Francis Francia and General Alexander Godley - Capt. E. W. Percival, with Mr. Matthews
Flight. Lt. J. D.Wilson and Flight. Lt. Loch - Mr. Warner and Maj. W. T. Blake
Capt. E. E. H. Jackson and Lt. Col. W. F. Ellis
George Gaggero and Mrs. Maitland-Makril-Crighton
Gibraltar Airways can trace its curious beginnings to 1931 as an offshoot of the locally owned shipping company, MH Bland and Co. Ltd (See. LINK)
In July 1931 a 6-seat Saunders-Roe A21 Windhover flying boat was purchaced in Heston Aerodome by somebody called Francis Francia - who was almost certainly a well know Gibraltar Merchant of the same name. Very shortly afterward, Francia sold the plane to the newly created Gibraltar Airways. Bland and Co wanted to use it in an experimental Gibraltar to Tangier service.
The rational for buying a seaplane was of course that there was no airport in Gibraltar at the time. The fact that it was actually an amphibian craft was a bonus as it was sometimes impossible to land in Tangier harbour. A nearby airport could be used instead.
The plane - unromantically registered as G-ABJP - was christened the "General Godley "in honour of the Governor of Gibraltar at the time and put into service in September 1931 - a 46 mile trip which made it - at least until the 1990s - the world’s shortest intercontinental scheduled flight.
The October edition of the Flight Magazine was gushing in its praise
A venture which should prove a great success is the undertaking of Gibraltar Airways Limited, which is operating a Saro Windhover amphibian between Gibraltar and Tangiers.
The chief object of the company is to operate a regular service twice daily between these two points. As this journey only takes some 20 minutes, it should prove one of the cases where flying can be made to pay, since steamship communication between Gibraltar and Tangier is very infrequent ; the only daily service entailing crossing to Algeciras and catching the Spanish boat for Tangier, a procedure which may well make the journey a matter of six hours or more.
. . . The big shipping companies which call at Gibraltar issue vouchers which are at present in use for the sea passage between Gibraltar and Tangier, these are valid on the Gibraltar Airways service . . . Mail contracts are now under consideration, and negotiations for securing these are in progress besides the regular service.
The G-ABJF in Gibraltar Harbour
Tourists are also making extensive use of the Windhover for joyrides round Gibraltar and for special journeys to many parts of the western Mediterranean.The advantage of an amphibian on such a service is an outstanding example of the utility of this type of aircraft. The machine is able to use Gibraltar harbour on all occasions, whatever the state of the weather, whereas Tangier harbour is impossible when the wind is in certain directions ; therefore, when these conditions occur, the aerodrome, some six miles south-west of the town, is used instead
Ferrying passengers on to dry land in Tangier
. . . During the first few weeks that the machine was in commission, it was flown by Capt. E. W. Percival, with Mr. Matthews as ground engineer in charge. Flight. Lt. J. D.Wilson and Flight. Lt. Loch are now the permanent pilots, with Mr. Warner as ground engineer.
The directors of the company are Maj. W. T. Blake, Capt. E. E. H. Jackson, Lt. Col. W. F. Ellis and Mr. George Gaggero (chairman and managing director of the Bland Line) as managing director.
The opening of the service and the arrival of the machine in Gibraltar were occasions for much jubilation, and the christening ceremony was performed (in the absence of the Governor) by Mrs. Maitland-Makril-Crighton, wife of the Acting Governor, who christened the Windhover " General Godley," after General Sir Alexander Godley, the present Governor.
The General Godley on dry land showing a nice pair of wheels. Presumbly she had been dragged up a slipway for servicing - and a nice photograph perhaps commemorating the naming of the plane
On the Tangier side, an introductory luncheon was held, at which the Sultan of Morocco was represented by the Mendoub and many foreign ministers, and great enthusiasm was shown at starting the service.
Cigarette box presented to Captain Percival to commemorate the inaugural trip
The following month the company employed a well known British pilot - Captain E. W. Percival. His exploits were covered by the November 1931 edition of the same magazine.
Europe to Africa - In Flight for October 23 we announced the formation of Gibraltar Airways, Ltd., to run an air service between Gibraltar and Tangier with Saro Windhovers.- Capt. E. W. Percival, who took out the first air-craft, has now returned, having turned over to Mr. J. D. Wilson, who will carry on as pilot in charge of the service.
Capt. Percival tells us that he expects this line to be a great success, for during the five weeks he was there he made an average of three return trips every day. Landing is not possible in Tangier harbour when the " Levanter " is blowing strongly, and on these occasions the passengers are taken on to the aerodrome a little way inland, such is the advantage of having amphibian aircraft.
"Looking down at Tangier harbour from the " Windhover " on her first trip. It will be seen that the harbour is somewhat open to easterly winds and therefore when this area is too rough the "Windhover " lands at the aerodrome, which is just over the hills." ( 1931 - Flight Magazine)
Already the promoters are finding an increasing demand for the service as the saving over the boat journey is very considerable. Capt Percival's arrival at Gibraltar was made an occasion for much jubilation, and we gather that he had to participate in many functions organised for his benefit, not the least romantic of which were picnics to the Cork Woods - well known to every junior Naval officer!
"The Saro "Windhover" at anchor in Gibraltar harbour. Beyond her (on the left) is a Dornier " Wal" which operates on the line Gibraltar to Genoa, meeting the New York mail boat on her outward trip and then remaining at Gibraltar until the incoming ship arrives" ( 1931 - Flight Magazine)
In November 1931, Captain Percival left Gibraltar Airways and the service itself ceased in January 1932 after 117 return flights.
In July 1932 the Saro aircraft changed hands when a certain Mrs Victor Bruce bought it. She renamed it the City of Portsmouth. The undercarriage was temporarily removed and during August 1932 it was used in three attempts to break the world flight-refuelled endurance record. It failed - but as with its service to and from Tangier - the Saro did so with honour.