We are now living in a time where air travel is something we won't be taking for granted again.

After more than a year where most of us have had our feet firmly planted on the ground, for some memories of bustling airports and rushing through security feel almost light years away.

But what is even harder to imagine are the days where you could travel the skies using a Welsh airline that had a signature red dragon emblazoned on its planes as part of what was once one of the biggest air companies in the UK.

Read more:The days when thousands of us went to The Barry Island Resort for our summer hols

Set up on April 25, 1935 Cambrian Air Services, as it was first known, was Wales' first national airline. Although slow to start due to World War Two it was also the first British airline to restart again on January 1, 1946 after the fighting ended - its first post-war flight containing just a cargo of wire rope and an aircraft seat between Cardiff and Bristol.

A brochure for the airline dating from summer 1949, preserved on this airline timetable website, gives some important advice to first-time flyers, reminding them: "You do not need special clothing, you will almost certainly not feel sick.

Another tip adds: "Flying is as established to-day as travel by rail and will be as widespread the moment the general public realise this."

A third reassures prospective passengers: "You can hire an aircraft as easily as you can hire a taxi."

Peter Walker, Shadow Minister of Transport, paying a visit to Rhoose Airport and Cambrian Airways in July 1967. Pictured with Mr C V Ogden, airport commandant.
A Cambrian Airways plane seen here on the apron of Lulsgate Airport which is now Bristol International Airport in 1965

At that point Cambrian Airlines was offering flights to Bristol, Weston, Barnstaple, Jersey and Guernsey, costing as little as 14/6 for a single flight. By 1955 the airline made its first historic tourist trip from Cardiff to the French Riviera - renaming itself to Cambrian Airlines a year later.

Although the air company started its journey in Pengam Moors airport, in the east of Cardiff, it eventually moved to Cardiff Airport in Rhoose.

On July 1, 1958 newspaper clips show one group of passengers had a very special flight between Cardiff and Jersey when the group of 32 were treated to a half hour fashion show, two models using the 30ft aisle as a cat walk to show off 30 summer and autumn looks. A copy of the South Wales Echo from the time notes: "Models Pamela Jordan and Dawn Clemants will use the gallery-cum-dressing room at the aft end of the plane to change into clothes for the half-hour show. It will be air hostess Pamela’s job to help them once she has finished her take-off chores."

By the 1960s, former staff described how Cambrian Airways became the second largest independent scheduled airline in the country and one of the first to be involved with package holidays with Hourmont Travel. A brochure of its summer timetable in 1966 shows destinations across England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and as far away as Dinard and Paris from its bases in Rhoose and Liverpool, while a timetable from 1958 advertises Nice as one of its more tropical destinations.

On March 24, 1965 the airline saw what a full match day was capable of as 14 flights took 700 fans to Paris to see the Triple Crown champions Wales make a clean sweep in the five-nation championship. By the following day 35 special flights had left, making it Britain’s biggest-ever rugby air-lift.

Cambrian Airways air hostess Lynn Rosser, prepares drinks in the galley of the Viscount, over the English Channel, in May 1967
Jo Else (right) with Pat Melling from Cambrian Airways
Sixty Welsh rugby supporters bound for Edinburgh to see Scotland v Wales match at Murrayfield in January 1963

During a staff reunion in 2013, around 100 former pilots, cabin staff and other workers rolled back the years to describe their experiences dealing with royalty and rugby supporters alike as well as sharing jokes and stories about the company they called “the family.”

Former managing director David Moscrop said: “There were so many characters. On one occasion we leased a BAC 1-11 aircraft to Gulf Air and supplied the crew and cabin staff who were mainly from Liverpool.

“A sheikh boarded the aeroplane with a falcon on his arm. One of the stewardesses went up to him and, in strong Liverpudlian accent said: ‘Excuse me, wack, does your budgie talk?’ The sheikh’s reply is not recorded.”

