside. In 1887, at the age of 25, he set himself up as a blacksmith in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. In 1892 he married Euphemia Martin at Glecknabae Farm on the island. They later had two daughters, who died in infancy, and two sons who survived into adulthood.
It is unknown when Baird first developed an interest in aviation, but he certainly corresponded with early pioneers such as Louis Bleriot and S. F. Cody about the finer points of aircraft design. A visit to the Blackpool Aviation Week in October 1909 seems to have given focus to his enthusiasm, and when he returned to Rothesay he began work on an aircraft of his own design, the Baird Monoplane. This was generally similar in layout to the aircraft in which Bleriot had made the first crossing of the English Channel on 25 July 1909, albeit with a unique control system. His aircraft also had a four-cylinder air and water-cooled engine made by Alexander Brothers in Edinburgh. The body was constructed from tubular steel and the wings were covered in silk sewn by Mrs Baird.
The completed Baird Monoplane went on display in Rothesay during the summer of 1910, and was a star attraction at the Bute Highland Games on 20 August 1910. It is unclear whether Baird himself had been one of the 250,000 people to attend the Lanark Air Show, the first to be held in Scotland, between 6 and 13 August 1910, but given his interest in aviation it would seem odd had he not been there.
Early on the morning of 17 September 1910, the Baird Monoplane was transported by cart across Bute to Ettrick Bay, on the island's west coast. It was a fine day, and a small crowd had gathered, including a correspondent of Flight magazine. Baird started the engine, and advanced the throttle. According to the report in that week's Flight the aircraft accelerated over the sand and took off correctly, but having cleared the ground then veered to the right, landing with a crunch that buckled one of the main wheels and slightly damaged a wing.
We've not been able to find out if, having succeeded in making (albeit briefly) the first flight of an entirely Scottish aircraft, Baird ever flew his monoplane again. What set his achievement apart was the entirely Scottish nature of the undertaking. The first aircraft flight in Scotland had been made by the Barnwell brothers on 28 July 1909, who then went on to make a series of flights before pursuing careers in aviation.
It is said that the engine from the Baird Monoplane was given to a museum in Glasgow in the 1950s, and the propeller was donated to the National Museum of Flight in 2010, to mark the centenary of the flight.
While it was on show over the summer of 1910, the Baird Monoplane was examined by Thomas Sopwith, who would later become an aviation pioneer in his own right and an aircraft manufacturer. With Baird's permission, Sopwith drew on some of the novel ideas in the Baird Monoplane when he later began building his own aircraft, which went on to have a significant impact during World War One. Baird's name was also remembered when, in 2010, the small Bute Airstrip near the southern end of the island was renamed in his honour as Baird Airstrip.