I recently came across the official programmes for Blackpool Aviation Week 1909 and 1910. The covers were beautiful and the amazing photographs inside reminded me of a cross between crazy birdman events and the red bull air races. Yet despite their dramatic appearance these events were both serious and important in UK aviation history.
The 1909 Blackpool Aviation Week, suggested by Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Daily Mail and taken up by Blackpool Corporation, was the first public and ‘official’ air display in the UK. Doncaster had hoped to run a show concurrently but the ‘scarcity of prominent aviators’, like the fine gentlemen below, led to the Aero Club (now Royal Aero club) withdrawing its approval for the rival event. Blackpool’s show, following the rules of the Federation Aeronautical Internationale and being the sole event verified was now the place to be.
The show was by all accounts a massive success, with over 200,000 paying spectators welcomed. Organisers rushed the grounds ready and booked out whole hotels to put up competing teams. Prizes were funded by the Daily Mail and numerous local companies, and were issued to pilots of monoplanes, bi-planes and tri-planes for achievements in long distance, altitude, carrying of passengers, speed and slowness. A signalling system was worked out for achievements but also for messages such as ‘bad start’, ‘record beaten’ or ‘machine has fallen, aviator unhurt’ nothing for ‘aviator hurt’ I noticed.
Amongst the competitors was one of the biggest names in aviation at the time. Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe, a Manchester man who claimed to be the first Englishman to make a powered flight (June 1908) attended. Though his attempt to be first to fly the course was scuppered by his machine failing to leave the ground and instead this glory was snatched up by Frenchman Henri Farman. Other competitors included M.M. Rougier, Dufour, Defiers, Baratoux and more. Click here for some great pictures of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe at the aviation week.
A second carnival was held in 1910. Rules were tightened: passing on the inside was not allowed, nor interfering with others flight courses, a great development I would have thought. Pilot’s certificates were also required by all competitors this time! Obviously not a system firmly in place at this time, especially if amateur aviators were only learning to fly when they bought their first plane as the advert below suggests.
In 1911 the competitions ended for the site had become a race course. During the 1st World War it housed a convalescence home for soldiers. Yet in 1919 it’s aviation history caught up with it as A.V. Roe’s company began to fly from it again and in 1927 the site was recommended for the Blackpool Municipal Aerodrome. It has since become Blackpool International. The annual air shows held there now are certainly smoother, as display teams such as the Red Arrows do their thing. Still, I don’t believe that our modern shows can detract from past events, which though appearing shambolic, were in a way even more spectacular for their technological achievements of the time.
For movies of the 1909 show try the British Pathe.
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