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Vintage Air Racing — 1934 Great Air Race, England to Melbourne

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The MacRobertson Trophy Air Race took place October, 1934 as part of the Melbourne Centenary celebrations. The idea of the race was devised by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and a prize fund of $75,000 was put up by Sir Macpherson Robertson, a wealthy Australian confectionery manufacturer, on the conditions that the race be named after his MacRobertson confectionery company, and that it be organised to be as safe as possible.

The race was organised by the Royal Aero Club and would run from RAF Mildenhall in East Anglia to Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne.

 

There were 5 compulsory stops at Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, Darwin and Charleville, Queensland, otherwise the competitors could choose their own routes. A further 22 optional stops were provided with stocks of fuel and oil by Shell and Stanavo. The Royal Aero Club put some effort into persuading the countries along the route to improve the facilities at the stopping points.

The basic rules were: no limit to the size of aircraft or power, no limit to crew size, no pilot to join aircraft after it left England. Aircraft must carry three days' rations per crew member, floats, smoke signals and efficient instruments. There were prizes for the outright fastest aircraft, and for the best performance on a handicap formula by any aircraft finishing within 16 days.

Take off date was set at dawn (6:30) October 20, 1934. The initial field of over 60 had by then been whittled down to 20, including the 3 purpose-built de Havilland DH.88 Comet racers, two of the new generation of American all-metal passenger transports, and a mixture of earlier racers, light transports and old bombers.

First off the line, watched by a crowd of 60,000, were Jim & Amy Mollison in the Comet Black Magic, and they were early leaders in the race until forced to retire at Allahabad with engine trouble. This left the scarlet Comet Grosvenor House flown by Flight Lt. Charles Scott and Captain Tom Campbell Black well ahead of the field. This racer went on to win in a time of less than 3 days, despite flying the last stage with one engine throttled back because of an oil-pressure indicator giving a faulty low reading.

Perhaps more significantly in the development of popular long-distance air travel, the second and third places were taken by passenger transports, with the KLM Douglas DC-2 Uiver gaining a narrow advantage over Roscoe Turner's Boeing 247-D, both completing the course less than a day behind the winner.

The most dramatic part of the race was when the Uiver, hopelessly lost after becoming caught in a thunderstorm, ended up over Albury NSW. The townsfolk responded magnificently - an engineer at the power station signalled "Albury" to the plane by turning the town lights on and off, and an announcer on radio station 2CO Corowa appealed for cars to line up on the racecourse to light up a runway for the plane. The plane landed, and next morning was pulled out of the mud by locals to fly on and win the handicap section of the race. In gratitude KLM made a large donation to Albury Hospital and Alf Waugh, the Mayor of Albury, was awarded a title in Dutch nobility.

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