THIS IS FINDON VILLAGE these Findon Chronicles were created by Valerie Martin and contain scenes from her home village of Findon,
West Sussex, U.K.    Everyday stories about real people.

FLYING OVER FINDON

Copyright Valerie Martin 2002

Published in the Findon Valley and Village Directory dated January 2008.

In 1930s Sir Alan Cobham brought his Flying Circus to The Wicks in Findon (off Long Furlong A280  immediately on the right heading west after leaving the roundabout on the A24).   He may have made more than one visit over the years but of that I cannot be certain.

Oliver Clark has given me the date of 1938 that he thinks is correct for the Flying Circus giving its display when his brother, Arthur, had such a trip.    He has related ....."My brother Arthur who suffered very badly from asthma was given a flight for about 5 bob, when he came down from the flight his asthma had gone ,at least for a while".

The display of thrilling flying went on for two days for the enjoyment of the crowds and bringing exhilaration and drama to the village.  These were the innocent days of open cockpits with the wind screaming past fragile wings; of dangerous landings on mud or grass where no plane had been before.

The Wicks field was used as an airstrip and the displays were given by two aircraft, giving twenty minute trips for 2/6 in an open cockpit and accommodating two persons.   Aircraft were still very much a novelty in those days.

 

2nd November 2007

Please see a pic from Alan Cobhams flying circus?  

Church Hill on the left and the start of Clapham woods on the top right.   Picture was taken on Long Furlong.

John Stepney, Findon Village, West Sussex.

 

The question is.... are you one of those lads who went to look at the aircraft when it was on the ground along the Long Furlong (A280) road?  

I wondered if anyone would write in and tell me what type of plane was depicted and they did.......  

FROM PETER TROUNCE..... ...."Hello Valerie,  The Aircraft is an Avro 504N, made in the 1920's for the RAF as a trainer.   You can see several RAF men with caps in the crowd.

I don't know if Alan Cobham ever had them in his flying circus. He certainly had 3 of the later Avro Cadets.

I attach a photo of a 504N.    Cheers, Peter.Toronto.

TONY PRATT EMAILED..."Dear Valerie, You may already have plenty of idents for the plane shown in the old photo on Long Furlong, my research suggests it is an Avro 504N which was a development of the WW1 trainer with a Lynx IVC engine. The definitive features are the engine shape and two curved structures attached to the upper mainplanes above the fuselage - these are not present on other marks of the 504.

If you search on the web for "Avro 504N" you will find a site "British Aircraft of World War 11" which has the best photo showing these features found so far".

GERALD WHITE EMAILED...."Hello Valerie.... Flying over Findon (the AVRO 504)......At Shoreham Airport, Cecil Pashley, the Veteran flying instructor owned, and flew an Avro K 504, in the 1920s .   It was registered as GTEAU . I have a photo of it, a banner along the fuselage states, Flying display 29 july 1929, at Shoreham.

The Avro in your picture has no Registration number, and with the presence of uniformed Airmen tends to suggests it is a Royal Air Force aircraft, Group Capt E J Rowe AFC, now deceased told me that, when learning Ab Inito flying, the Aeroplane was a Avro 504 .  The Flying school based at Andover regularly flew a navigation route , from Andover to Shoreham and return, although, the Avro was reliable for its time. occasionally landed in fields on route , to practise forced landing exercises.

The AVRO 504 may have been taking part in such an exercise. Groupie Rowe, who served 36 years did his flying training in 1922. Gerald White."

The modern globetrotter who checks in at the departure lounge to be flown from one part of the world to another, probably never gives a thought to how extraordinary the idea of air travel was originally. One man played a greater part than any other in convincing world opinion that flying could and in all probability would become the accepted means of travelling.  The name of this aeronautical daredevil was Alan Cobham.

Born on 6th May 1894 the young Alan John Cobham began his working life with clothing wholesalers in the City of London.  Following a brief exposure to agricultural work he joined the Army's Veterinary Corps at the outbreak of the First World War.

As the war progressed, Alan began to recognise the importance of mechanical transport and in 1917, (by then a Staff Sergeant), he secured a transfer to the Royal Air Force.  On 1st January 1919, he found he was a civilian once more.

Determined to secure a post-war career in aviation, he joined the British Aerial Transport Company.  It was a promising start flying over a war-torn England, but was, however, short-lived, and very soon afterwards he helped form the Berkshire Aviation Company.  During the latter half of 1919 and the early months of 1920, he toured Great Britain giving joy-rides in a war surplus Avro 504K.  A deteriorating financial situation put an end to it all.

You cannot keep a good man down and Alan rapidly gained valuable experience as an aerial photographic pilot.  Following this and, fortunately for him, on 1st January 1921, Geoffrey de Havilland who, throughout the war years had been Airco's Chief Designer, engaged him as the first pilot for his newly formed de Havilland Aeroplane Hire Service.

