Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mildenhall to Melbourne 75 years ago

What is often held to be the greatest air race in history started now, at the other side of the world, 75 years ago.

It was an incredible achievement. Thanks to the Flight archive and Time magazine's 1934 report, here are some photographs and extracts showcasing the key aircraft and some of the frantic activity before the start.

The team of Roscoe Turner, Clyde Edward Pangborn (right and left in the light colour coats) and Reeder Nichols in their 'Warner Brothers Comet' Boeing 247 arrive and dismount.

Take off date was set at dawn (6:30), October 20, 1934.

Month on long month of intensive preparations by the aviation industry throughout the world had preceded the race's start last week. Represented by each entry were countless technicalities, endless research, details, delays, many a heartbreak.
'Battling' Ray Parer, who had flown the 1919 race from the UK to Australia, but was the last finisher then.

The aircraft had to be weighed. Here is one of the dedicated racing Comets built for national pride and at a bargain price by patriotic de Havilland.
The great doors of the Royal Air Force hangars opened wide at 3 a.m. One sleek machine after another was wheeled out. The deep-throated roar of their engines being tuned up fairly shook the field.

One of the less well known contestants was the Airspeed AS.5 Courier G-ACJL of Squadron Leader D. Stodart, and Sergeant Pilot K. Stodart.

Of the 64 original entries, more than two-thirds had withdrawn. Night before the start Colonel James C. Fitzmaurice, Irish transatlantic flyer, had been disqualified when his U.S.-built Bellanca special, Irish Swoop, proved overweight.

The Dutch entered the Pander Panderjager and a brand new Douglas DC-2, both seen here under guard at night before the race.

Two other less well remembered racers are 36, the Lockheed Vega Puck G-ABGK of J. Woods and D.C. Bennett, and 47, B.A. Eagle The Spirit of Wm. Shaw & Co Ltd G-ACVU of Flight Lieutenant G. Shaw.

Some men to watch. Above - C.W.A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black, and below, Captain K.D. Parmentier, First Officer J.J. Moll of KLM.

Chattering in little groups were flyers, mechanics, officials, men in dungarees, women in evening dress from London. At 6:30 a. m. Sir Alfred Bower, Acting Lord Mayor of London, gave the starting signal.
First away were Jim and Amy (Johnson) Mollison, 12-to-1 favorites in their De Havilland Comet. Two minutes later Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn took off in their big Boeing, just as an orange-red sun edged over the horizon. One by one the rest took the air and headed south. Last off, 16 minutes after the Mollisons, was Capt. T. Neville Stack, carrying a complete motion picture of the start.
What happened next was not only a great and thrilling race, but a cornerstone of the development of inter-continental flight.

More soon.

1 comment:

  1. James - how thrilling! What dashing aviators. The pictures are terrific.