Speaking in 2013, former chief training stewardess Maggie Campbell-Grant, then 76, said: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I joined in 1962 and it was my first flying job.

“It was like a dream come true. It was just fantastic. We all looked after each other, just like a family. I do remember the rugby airlifts and the crew night stops – but we didn’t take the tales back home. Rugby supporters were lively, but I was very bossy. One look from me and they behaved themselves.”

This photo of Cambrian Airways cabin crew was taken around 1972
Cambrian Airways staff Jo Else, Margaret Cowie, Vivienne Munns and Liz Shalliker
Air hostess Maggie Cambell- Grant pictured in the 1970s

Garry Hillard, company printer in the mid 1960s and Cambrian Airways enthusiast who went on to create a tribute site to the company, said at the staff reunion: “The three-and-a-half years I spent with Cambrian were like nothing I have experienced again. It was a real family and it was a joy to work there.

“I recall the rugby airlifts when we would carry the Welsh rugby team and supporters to matches in Scotland, Ireland and Paris. Some of the supporters would pinch the air hostesses’ bottoms. I’ve never seen so many dented tin trays which the hostesses used to hit the supporters over the head!”

Despite fond memories by former staff, however, the airline did see one incident which those involved would probably rather forget. In June 1964 Patricia Laing and her family were among the passengers cruising at 28,000ft from Rhoose Airport to Majorca when the excited sunseekers realised one of the propellers on the Cambrian Airways flight had developed a fault. You can read more about what happened here.

Moments later there was a blast as the propeller came loose and ripped through the cabin, tearing through one of the aircraft’s toilets, and forcing the pilot to send the plane into a chilling 20,000ft nosedive.

The scene at Liverpool Airport in 1968, with two Cambrian Airways Vickers Viscounts and the wingtip of a Boeing 707 visible
Cardiff beating Sheffield United 3-1 in Division Two in September 1958 with advertising on the roof of the Canton Stand - ‘Fly Cambrian Airways'
Airline stewardesses use model aircraft to show off the new red, white and blue livery of British Airways. .Sandra Siddall of Cardiff (Cambrian Airways), Barbara Tweddle of Newcastle (NorthEast Airlines) and Jennie English of the Isle of Bute (BEA Scottish).

Speaking in 2014, Patricia said: “I looked out the window and saw that the propeller nearest to us had stopped.

“No one was particularly distressed over it - in fact we were all having a sing-song to Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer, a song from World War Two - when there was a tremendous explosion and the propellor tore through the side of the plane, through the toilet cubicle next to where we were sat and stopped outside the opposite toilet cubicle the other side of the plane.

“The pilot then took the plane into a nosedive which, from what I later learned, was from 28,000ft to 10,000ft to prevent any irreparable ear damage.”

Thankfully the plane landed safely on the Spanish runway which was lined with water cannons.

In 1972 Cambrian Airways was incorporated into the new British Air Services group and gradually lost its independence. Three years later it operated only in the standard British Airways colours and by 1976 it had been wholly swallowed into British Airways and ceased to exist.

But it is not the only Welsh airline in recent history. Other airlines to carry the Red Dragon on its tail include Airways International Cymru, which left passengers stranded all over Europe when it suddenly stopped trading in 1988, four years after it was founded, and Air Wales, which ran from 2000 to 2006.

At the time, seven Air Wales stewardesses made the grade at the airline, run by Roy Thomas, after they answered a job advert from Air Wales asking for applicants under 5ft 3in to fill positions as stewardesses on their low headroom, 19-seat planes.

Speaking at the time in March 2001, newly-qualified Air Wales stewardess Shan Thomas said: "I'm over the moon at being presented with my wings today.

"I can't wait to take my first flight as a fully qualified air stewardess. It's a dream come true and it's even more amazing that it's for a Welsh airline flying from Swansea.''

Another of the new stewardesses was Tracy Williams, from Port Talbot.

Cabin crew manager Jane Clarke said: "I'm extremely proud of all the ladies who passed their training today with flying colours.''

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