Soaraway Norfolk success of a daredevil high-flier

As a new book celebrates Norfolk's rich aeronautical heritage, Steve Snelling looks back to an aviation crusader's spectacular air shows.

They came in their thousands, leaving narrow Norfolk country lanes grid-locked in their enthusiastic wake while, above them, a harum-scarum band of barnstorming thrill-seekers turned death-defying cartwheels in the sky.

Nearly 80 years ago people who poured – on foot, by bicycle and in hundreds of cars – towards the makeshift landing place to catch a glimpse of the man who had fired their imagination for air travel, the undisputed 'king of British aviation', Sir Alan Cobham.

The self-proclaimed 'joy-rider' par excellence, Cobham was not simply the ringmaster of the country's most famous flying circus, he was a man on an evangelising mission to preach the gospel of 'air-mindedness'.

Norfolk aviation historian Peter Gunn, whose new book, Flying Lives with a Norfolk Theme, has just been published, says: 'People like Cobham and Amy Johnson were the celebrities of the day. They were household names and flying was a road to fame for a lot of otherwise obscure people.

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'But men like Cobham were feted wherever they went. His flying circus drew huge crowds and all the evidence points to him loving the adulation.'

The book explores the exploits of a colourful, courageous and curiously eccentric band of adventurous aviators. They range from the haplessly heroic balloonist Major John Money to Yarmouth's supreme Zeppelin hunter Egbert Cadbury and feature such disparate aeronauts as the pioneering aerial photographer Gilbert Insall and that grand old man of Norfolk aviation, Ken Wallis.

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Read more about this heroic band of barnstormers with pictures of their Norfolk air shows in the EDP Sunday supplement in Saturday's bumper EDP.

Flying Lives with a Norfolk Theme, by Peter B Gunn, is available from the author, at Seafields, Brancaster Road, Docking, Norfolk, PE31 8NB, priced �12.99. A percentage of the profits from the sales of the book will go to the East Anglian Air Ambulance. For more information visit He will be signing copies of his book today at Dersingham Pottery and Gallery in Chapel Road, Dersingham, between noon and 3pm.

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