Silver Bat - first locally based aircraft to operate commercial flights from Jersey
Silver Bat operating from the beach at West Park on 3 July 1930, three years before it became the island's first operational 'airport'
Commercial flying was very much in its infancy in June 1930 when Jersey residents, former RAF pilot Bill Kirsten and his partner R B Mace, acquired the prototype Saunders Roe Cutty Sark amphibian aicraft from its private owner Norman Holden.
Their intention was to operate flights between Jersey and Southampton, as well as offering joyrides around the island and excursions to France, and probably the other Channel Islands. Jersey had no airport then - it would not be ready for flying until 1936, and be officially opened the following year - so Kirsten and Mace had to operate their craft from the beach. Photographs obtained by Jerripedia show that they used the beach at West Park, which had already proved a safe place for incoming aircraft to land and take off; and also the beach in St Brelade's Bay. Photographs of the Cutty Sark there, with covers over its engines, suggest that it may have been 'parked' there when not operational. Perhaps Bill Kirsten lived nearby, but we have so far not managed to establish a definite connection.
He was born Siegfried Stanley Kirsten at Southborough, Tonbridge, Kent on 9 April 1902, the son of Johann Georg Kirsten, of Hamburg, and Maria Honer, of Switzerland. He was already 62 when he and Maria, 27 years his junior, married in Sussex in 1895, and 69 when Siegfried, their fourth and last child, was born. Johann, a widowed shipping merchant, obtained British Nationality in 1895, as John George, ten days before his second marriage so, despite his country of birth, he was able to remain in England during the Great War, and died in Kent in 1920.
Siegfried's eldest brother John Vincent Kirsten joined the 1st Battalion Scots Guards as a Private and was killed in Flanders on 14 Jan 1917. It is not known when Siegfried joined the Royal Air Force, but it is likely to have been at the earliest age permitted because in 1923, aged 21, he was promoted from Pilot Officer to Flying Officer. It is also not known when, and why, he moved to live in Jersey.
There is a suggestion that he was working for Saunders Roe in 1929 and piloted the Cutty Sark on its maiden flight, but we have not been able to substantiate this.
When in Jersey he went by the name Stanley, but was known to his friends as Bill. He was married twice, to Eileen Annie Gilmour in 1925 and Margaret Wingyett Hunt in 1935. He had a son, Vincent William, in 1929. He died in 1955, four years before his father died in Jersey. At the time Siegfried Stanley was living at 2 Montrose Villas, Millbrook, and his will, which is now held by Jersey Archive, is dated 5 September 1958.
Although British Marine Air Navigation Company had operated commercial flights to and from Jersey in the 1920s, these used seaplanes which could only land on the water, and then taxiied into St Helier Harbour to discharge passengers, and allow others to board for the return flight. In 1926 Imperial Airways tried to generate interest in diverting inward and outward bound flights to Jersey to sell otherwise empty seats for flights between the island and the British mainland, but there were no takers and the project was abandoned.
Kirsten and Mace saw an opportunity to provide an island-based service and acquired their Saro Cutty Sark from its private owner, Norman Holder. The prototype, registered G-AAIP, had made its first flight at Cowes on 4 July 1929 and, after exhibition at the Olympia Aero Show, was flown by Flying Officer Chilton to the Seaplane Rally at La Baule, France, in September 1929, with the Director of Civil Aviation, Sir Sefton Brancker, as passenger. Following this, G-AAIP was converted into an amphibian by fitting a wide retracting undercarriage and a tail-skid, and thus modified was sold to Norman Holden. He did not keep it for long and sold it on Kirsten and Mace in June 1930.
The arrival of the aircraft in Jersey must have caused quite a stir. The owners decided to give their craft an individual name and the ceremony, which saw it named Silver Bat was attended by the Lieut-Governor, Major General Edward Henry Willis, with a reception hosted by Lady Trent.
When, in August 2017, we first started researching the pictures of Silver Bat on the beach at St Brelade we did not immediately associate the aircraft with the Cutty Sark, which already featured in our pages in a July 1930 reference in Flight Magazine we first added in 2012.
Kirsten and Mace had written to Saunder Roe expressing their satisfaction with the Cutty Sark and expressing their intention to upgrade to the larger Saro Flying Clud.
- "So delighted are we with our experiences of the Cutty Sark that we hope to take a very early delivery of the Flying Cloud in order to cope with the demand that the Cutty Sark has set up."
Saunders Roe were clearly interested in such an arrangement and had already sent a delegation to Jersey in a Flying Cloud for a meeting with Kirsten and Mace, as recorded by Flight in the edition a week before Kirsten and Mace's letter appeared.
