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Isles of Scilly Steamship Company

G-BUBN - St. Just in Penwith

by John Luxton 2001

A few weeks ago a SCILLONIAN III voyage report from Richard Seville was posted on M&ISS. Quite by accident, rather than design I found I was able to write up a short "voyage" report on board another Isles of Scilly Steamship Company craft or should I say aircraft! I thought I would include it here as it gives an impression aspect on the company's operations.  [ - Isles of Scilly Steamship Co web site.]

As with most of my trips to the Isles of Scilly I had booked to travel with British International Ltd from Penzance heliport to St.Mary's.

Unfortunately one of the two Sikorsky S61 Helicopters [G-BLEB - known as "Echo Bravo"  had gone technical and the company decided that passengers for the 15:10 departure would be transferred to Land's End aerodrome for conveyance by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company's Skybus service. 

ISSCO's Skybus operates from Landís End Aerodrome about seven miles from Penzance which is located around a mile from the Atlantic cliffs. Passengers were taken by bus to the Aerodrome which is a delightful 1930s facility with some recent modifications. The Aerodrome is operated by Westward Airways which is apart of the Isles of Scilly Steamship group. Landís End has grass runways and no landing aids, Flying cannot be undertaken at night or in adverse conditions! Fixed wing operations from here are much less reliable than those operated by the helicopter company from Penzance. The Penzance heliport being fully equipped for night flying and landing aids.

Before leaving Penzance heliport on the bus passengers had been informed that they would be flown over to St. Mary's on the Isles of Scilly Steamship Companyís De Havilland Twin Otter. Though it was apparent that there were more passengers present for the cancelled helicopter flight than would fit in the Twin Otter which has a maximum capacity of 20.

The balance of passengers, myself included,  would be conveyed by one of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Companyís diminutive Britten-Norman Islanders. These small twin engine planes are not the most comfortable of aircraft and unless one is lucky to secure the seats immediately behind the pilot the view from the windows is very poor.

It wasnít possible to fit all the luggage into the Islander. My travel bag was placed upon the DH Twin Otter which was following along behind. Travelling on the Islanders requires passengers to be weighed along with their luggage!

After checking in luggage a brief security check followed, this has only been introduced in the light of recent events. Until September 11 flying to Scilly by plane or helicopter had been like travelling by bus. One of the passengers in front of me had a banned article in their hand baggage. This was placed in an envelope and handed to the pilot for him to look after for the duration of the flight!

After watching a short safety video passengers were led out to the small plane - G-BUBN which carries the name of the nearby town "St. Just in Penwith".. I was delighted to discover that I had been lucky and had been allocated a seat behind the pilot which offered a full view forward and to the sides. Bearing in mind the fact that electronic equipment should not be used I didn't use the digital camera though have taken some slides which will be added to this report in the next week or two when I get the images processed.

With everyone one board the skipper introduced himself and told us that the misty weather would clear as we neared the islands. I must admit I was becoming concerned that the visibility would reduce to the extent that the Isles of Scilly Steamship Skybus planes would stop operating.

Engines were started - and we taxied off the paved apron in front of the terminal buildings and headed off for one of the grass runways. We taxied to the end of the runway turned round and faced into the wind. With clearance obtained the small aircraft gathered speed - its engines buzzing like an angry bee. With grass runways the gathering speed is quite noticeable as the plane bounces along.

The skipper pulled back on the control wheel and the little plane swiftly rose up and climbed into the low cloud. We had taken off on the south facing runway. As we climbed we changed course to a south westerly direction. A break in the clouds enabled the Landís End tourist complex to be seen to the port side of the aircraft perched on the cliffs. A short distance beyond the Landís End cliffs could be seen the Longshipís Lighthouse - a familiar landmark which must have appeared in countless holiday snaps and picture post cards. It was here that on November 10, 1898 that the steamship SS BLUE JACKET ran aground on the rocks on which the lighthouse stands in clear weather! Though the crew were saved the ship was a total loss. A famous photograph taken by the Gibson family of this most unlikely shipwreck has appeared in many maritime books and on postcards published locally.

The Britten-Norman Islander levelled off at 1000 feet on the port side a container vessel could be seen heading north. Visibility remained rather poor until we began to descend a few miles off Scilly.

The rocks of the Eastern Isles became visible off the starboard side as the aircraft descended. The Island of St. Martins was passed to starboard and the plane began to turn for its final approach to St.Maryís Airport. To starboard in Hugh Town harbour could be seen the Isles of Scilly Steamship Companyís SCILLONIAN III at her berth awaiting the 16:30 departure for Penzance.

With the plane lined up with the main runway, which on St.Maryís is paved and fully equipped with landing aids unlike Landís End, we quickly descended over the farm fields for a smooth landing. The main runway at St.Maryís is not flat rising up to a noticeable summit before falling away again towards the low cliffs on the south coast of the island. A brake application brought the plane to a halt a little over halfway along. The skipper swung the little plane around and G-BUBN taxied up to the terminal. I then made my way inside to have a cup of tea in Theo & Cath's Airport Buffet and await the arrival of my bah on the Twin Otter. 

Theo and Cath's Airport Buffet is probably the best refreshment facility in a transport terminal I have come across, as the proprietors bake most of the biscuits, cakes, pies and pasties and fudge on the premises. Which leaves passengers mouth's watering and ensures a healthy sale of items including Christmas Cakes!



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