What was an air race in 1909 like?
When you think of air racing, you probably think of
brightly painted planes with screaming engines, flying
wingtip to wingtip, steeply banked around high-G turns.
Things were different in 1909:
Rules and regulations
- Most planes weren't painted, but showed the
colours of the fabric, wood and metal from which they
- The engines didn't scream. Few of the
fifty-or-so horsepower engines turned much more than
- Flying close to other planes was avoided. The
planes were lightly loaded, not very stable or
controllable, and sensitive to wash. In many cases the
race rules prescribed that each plane should have the
course to itself.
- At speeds of 60 or 70 km/h nobody needed to pull
many Gs around the turns, so there was no need for
steep banking. This was probably just as well, given
that some planes didn't even have lateral
Below you will find the regulations of the 1909 Blackpool
Aviation Week, which are quite typical of the era:
- - -
With the exception of events No. 5 and 6,
all the events are open to competitors of any
nationality, and may be competed for by any competitor
duly qualified under the rules of the F.A.I.
The various events on the programme are
open to all types of machines heavier than air. Any
machine, without distinction of power, form, method of
starting or of propulsion, is admitted under these
Only one prize in any given event can be
won by a competitor, and in the event of there being only
one competitor the second and third prizes will be merged
in the general prize fund.
No machine taking part in any of the
events of this programme may be removed from the ground
before the last day of the meeting, except by special
permission of the Sports Committee.
All machines must display the number
allotted to them by the Sports Committee, and this
number, in figures not less than 2 ft. in height, will be
affixed in the manner indicated to the competitor by the
Clerks of the Course.
The sheds for the housing of the machines
will be provided free of all cost to the competitors by
the Sports Committee, but the Organisers will not
recognise any responsibility which such concession may
entail. Competitors are responsible for the proper
guarding of the sheds allotted to them, as also for any
damage caused to their machines by themselves or their
servants, or third party. Their special attention is
drawn to the danger of damage by fire, storm, tempest,
No event may be competed for except during
such hours as the Red Flag may be flying from the
official signal mast, and permission must in all cases be
first obtained from the Clerks of the Course before
starting for any of the events in the programme.
No competitor will be allowed to start in
any of the events until permission shall have been given
him by a Clerk of the Course, whose duty it shall be to
see that the official Timekeepers are duly advised of
All distances and all times will be
reckoned from the moment the competitor crosses the
starting line in flight, and it shall be the duty of the
Clerks of the Course to at once put up a signal should
such start not be adjudged a valid one.
The course is marked out by five Mark
Towers, and all competitors must pass outside such towers
when taking part in any of the events of this programme.
For purposes of recording the distances traversed in any
event, such distance shall be reckoned from the last mark
tower passed, in the proper way (i.e., on the outside) by
the competitors, and in all events where speed is the
deciding factor the time shall only be reckoned from the
passing of the starting and finishing line in flight, at
least one complete circuit of the course being thus
necessary, and only completed circuits being reckoned in
all speed contests.
Any competitor touching any part of the
mark tower in the course of any event shall not be held
to have passed same, and must return and pass same in the
proper manner, failing which his flight shall be held to
have ended at the last mark tower properly circled.
In all events machines must travel in the
same direction as the hands of the clock, except under
special permission of the Clerks of the Course given to
the competitor in writing or recorded in the record book
kept in the Timekeeper's lodge.
A record book will be kept in the
Timekeeper's lodge under the care of the Clerk of the
Course specially designated for this purpose, and is
shall be the duty of such official to record therein
every properly made start by any competitor for any event
of this programme throughout the week.
The Clerks of the Course are empowered to
affix to any machine taking part in any of the events of
the programme any device they may deem advisable for the
purpose of recording if the machine to which such device
shall have been affixed shall have touched the ground in
its journey round the course.
The official flying hours are from 10
a.m. to sunset, and events may be competed for (subject
to Rule 7) at any time within these limits; provided
however that no competitor starts in any event after 4.30
p.m.; it shall be within the discretion of the stewards
of the meeting to prolong these hours, but all flights
shall be held to be officially concluded at the hour of
sunset as recorded by the Greenwich Observatory.
The Organisers decline all responsibility
for any accident which may occur, owing to third party or
otherwise, to any competitor, to his machine or to his
passengers, or for any accident or damage which' such
competitor, or his machine, passengers, or servants may
cause to third party.
