From TIME MAGAZINE, October 29, 1934
Volume XXIV, Number 18
Mildenhall to Melbourne
"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. Since midnight they had been converging on the new R.A.F. airdrome at Mildenhall, 60 miles from London. Over the field and its floodlights hung pitch-black night.
Motors warmed, the 20 planes were lined up in two rows for the start of the greatest air race in aviation history. 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. On the sidelines "Tony" Fokker looked up from the technical journal he had been reading in time to see Stack's plane disappear over the horizon. Finish of the race: Melbourne, Australia, 11,323 miles away.
Preparations. 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. Of the 64 original entries, more than two-thirds had withdrawn.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. Two days before the race the Mollisons had come near being "scratched," when they broke a tailskid.
Day before the start Their Majesties and the Prince of Wales visited Mildenhall to give the flyers a royal send-off. Queen Mary set foot in a plane for the first time when she inspected the U.S.-built Douglas entered by Royal Dutch Airlines (K.L.M.). Wales showed greatest interest in a small U.S.-built Monocoupe entered by John Polando and John H. ("Utica Jack") Wright. From Roscoe Turner the Prince received a model of the Boeing 247-D on which the U.S. pinned its highest hopes for victory. To the Mollisons Their Majesties gave a letter to be delivered to their third son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, In Melbourne, halfway around the world.
Race. A hundred years ago this month a tough little band of Tasmanian pioneers rowed up the Yarra River, picked a spot which their leader, John Batman, decided would be "a good place for a village." John Batman's village became the city of Melbourne (pop. 1,000,000), which, with the State of Victoria, is this year celebrating its centennial. Features of the celebration are an All-Australia Exhibition, an agricultural show, dedication of a National War Memorial, Henley regatta, Australian Derby, many another bigtime sporting event.
More important was the arrival in Melbourne last week of the Duke of Gloucester aboard the cruiser SUSSEX. Handsomely arrayed in the uniform of a Royal Hussar, the tallest of the King's tall sons received a warm greeting from Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, a tumultous welcome from half a million cheering Australians. That Prince Henry, 34, is being groomed for the Governor Generalship was last week no State secret.
Grand climax of the Melbourne Centennial - the one thing which last week was of interest to all the world - was the MacRobertson Trophy Race from Mildenhall to Melbourne. The course covered 16 countries and three continents, required night & day flying over country perilous with jagged mountains, snake-infested jungles, deserts, hurricanes and typhoons. Toughest stretch was across the Syrian Desert where blinding sandstorms sometimes rise 20,000 ft. and huge kitebirds menace aerial navigation. Not much easier was the 2,210-mile jump from Allahabad to Singapore, with its Bay of Bengal water hop nearly as long as the North Atlantic. To the participants in the race Lloyd's of London gave a 1-in-12 chance of being killed.
Purely a long-distance speed race, the MacRobertson Derby was a free-for-all with virtually no restrictions. Chief requirement was that contestants land at five specified control points: Bagdad, Irak; Allahabad, India; Singapore, Malay Straits; Darwin and Charleville, Australia. The finish was at Melbourne's great Flemington Racecourse, where more than 100,000 persons awaited the winner. Prizes will be awarded by the Duke of Gloucester Nov. 10. First prize is ,000 and a ,500 gold cup; second price, ,500; third, ,500. Donor of the prize money is Sir MacPherson Robertson, Australian candy tycoon. His sole stipulation was that the speed race must be completed within 16 days. British bookmakers found plenty of money to wage the race would be won in 86 hours. Record for the run was 6 days 17 hr. 56 min., made last year by Charles J.P. ("Unlucky") Ulm.
First Day. First to drop out of the race were Wesley Smith and Jacqueline Cochran, sole U.S. woman entry. They quit at Bucharest. First plane into Athens was the Douglas D.C.-2 flown by Pilots J.J.Moll and Koene D. Parmentier of Royal Dutch Airlines. Their longtime service on the Amsterdam-Batavia airway (three-fourths of the MacRobertson route) gave them a decided edge over other contestants. On board their plane were three paying passengers-- two bankers and famed German Aviatrix Thea Rasche.
