When Alan Cobham brought his Circus to town, it was not the usual spectacle of clowns, circus creatures and contortionists. His Circus was a group of dare-devil pilots & parachutists who arrived with around ten propeller driven aircraft. The Circus set up camp at the grandly titled Blandford Aerodrome, located just north of the town’s cemetery. As the Western Gazette reported in July 1934:
‘Blandford was entertained to some thrilling flying when Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Display visited the town for the first time.’
Among the attractions were 25 year-old ‘glamorous glider girl’, Joan Meakin and ‘Britain’s finest aerobatic pilot’, Geoffrey Tyson. She was the first female pilot to cross the English Channel in a glider which she reckoned was ‘safer than playing hockey.’ Joan was towed by an aircraft to 1,500 ft. and released and would then ‘loop the loop’ in her glider. She was to marry the Circus Assistant General Manager, Ronald Price who also had the precarious part-time role of in-flight aircraft wing-walker. Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Tyson had celebrated Bleriot’s first flight across the English Channel by spectacularly making the same flight upside down! Tyson would loop through a hoop erected on the field and pick up a handkerchief with a wire on his wing tip. He would also demonstrate a deadly aim with bombs containing flour being dropped on a target. As the Flying Circus travelled around Britain, some visits were not without incident. A stunt pilot got his legs tangled up with the aircraft controls crashed and died. While a Cobham Circus parachutist was killed when his parachute failed to open. Neither incident occurred at Blandford. With afternoon and evening displays at Blandford Aerodrome, a large attendance was attracted. Entry cost one shilling & three pence (6p) and free flights were offered as competition prizes. Free flights were offered to local dignitaries while a flight could also be purchased for four shillings (20p).
With his slogan, ‘Make the Skyways, Britain’s Highway’, Alan Cobham’s aim was to promote aviation to the British public. He toured the country with his Flying Circus and inspired many a young boy and girl to join the Royal Air Force upon the outbreak of war in 1939. In three years of its existence, Alan Cobham Flying Circus carried 750,000 in joy rides and attracted around three million spectators. Sir Alan Cobham KBE AFC was also a former World War One Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force pilot and long distance flying pioneer. He was later to pioneer the development of in-flight aircraft refuelling through his company, Flight Refuelling. Alan Cobham died in Bournemouth in October 1973.
(Illustration: Alan Cobham )