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Bond Beginnings

by John Newby

Courtesy of Bucks Chopper Chatter.

Back in the summer of 1946, acertain Mr Bond, not James but David, decided to form an air charter business at Gatwick. Not surprisingly, he named the company Bond Aviation Services. His initial fleet comprised an Auster Autocrat (G-AGYG), which was joined in July by a Percival Proctor Mk 1 (G-AHMS). From March 1947, things got a little more serious with the introduction to the fleet of Halifaxes (G-AIOH, G-AIOL, G-AIWW and G-AIZO) to cope with a series of charter flights to Italy, Spain and France carrying fruit to Bovingdon.

After the war, the Russians, who shared occupancy of Berlin with the Americans, French and British, exerted progressively greater pressure in their efforts to deny essential supplies to the population of Berlin. Eventually, on 24th June 1949, the Russians halted all surface traffic to and from the city by road, rail and canal. The only transport element remaining was the air and thus the highly successful Berlin Air Lift came into being. At one stage, Bond Aviation Services had twelve Halifaxes operating from Wunsdorf and Hamburg to Berlin; most were leased from Freddie Laker to whom they were returned after the Lift.

In May 1950, Halifax operations ceased, but the company continued its fixed wing operations until 1951. Bond Air Services was founded as a rotary wing operation in 1961 and is now owned by David's two sons, Peter and Stephen Bond. They kicked off with single engined Hillers, which were utilised primarily in the crop spraying role. In the 1970s, Bond entered the North Sea market with twin engined Bo105 and S-58T machines, the latter being beefed up Westland Wessex machines which normally came with Pratt & Whitney engines offering considerably improved performance.

The 1980s saw the development of both onshore and offshore operations and additional types to the fleet, which included Super Puma a stretched version with increased range; S-61N, which is as near as damn it a Sea King; AS 365, also known as the Dauphin; the Sikorsky S-76; and our old friend, the Bo105. In 1987, Bond was responsible for the UK's first air ambulancein Cornwall with a Bo105B.

We move on to the 1990s and a further phase of considerable expansion brought about by acquisition and merger involving onshore and offshore operations and an expansion of their group fleet to 168 machines.

1998 saw the start of the Essex Air Ambulance, with a Bo105 based at Chelmsford and upgraded to an EC 135 in 2003. Peter and Stephen Bond purchased Bond Air Services* from the parent company in 1999 and placed an order for 15 'new technology' EC 135 helicopters, one of which may join the ranks of the Thames Valley operation in the fullness of time. The company moved its Headquarters to Gloucester Airport in 2001 and, during 2002/3, developed Air Ambulance contracts with Berkshire and Wales.

Current Bond strength is twelve Bo105s and seven EC 135s with, hopefully, another eight to come. The overall diversity of Bond operations is demonstrated by the location of their bases. Starting 'at thetop' with the Sullom Voe oil terminal in Shetland, where they undertake pollution monitoring operations as well as conveying Pilots between shore and transiting tankers, then there is Inverness, Aberdeen (with its offshore involvements), Glasgow, Blackpool, RAF Benson, RAF Cosford, East Midlands, Strensham, Staverton, Caernarvon, Swansea, St Mawgan, Exeter and Henstridge.

* The Bond Air Services web site has browser compatibility and accessibility problems.

This article was written in around 2004. The Thames Valley Air Ambulance is now a Eurocopter EC135 as correctly predicted above.

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