Turner reached Athens an hour after the Dutch entry, complained of a splitting headache. Speeding non-stop from England, the Mollisons leaped sensationally into first place when they swooped into Bagdad, first control point, hours ahead of the field. There Amy kept Irak officials waiting while she took a hot bath, her husband waiting while she made a little speech.
Hardly had the dust of the departing Mollisons settled on the Bagdad field when in dropped a second British plane, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Charles William Anderson Scott and Captain T. Campbell Black, famed for his spectacular rescue of Ernst Udet, German War ace, in the desert wastes of the treacherous Nile country three years ago. Lost, Scott & Black had made a previous stop at Kirkuk, where they beg-borrowed 20 gallons of "petrol" to continue. They left Bagdad close on the Mollisons' heels, flew straight to Allahabad, second control point, to take over the lead. The Mollisons had landed at Karachi to refuel, had taken off only to be forced back ten minutes later with landing-gear trouble. Seven hours behind the leader was Roscoe Turner. At Bagdad he became confused, made a down-wind landing, nearly cracked up. Stuck in Paris was Captain Stack with his complete newsreel of the flight's start.
Second Day. Still far in the lead were Britons Scott & Black in their De Havilland Comet GROSVENOR HOUSE. Behind them as they sped over the Bay of Bengal for Singapore were Parmentier & Moll. At Allahabad these two had lost valuable minutes when they carelessly took off without one of their passengers, had to return to pick him up.
Two other Hollanders, Asjes & Geysendorfer, smashed their undercarriage landing at Allahabad. Their mishap put Turner & Pangborn in fourth place, which soon became third when they passed the Mollisons at Karachi.
The Mollisons left there two minutes later, got lost, developed motor trouble, limped back to Karachi. Turner & Pangborn likewise got lost, nearly ran out of gas, finally landed at Allahabad. First accident of the race occurred at Aleppo, Syria, when Australians Woods & Bennett turned over in landing.
Scott & Black, pushing their engines to the limit, swept into Singapore that night with heavy black smoke pouring from their exhaust. Alarmed field officials rushed out with fire engines. Scott asked for two glasses of beer, danced with nervous impatience to be off. Onetime light heavyweight champion of the R.A.F., he was visibly suffering from the terrific strain of his flight. Eight hours after Scott's departure, Parmentier reached Singapore. Said that doughty Dutchman: "I'm in a great hurry."
Back at Karachi the Mollisons got off a third time, had engine trouble all the way to Allahabad, were grounded there with a broken oil line. Hopelessly behind in the race was Captain Stack with the newsreel of the start at Mildenhall. Grounded at Marseille, harassed by motor trouble, he announced he would continue as an "amateur."
Third Day. Biggest sensation of the race came just before dawn of the third day, when burly Lieutenant Scott and dapper Captain Black flew their scarlet Comet into Darwin. They had covered the last 300 miles over water on one motor, risked death landing on a field made soggy by the first rain in seven months. Said sandy-haired Lieutenant Scott: "We've had a devil of a trip." But they had flown 9,000 miles in two days, had broken the England-Australia record of 162 hr. in the unbelievable time of 52 hr. 33 min., were only 2,000 miles from their goal at Melbourne.
First fatality of the race brought Death to two Britons, Flying Officer Harold D. Gilman and Amateur Pilot James Baines. Bad luck had plagued them from the start. Taking off from Rome, 10,000 miles behind the race leaders, they crashed near Palazzo San Gervasio, were burned beyond recognition.
Scott & Black, keeping up their sensational pace, flashed into Charleville, refueled, sped toward the finish where waiting thousands cheered their progress, reported over loudspeakers. With one motor dead, with only two hours sleep since leaving England, the Britons triumphantly set their scarlet torpedo down in Melbourne at 3:34 p.m. In 71 hr. 1 min. 3 sec. - just under three days - they had flown halfway around the world."