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Exhibition details for 43520 - Early aviators and their flying machines
Early aviators and their flying machines
Uploaded by Clare Padgett
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Early aviators and their flying machines
The early days of flight had many intrepid characters and designs of flying machines. The Wright brothers of the USA and Louis Bleriot of France are well known but there are many others who dedicated time and money to achieving the seemingly impossible.

In the early 1900s as new aircraft were developed, Air Races with considerable cash prizes were sponsored by newspapers in the UK and also in the United States. The Daily Mail newspaper was a leading sponsor of air races, using the events to both promote the newspaper and to encourage the development of aviation.

A model aeroplane competition took place at Alexandra Palace in London in 1907 where Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe won all three prizes on offer. Just two years later, Louis Bleriot became world-famous for making the first flight across the English Channel and claimed the £1000 prize money offered by the Daily Mail.

The stakes were much higher in 1911 when a frenchman flying under the name of André Beaumont won the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race starting and finishing at Brooklands in Surrey and touching down in Edinburgh en route. His prize money was £10,000, the equivalent of over £1 million today.

Another race, The King's Cup Air Race first took place in 1922 and remains an annual event. This cross-country flying event over the British Isles was established by King George V as an incentive to the development of aircraft and engine design.

Commercial flying developed from the mid-1920s onwards. In 1924, Imperial Airways was formed from a combination of several small struggling companies subsidised by the government to develop Britain's external air routes. Passenger numbers grew from 10,300 in 1925 to 62,100 in 1938.

Aeroplanes have even been manufactured on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Local cycle maker John Gibson described himself from 1910 to 1913 as an aeroplane designer and builder. He built a biplane which was followed by two further improved versions. The second had a production run of 10 and the third version had twin propellers. His advert from c1911 offers a complete biplane for the bargain price of £450 pounds - that's about £50,000 in today's money.

When World War One ended many ex-military pilots wanted to continue flying and to use it as a source of income. They purchased used aircraft at cheap prices and charged members of the public for short flights, gave flying lessons or provided chartered flights. Some pilots used their flying expertise to develop daredevil flying shows. These thrilling flying circus shows became known as barnstorming because many events were held on farms or near barns.

As the popularity of barnstorming grew so did the daring of the flyers. In 1918 an American called Ormer Locklear started to climb out of the cockpit to walk along the wing and even to step from one plane to the other. Although this was extremely dangerous audiences began to expect that a Flying Circus would have such a stunt. In 1938 the American authorities made it mandatory for the stuntmen to wear parachutes at all times. This diminished the daredevil antics and hastened the end of the shows.