Air travel to the Cayman Islands only began 60 years ago.
In 1955, Americans were beginning to rally for civil rights, Disneyland debuted to the public and audiences flocked to theatres to see Rebel Without a Cause and Lady and the Tramp. Meanwhile, in Cayman, the launch of Cayman Brac Airways would have an equally momentous impact on the Islands. In the 1940s and early 1950s, air travel to the Cayman Islands took place in planes called PBY Catalinas, otherwise known as “American Flying Boats.” Used primarily during World War II, the PB in the name stood for “Patrol Bomber,” and the planes landed directly on the water.
In 1954, however, the residents of Cayman Brac took matters into their own hands. A group of volunteers built a 1,200-foot airstrip, using picks and shovels to clear the land. With the help of British grants, the airstrip was paved and extended to 2,700 feet, finally completed in 1955.
That same year, Cayman Brac Airways, a subsidiary of Costa Rican flag carrier LACSA, connected Cayman’s Sister Islands to Grand Cayman. On its maiden voyage, passengers travelled between Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman via a Cessna T50, a cosy aircraft carrying just four travellers at a time. The upgrade from water landings and military-style craft earned the plane an affectionate nickname: the “Bamboo Bomber.”
It may sound quaint today, but that flight marked the beginning of locally operated convenient and reliable flight access between Cayman and the rest of the world — and helped transform its sleepy Islands into the destination it is today.