- "The Saro Cloud, the latest product of the Saro amphibian family, flew recently between Southampton and St Helier, Jersey, for the purpose of a business meeting between the directors of Saunders-Roe, Ltd, and Kirsten and Mace, Ltd. The former company are interested in the operations of the K and M air service from England to (and in the district of) the Channel Islands, where an efficient transport and circular trip service is in regular operation with the Saro Cutty Sark."
Short stay in Jersey
What happened next is not entirely clear. Silver Bat operated in Jersey until September 1930, but then left. During its stay it participated in the Battle of Flowers, dropping petals over the Springfield arena. One history of 1930s aviation suggests that the partners saw greater potential to operate from another British offshore island. The website 1000aircraftphotos.com says that early in 1932, Kirston and Mace formed British Amphibious Air Lines Ltd. 'and bought a second Cutty Sark, G-ABBC, basing both machines at Squires Gate, Jersey and operating via Liverpool to the Isle of Man'. This is a clear error, because Squires Gate is a district of Blackpool, from where early air services to the Isle of Man were known to operate.
G-AIIP is known to have pioneered services to the Isle of Man, but Kirsten and Mace are not associated with these operations. Silver Bat, if it still bore the name, was bought by Captain Campbell Shaw and Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose for Isle of Man Air Services.
An unpublished history of aviation in Jersey suggests that Silver Bat was replaced in Jersey by the larger A-19 Cloud, capable of carrying eight passengers, but we have been unable to find any evidence for a Kirsten and Mace service using this aircraft, which would form part of Jersey Airways' fleet when the airline was founded in 1933.
Bill Kirsten's grandson has provided additional information:
- From Flight, 25 July 1930. 'Saunders Roe, of East Cowes, have received the following letter from Mr S S Kirsten, of Kirsten and Mace Ltd, in connection with the Saro Cutty Sark amphibian aircraft employed on the Southampton-Channel Islands service. “Our initial machine has been christened Silver Bat" by His Excellency the Governor of Jersey, General Willis, and Mrs Willis, who afterwards were taken for a trip round the island, and were kind enough to express their great pleasure regarding the comfort of the machine and their good wishes for the future of our enterprise."
- British Amphibious Airlines operated a seaplane service between Blackpool and the Isle of Man in 1932 and 1933. The airline was formed on 4 February 1932 in Blackpool to exploit an agreement to use the sea and foreshore at Blackpool for conducting flight in amphibious flying boats. During the summer of 1932 the airline operated a service between Blackpool and the Isle of Man using a Saro Cutty Sark named Progress, which could carry four passengers. The aircraft was based at Squires Gate Airport but picked up passengers on the foreshore and alighted in Douglas harbour on the Isle of Man. If the sea conditions were bad they used Ronaldsway Airport. Although the first to operate a service to the Isle of Man, they were in competition with the Isle of Man Air Services who operated from Liverpool. The first year they carried 348 passengers on the service. During 1933 the service was only operated on three days a week and only carried 130 passengers. The airline tried to acquire a larger Saro Cloud aircraft but was thwarted by the owners of Saunders-Roe, who wanted to run their own service to the Isle of Man; so British Amphibious stopped operating the service.
Details of the Saro A-17 Cutty Sark which can be found online vary considerably, particularly in relation to the number of people it could carry. Some say that there was room for only four, two of whom were pilots, but Saunders-Roe's own publicity material, and original design drawings, leave little doubt that behind two seats for a pilot and co-pilot there was accommodation for four passengers.
The aircraft was 10.46 metres (34 ft 4 in) long and had a wingspan of 13.72 metres (45 ft). Various engines were used, and one of the 12 aircraft had a single engine, whereas the others all had twin engines. Silver Bat had Cirrus Hermes engines. Maximum speed varied according to which engines were fitted, but was in the region of 105 mph. The cruising speed was 90 mph, and climbing at 500 feet a minute Silver Bat had a range of about 300 miles at its service ceiling of 2,740 metres (9,000 feet).
Initially the prototype G-AAIP was built as a flying boat, but in these early days of short-distance commercial flying it was quickly realised that the ability to take off from water at the start of a flight and land on a beach or field at the other end would give the Cutty Sark a distinct advantage. An undercarriage which could be raised and lowered manually from inside the cabin was then fitted and made available as an optional extra on later models, adding £125 to the basic price of £2,500.
This was the downfall of one aircraft used as a trainer by Australian airline Quantas. The pilot failed to retract the undercarriage and while landing on water the aircraft was so badly damaged that it was written off.
Although only 12 Saro Cutty Sark aircraft were ever made, and most were exported, a remarkable number of photographs survive, mostly of the prototype G-AAIP, which operated from Jersey for three months in the summer of 1930. Click on any image to see a full-size version