The responsibility for the proper conduct
of the meeting, as also for the carrying out of these
rules, is vested in the Clerks of the Course, to whom all
protests or complaints must in the first instance be
All competitors by the fact of starting
for any of the events of this programme shall be held to
have made themselves acquainted with these rules and
regulations, as also those governing the various events
of the meeting, and to thereby undertake to abide by the
PROGRAMME AND PRIZES
Grand Prize of Blackpool for Long Distance
(First prize, £2,000. Second prize, £720. Third prize,
The above prizes will be awarded, in order, to the
competitors who shall have completed the greatest number
of circuits without touching the ground. This contest is
subject to the following rules:
The order of starting shall be by lot, any
competitor not starting within fifteen minutes of the
time appointed shall lose his turn, and shall then only
be allowed to start after all the other competitors have
been sent off.
This prize may be competed for on the
following days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,
October 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st, 1909, and within the
hours appointed by the Clerks of the Course.
It shall be an obligation on all
competitors taking part in this event to cross the
starting line in flight once at least on each of the
above-mentioned days during flying hours, notwithstanding
their previous performances; any competitor failing to
comply with this condition will be ipso facto
disqualified. It shall, nevertheless, be within the power
of the Clerks of the Course to waive this condition
should the competitor's machine have met with a
mishap in transit or whilst taking part in any event of
the meeting, which, in their opinion, shall render
compliance with this condition impossible.
Every aviator shall give full particulars
of the machine he is using, and notify any material
changes thereto, as also the nature of such changes.
Prize for Greatest Altitude
(First, Daily Mail prize, £600. Second prize, £240. Third
The above prizes will be awarded in order to the
competitors who shall attain the greatest height on their
machines; no prize will be awarded unless the minimum
height of 200 ft. be attained. This prize may be competed
for on the following days: Tuesday, Thursday, and
Saturday, October 19th, 21st, and 23rd, 1909.
Prize for Carrying Passengers
(First prize, £400. Second prize, £100.) These prizes
will be awarded, in their order, to the competitors
carrying the greatest weight on their machines over one
complete circuit of the course. For purposes of this
competition the weight of the pilot and his passenger or
passengers will be added together, and the prizes awarded
in relation to the greatest total weight carried. In the
event of an equal weight being carried by two
competitors, the prize will be awarded to the competitor
completing the course in the shortest time. It is a
condition of this competition that at least one passenger
of not less than 18 years of age be carried; competitors
are at liberty, however, to add any additional amount of
weight they may desire in the form of dead weight, such
dead weight to be reckoned in the total amount carried.
This prize may be competed for on Friday and Saturday,
October 22nd and 23rd, 1909.
The "Daily Sketch" Prize for Speed
Presented by Messrs. E. Hulton and Co., Ltd.
(First Prize, £400. Second Prize, £100.)
These prizes will be awarded, in their order, to the
competitors completing three circuits of the course in
the shortest time. This prize may be competed for on the
following days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday, October 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd,
The " Ashley" Competition for British
(First Prize, £250. Second prize, £150. Third prize,
To be competed for on any type of machine (British or
otherwise) to be piloted by a British subject, who shall
never have won a race in open competition up to the date
of this meeting ; to be adjudged to the competitor who
shall cover the longest distance without touching the
ground. No prize shall be given unless a distance of at
least 250 yds. in flight be covered by the competitor.
This prize may be competed for on Wednesday, Friday, and
Saturday, October 2Oth, 22nd, and 23rd, 1909.
The "All-British" Prize
Given by the Blackpool Tower Co.
(1st prize, £150. 2nd prize, £100.)
For British aviators piloting an all-British machine,
i.e., designed and built in the United Kingdom, and with
a British motor; to be adjudged to the competitor who
shall cover the longest distance without touching the
ground. No prize shall be given unless a distance of at
least 100 yards in flight be covered by the competitor.
In the event of any question arising in respect of the
definition of an all-British machine the question shall
be referred to the Committee of the Aero Club of the
United Kingdom, whose decision in the matter shall be
binding and without appeal. This prize may be competed
for on Friday and Saturday, October 22nd and 23rd,
Prize for General Merit
(1st prize, £300. 2nd prize, £150. 3rd prize, £50.)
The sum of £500 (in three prizes) will be awarded on the
conclusion of the meeting to the competitors who, in the
opinion of the judges of the meeting, shall have
performed the most meritoriously during the meeting.
The Prize for Competitors' Assistants
The sum of £50 will be awarded, on the conclusion of the
meeting, for distribution among the assistants of the
competitor who shall (in competition or otherwise) have
completed the greatest number of circuits of the course
during the meeting. The circuits covered by competitors
in the course of the Long Distance Race shall not be
reckoned in connection with this prize.
Prize for the Slowest Circuit
A cup, value £100, presented by the Manchester Guardian,
and £100 added money, will be awarded to the competitor
who shall, in competition or otherwise (but under notice
to the Clerks of the Course), have covered one continuous
circuit of the course in the slowest time. This prize may
be competed for on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday, October 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st,
22nd, and 23rd, 1909.