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During the summer term of 2022, three Blackpool schools took part in a pilot project as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days festival. Students from St Cuthbert’s Catholic Academy, Revoe Learning Academy and Baines’ Endowed Primary School created their own air show displays.

These displays were the result of a workshop we delivered in their schools.

The workshop was based around Blackpool’s aviation history and followed the 2022 Heritage Open Days theme ‘Astounding Inventions’, celebrating England’s diverse inventions, industry and innovation.

Two children in school uniforms doing craft activities at a table
Children from Revoe Learning Academy enjoying an interactive craft session

Blackpool Aviation History

In October 1909, Blackpool hosted Britain’s first official air show. This began a tradition of the Blackpool air show, which is still celebrated today.

Blackpool had witnessed flight before 1909, but only by what are described as 'lighter than air' aircraft such as balloons and airships. One such spectacle took place in October 1902, when aviator Stanley Spencer tested his airship in Blackpool.

Just over a year after Spencer's success, the Wright Brothers achieved the first flight in an aeroplane in the USA. A monumental moment in aviation history.

Following the success of an aviation week in Rheims, France, it was quickly decided an air show would be put on in Blackpool. The show included two types of fliers, the visiting professionals and the British amateurs. The professional fliers would compete for a number of prizes including distance, speed, height and the slowest circuit.

The air show attracted large audiences to Blackpool, many had never seen a 'flying machine' before. Although the weather provided some challenges for these early machines, it was an exciting time for Blackpool and aviation.

B&W image of a plane taking flight during aviation week in Blackpool in the early 1900s.
Aviation week in Blackpool
Boy making a plane from lolly sticks and pegs

Creating our Heritage Open Days Schools Project

The focus on Blackpool aviation history as our 'Astounding Invention' was decided with the help of our Teacher’s History Network, made up of local primary school teachers. Development began on structure and content, using research and images from our collections.

What did the students learn?

The final workshop delivered in the classroom was a mix of craft and interactive sessions, where the children could discover more about Blackpool’s first air show in 1909.

The students learned about early aircraft, creating their own mono, bi or tri plane model.

They learned what an air show was, the competitions that took place and how the audiences must have felt watching these aircraft come alive in the sky. They recreated this audience, showing emotions and reactions through facial expressions.

Finally, they learned how flags of different colours and patterns were used to provide information to the crowds visiting the air show and to the pilots taking part. The students got to experience this as an interactive session, physically moving and following directions.

Children sitting around table making their aviation pieces from pegs and lolly sticks
Making planes at Revoe Learning Academy

If you'd like to see our 'Astounding Inventions' project in more detail, the exhibition is currently on display in Blackpool Central Library until further notice.