He attended Leeds Modern School and graduated in engineering at the University of Leeds, and built his first aircraft, a monoplane, in 1909.
He made his first short flight on the sandy beach at Filey in the spring of 1909. The aircraft was badly damaged in 1910 when he attempted to make a turn. He moved to Filey and built a second monoplane which established his reputation as an aviation pioneer and in 1911 founded the Blackburn Aeroplane Company.
He also opened a factory at Roundhay, Leeds in 1914, which was forced to shut down in 1920 after the closure of Roundhay Aerodrome.
He introduced the first scheduled air service in Great Britain, offering half-hourly flights between Leeds and Bradford. In 1919 he set up the North Sea Aerial Navigation Company, using surplus World War I aeroplanes, which operated a regular passenger service between Leeds and Hounslow, London as well as cargo flights between cities, including between Leeds and Amsterdam.
In 1950 he retired, leaving Bowcliffe Hall and moving to Devon. On his death in Devon in 1955 the Blackburn company"s production facilities became part of Hawker Siddeley.