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.
Crowd scene from a flying circus air show, c1935
These thrilling flying circus shows became known as barnstorming because many events were held on farms or near barns.
Flying circus biplanes in formation, c1935
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 it became an expectation that a Flying Circus would have such an stunt. In 1938 the American authorities made it mandatory to wear parachutes at all times. This diminished the daredevil antics and hastened the end of these shows.
A wing-walker in mid-flight at a flying circus
In the earliest days of flight when most aircraft had open cockpits, these intrepid pilots needed protection from exposure to the cold, noise, heat and air pressure. At first, aircraft were flying at slower speeds than motorists and the clothing worn was similar, perhaps a tweed jacket and trousers, hat and goggles.
Louis Paulhan and Claude Grahame-White, c1912
Leading stores like Gamages or Burberry’s soon recognised a new growing market and introduced flying combination suits, fleece lined boots, rainproof gauntlets, leather coats and special goggles. Further developments produced a new range of flying shockproof helmets.
Early aviator, Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, 1911
In 1916 Sidney Cotton, a Royal Naval Air Service pilot made an accidental discovery when having been scrambled for action in his working overalls. He found that the oil and grease which had soaked into the material kept him warm when his fellow pilots were suffering from the cold. He took his idea to Robinson and Cleaver in London and got them to make him a flying suit to his new design. It had 3 layers, a thin fur lining, an airproof silk layer and an outside light Burberry material layer. And so, the Sidcot flying suit came into general operational use.
Pilot beside Avro 504 plane, c1935
See more fantastic images from our Early aviators and their flying machines exhibition on Capital Collections.
Catch up with the other blog posts in this short series on early flight:
Early aviators and their flying machines
Chocks away! Edinburgh from the air