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Passengers, pilots, publicity
Author: Gordon Pirie

Imperial flying was not just about machines, timetables and routes; it was also about ideas, values and practices. This book focuses on the way airborne mobility itself expressed imperialism. Imperial Airways projected an idealised Britain to the Empire, and interpreted and refracted the Empire to Britons. Passengers in commercial aircraft had adventures in the early days of Empire flying, in a mild way, fleeting, organised overnight stops at foreign places. Writing about and publicising imperial flying in the 1920s and 1930s created the first caricatures of Empire aviation. Words and images about long-distance air journeys, aircraft, landing grounds, passengers, crew and landscapes were necessarily selective and partial. Amy Johnson, in a BBC broadcast, said Great Britain was ready to make a decisive bid for world supremacy in the air. Wealthy people were the passengers (acronym 'PAX' in current airline parlance) on scheduled civil aircraft services in the 1930s on routes between England, Africa, India and Australia. The flying crew and ground staff personified the values of their employer and the Empire. Making the public 'airminded' was certainly part of deliberate acculturation in late imperial Britain; Imperial Airways tapped the Empire for publicity. The virtual mobility, presented by the 1930s texts and images, were enjoyed by earthbound readers and viewers. However, the first life of Empire aviation ended in 1939. In the past six decades, Empire aviation has been actively re-imagined and reincarnated as historical subject, hobby, and period artefact and icon.

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Gordon Pirie

social and aeronautical establishment. Not all men and women who flew over the Empire thought of themselves as its agents, and not all of them were adopted as imperial figures. Not all private flying was motivated by imperial display. Some pilots flew to win honours for themselves. Several pilots flew for pleasure, touring aerially on their own or as a pair. Their flights in light aircraft grew out of a

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation
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Gordon Pirie

adventure over long distances in the British Empire was part of the individualisation of imperial travel. Less is known about this aspect of imperial flying than about commercial airline flying. And journeys by just a few celebrities dominate what is known about private flying: ordinary pilots making comparatively unremarkable flights struggled to leave their mark. Yet the nature and

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation
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Gordon Pirie

within this framework. After all, imperialism was also expressed in and touched by flight itself – by private flying, by airliner journeys, by air and ground crews, by passengers, assistants and spectators, and by the associated travelogues, airfreighting, corporate advertising and iconography. Britain’s designated imperial flagship civil airline was conceived during the world’s first air war, and was

in Air empire
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Gordon Pirie

anniversary of Imperial . 4 A three-part radio series followed in 1999. 5 This time the broadcast was based on the narrative of a modern civilian airliner journey which tracked the original Empire civil air route across fifty-three sectors between England and Australia. Private flying across the Empire was recalled in a 2008 interview on the BBC

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation
Gordon Pirie

life as a wealthy adventurer (and prospective financier of South Africa’s civil airline) came to an abrupt end in an air smash in the Union. The tragedy did not prove Woods Humphery right; Kidston had shown what was achievable on long-distance Empire air routes. Yet his death set off a shiver. The cause of private flying, and Kidston’s argument for separating mails and passengers, was undermined

in Air empire
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Gordon Pirie

While practical steps were gradually being taken to develop airline routes and services in Africa, India and the Middle East, in Britain the only signs that organised Empire aviation was alive in the late 1920s and early 1930s were occasional news items and speeches. Private flying (much of it along the mapped but fictional airline routes) garnered more public attention

in Air empire
Gordon Pirie

be just like the chain of coaling stations that fuelled Britain’s maritime Empire. 10 While aviation in Britain struggled through 1920, private flying in Canada and Australia especially was making some progress. That good news enabled the authorities to take the view that the onus of linking the Empire by air was not Britain’s alone. Sykes told a meeting of the Royal Aeronautical Society in October

in Air empire
Michael John Law

, Brooklands was a focal point for British motor racing and private flying and was the site for a new form of social occasion. At the start of this period, motoring, of any sort, was the preserve of the wealthy and daring. A competitive spirit among young, elite drivers soon matched the earlier excitement of driving at speed on country roads. Accidents at Brooklands were frequent and were often fatal. Drivers had only leather helmets to protect them if they flew out of their crashed cars at high speed. Local grandees and officials regarded this with horror; as early as 1908

in The experience of suburban modernity
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Gordon Pirie

-range air-vessels’, for no other power had its territories separated by such vast distances. 22 Mindful of his weekend adult readership, Sempill wrote extensively on light aircraft, private flying and air touring, air clubs, gliding, aerodromes, air navigation, the minimum age of trainees and pilots, and the use of aircraft for domestic policing (as ‘aerial bloodhounds’) in Britain

in Cultures and caricatures of British imperial aviation