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Keith Draper: MEMORIES; Reaching for the skies.

WHEN veterans of the air take to the skies tomorrow they will be following in the path of aviators of old who dared push their machines to the very limits.

They entertained the thousands with their aerobatics, wing walking, pylon races, parachuting, and smoky art of sky writing.

Alan Cobham, one of the all-time heroes of the air, brought his Flying Circus to Whitley Aerodrome in the early 1930s. Crowds piled in to watch the risky swoops and dives taken by his pilots, the low-level inverted flying, flour bombing flight engineers dressed as clowns as they cavorted around the field, and AJ himself performing his favourite stunt - shaving the grass at 60mph in a Tiger Moth to pluck a handkerchief from the ground with a spiked wing tip!

In the aftermath of Cobham the very first Coventry Air Pageant took place one cloudless May day in 1932. Its organiser, the Coventry Aero Club had every reason to be satisfied with its first venture, and helped by a crowd of 10,000, a small profit was made for funds.

What an event it was as the first of 50 competing machines started to arrive at Whitley Aerodrome. There was a prize for the competitor travelling the farthest, trials for reliability and landing, and fun for all in the target bombing.

Sheer amazement best described reactions to the crazy flying by Italian, Signor Brie in his Autogyro. Demonstrating its unique hovering powers he amused a spellbound crowd.

Perhaps the most thrilling spectacle of the day was the aerial battle staged by two well-respected Coventry test pilots. Campbell Orde took to the air in a single-seater AW16, and Flight-Lieutenant D.S.Green in a two-seater Atlas. With such speed and climbing capability they proved what formidable fighting machines we made in the city.

No pageant would be complete without a day of joy riding, and queues were long right up until dusk. Short flights cost five shillings (25p), extended trips around the city 10 shillings (50p) and 25 minute rides were a guinea (pounds 1.05). How the crowd responded to it all.

National air races first came to Coventry after the last war, although the Siddeley Challenge Trophy given to the Royal Aero Club by Lord Kenilworth, had first been contested in 1928.

The story of these remarkable air races can be followed through the archives of the Midland Air Museum. Barry James, chairman of the museum recalls how they started.

"Early on, the Royal Aero Club said that the trophy should be competed for during the King's Cup Air Race, the winner being the first club member past the winning post," said Barry.

"With the outbreak of war all air racing stopped, and when they restarted they were held at Lympne airfield in Kent.

"National Air Races came to Elmdon in 1949, and the following year Baginton hosted the event for the first time with 10 clubs competing for the Siddeley Challenge Trophy. The King's Cup Air Race moved here in 1954 and stayed well into the 60s.

"It was a very important local event, not just an air show but part of a prestigious series of national races. Competitors were handicapped because all sorts of planes took part - Miles Geminis, Tiger Moths, Austers, even small handbuilt jets.

"The course consisted of four laps of 17 miles, first of all flying south past Bubbenhall to Hunningham Turn, then five miles west to Church Lawford, north for three miles to Brandon, and back to Baginton."

They were spectacular races with competitors racing along at 100mph or so, banking hard as they rounded the distinctive Dunlop pylon on the airfield. Crowds seated in vast enclosures nearby would scan the skies for sight of their favourite fliers and machines.

"One local character was Percy Blamire, a Coventry garage proprietor and farmer, who lost a leg whilst motorcycle racing," recalled Barry.

"He entered the world of air racing in 1954 having learned to fly at the old Whitley Aerodrome.

"Percy never achieved a first placing, unlike His Majesty Prince Philip, whose plane, a Durine Turbelent single-seater, won in the trophy in 1960 with Squadron Leader Molt Severna at the controls.

"Another noteworthy visitor was Sheila Scott, who had gained her pilot's licence in 1959 and came to Baginton for the National Air Races in 1963."

The Gaydon Air Show organised by the Royal Air Forces Association moved to Baginton in 1976 and that first year put on a display to remember. More than 30,000 spectators were treated to a six-hour flying programme with a nostalgic glimpse of Second World War planes - a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster, from the Battle of Britain Flight, RAF Coningsay. In contrast to the old timers there were examples of modern war planes - the US Air Force F111swingwing fighter bomber and Dutch Air Force starfighter which flexed its wings for the crowds.

To round off the spectacular show, pilot, Jack Spiller and his wife Ann were presented with the King's Cup by guest celebrity Sir Douglas Bader.

Ten years later after several hiccups the skies above Baginton were once again alive with a series of aerial displays. It was the 50th anniversary of the airfield and locally-based Air Atlantique was promoting a Whitsunday event spectacular.

Top of the bill were the Red Arrows, nine RAF Hawk trainer jets, arguably the finest formation and stunt flying team in the world. Supporting attractions included the Marlborough Aerobatic team, Confederate Air Force and a vintage plane, the Gloster Meteor, hundreds of which had been built at AWA Baginton and flown from the airfield 40 years before.

Dramatic flying display is expected to attract hundreds

THERE is less than 24 hours to go to the start of the first air show at Coventry airport in more than a decade.

Hundreds of tickets have been sold for the flying display - organised by Air Atlantique to mark its 30th anniversary.

Dozens of aircraft that flew in the 1950s, including airliners, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, are set to land at Baginton for the "RAF at Home" themed day. It is the first air show at Coventry Airport since 1988, when a Meteor crashed, killing the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Peter Stacey.

Air Atlantique will showoff its fleet of vintage aircraft at the event and will be displaying one of its fleet of Lockheed Electras, as well as DC6s and Dakotas.

Visitors can take pleasure flights and will also get a chance to see Europe's only professional wingwalking team - the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers.

Former British gymnastic champion Juliette Pendleton is a member of the 1920s style "wing-walkers."

She is due to fly in over Coventry Airport at precisely 4.34pm and if anyone had told Juliette eight years ago that she'd be making her living hanging upside down on a Boeing Stearman bi-plane, she would have said they were bonkers.

"Now I just wait for the pilot's tap on my shoulder, climb out onto the wing and strap myself into the harness - it's quite safe really," she said.

In May Juliette was among 1,000 applicants for the wing-walking job with Cirencester-based AeroSuperBatics.

Now the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers are a major feature of airshows all over the country.

Pilots Mike Dentith and Vic Norman will be doing their fifth display of the day when they bring Juliette and fellow wing-walker Sara Mozayeni to Coventry tomorrow.

But while Sara, aged 28, has the comfort of being a fully-qualified flying instructor, Juliette has only her years of training in the British Gymnastic squad to fall back on. One of the most breath-taking parts of their act is when the two women try to touch hands during a "mirror" formation where one aircraft hangs inverted while the second moves in underneath.

Gates open at 10.30am and the air display will start at 2pm. Tickets cost pounds 10 for adults and pounds 5 for pensioners. Entry is free for disabled people and children aged up to 12, accompanied by an adult. Parking will be available on fields off Rowley Road and a shuttle bus will run from Broadgate via Coventry station at pounds 1 a head. Phone 01203 500396/500494/ 500561 to book.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Draper, Keith
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Aug 14, 1999
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