In support of his new company's proud claim to 'Fly Anyone - Anywhere', Alan was rarely found out of the cockpit of his aircraft. He was endowed with not only charm and luck but also great energy and enthusiasm.  Routine photographic work was supplemented by air taxi and charter flying which included long distance journeys throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Within a year, he was de Havilland's senior pilot.  His duties also embraced the test flying of new aircraft and entering them in performance competitions.

One of these was the D.H.50 in which, flying the prototype G-EBFN, he won the 1924 King's Cup Air Race at an average speed of 107mph, for this achievement he claimed the Royal Aero Club's Gold Medal and, for the second year running, the prized Britannia Trophy.

1924 was a momentous year.  As well as establishing himself alongside other famous racing aviators of the era, Alan was picked to accompany the Director of Civil Aviation Sir Sefton Brancker to India and Burma.  The purpose was to determine the viability of setting up airship routes.  Upon returning home, Brancker had been convinced and expressed his opinion that it would be the aeroplane and not the airship that would conquer the sky in the future.

Also in 1924 Alan commanded one of the new experimental flying boats around the entire perimeter of the African Continent.   This was back in the days of the Imperial British Raj and he completed the whole journey by only landing in British Colonies lying on the coasts of Africa.  This trip altered history and proved that air travel was firmly on the way.

Knighted in 1926, Sir Alan Cobham (by now confident of his own resourcefulness), he branched out on his own.  Leaving de Havilland in May 1927, he founded Alan Cobham Aviation Limited with offices in  New Bond Street in London, which he shared with Malcolm Campbell (the racing car designer and driver).

By 1932, Sir Alan's enthusiasm had turned towards providing his own touring air show.  Although formally registered as National Aviation Day (later Display) Limited, his travelling fleet of aircraft and airborne performers was more popularly referred to as 'Cobham's Flying Circus'.  Spectacular aerobatic pilots, wing-walkers, parachutists and novelty turns excited the crowds the length and breadth of the country, and also, during the winter of 1932/33, at locations throughout South Africa.

This is how Sir Alan's Flying Circus came to be in the sky over Findon.  Passengers could enjoy having a joy ride above the clouds and loop the loop over the village!  No flying restrictions in 1933.  Those were the days.  Part crusader, part showman, Sir Alan helped popularise flying by taking many of the Findon villagers on their first fight.

August 1933 Sir Alan piloting a twin-engine airliner in the lead of a formation of his flying circus as he flew over our skies.   On this occasion he landed in the grounds of Goring Hall (now Goring Hall Hospital) to give the locals joy flights for a few shillings a go.

 

The air ace stayed at Shoreham Airport with his flying circus of stunt pilots.   He flew his 22-seat Astro airliner over to Worthing where, in his usual spectacular style, he landed it in front of the large crowd at the now Goring Hall Hospital grounds.    Once landed, he promptly offered to take bystanders on joy flights and, even more surprisingly, many of them accepted his invitation that day.

Peter Trounce who originated from nearby Worthing e-mailed me to say.....

 

30th November, 2003.

Dear Valerie,

Sir Alan Cobham and his "Flying Circus" used to come regularly to Shoreham Airport in the 1930's.

I, along with my father and my brother, had my first flight in one of his three Airspeed Ferries, which were designed by (the later author) Nevil Shute, as mentioned in Shute's book "Slide Rule".

There were I think 6 seats, or rather canvas chairs, in the biplane, which is the middle picture on your page "Flying Over Findon". The Circus that time flew from a field near Parham Park.

The plane had 3 engines, one on top of the upper wing. It was made from wood
and fabric. The vibration was enormous, your voice came out all wobbly.

The Air Circus was a revelation to me, aged about 12.  Stunting, a parachute
drop, clowns driving about the field in a Model-T being bombed with flour
bags by a man leaning over the side of a biplane cockpit, Flight-Lieutenant
Tyson stunting in a purple Gloster "Gamecock" and what I now know was a very
dangerous stunt, picking up a hankerchief on the ground with a wire on the
wingtip.  I still have a programme somewhere.

Sir Alan Cobham later ran "Flight Refuelling Ltd." in Gloucestershire which
resulted in all the later military inflight refuelling.
Cheers,
Peter Trounce.

Peter Trounce, Toronto, Canada.
 

Sir Alan Cobham's flying circus also staged a thrilling show over Sea Lane in nearby Ferring in 1935.   The attractions included it is reputed a pilot flying upside down and 20 ft. above the ground.    Also an aerial bombardment of "policemen" with bags of flour.

The nearby Ford Airfield was also taken over for joy rides and as Sir Alan's Cobham's headquarters.

 

 

10th March 2006

Hi Valerie,

Sir Alan Cobham

I'm attaching the Programme front page from Alan Cobham's Air Display of the
1930's.


The programme has 36 pages of description, photos and adverts.

Not bad for sixpence !!
Cheers,
Peter Trounce.


Peter Trounce, Toronto, Canada.

 

 

After retiring to the British Virgin Islands, Sir Alan returned to England and died on 21st October 1973.

Continue if you would like to read about Chrissie the milkman's horse in Did Chrissie Get As Far As Findon Village?

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