The 1934 air race from London to Melbourne was sponsored by Melbourne businessman and philanthropist Sir Macpherson Robertson, founder of the MacRobertson Confectionery Company. The race was initiated as part of the Melbourne and Victorian Centenary celebrations.
The MacRobertson company operated in Melbourne from 1880, and became the largest confectionery maker in the Commonwealth, with famous brands such as Freddo, Old Gold, Snack and Cherry Ripe. Cadbury acquired MacRobertsons in 1967.
An exquisite gold trophy, cash prizes of £15,000 (approximately $15 million dollars in todays currency), and gold medals for all crews and passengers who reached Melbourne were provided by Robertson. He also wanted safety to be a priority of the event.
1934 Promotional Poster
Sir Macpherson Robertson
The race was run by the Royal Aero Club, London. It started at Mildenhall, England and ended in Melbourne, Australia, a distance of 18,222km. There were five compulsory stops - Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, Darwin and Charleville.
Oil and fuel supplies were provided at an additional 17 locations which did not attract a time penalty. Landing at any other place attracted a time penalty.
The race was divided into two sections known as the ‘Speed Race’ and the ‘Handicap Race’ which were run at the same time. Competitors could enter either or both events.
Map of the Air Race route
There were more than 60 entrants when the race was announced but this was whittled down to twenty aircraft from six countries that actually made the race start, as shown below in finishing order. Only twelve aircraft finished the route.
*Indicates did not finish.
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|de Havilland DH.88 Comet
Tom Campbell Black
Cornelis van Brugge
Warner Bros. Comet
|NR257Y||5||United States||Roscoe Turner
|de Havilland DH.88 Comet||G-ACSR||19||Britain||Owen Cathcart-Jones
|Miles M.2F Hawk Major||ZK-ADJ||2||New Zealand||Sqn. Ldr. Malcolm McGregor
|Airspeed AS.5 Courier||G-ACJL||14||Britain||Sqn. Ldr. David Stodart
Sgt. Pilot Ken Stodart
|de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth
|Desoutter MkII||OY-DOD||7||Denmark||Lt. Michael Hansen
Lt. Daniel Jensen
|de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide
|ZK-ACO||60||New Zealand||Sqr. Ldr. James Hewitt
F/O Cyril Kay
Frank Stewart (photographer)
|Miles M.3 Falcon||G-ACTM||31||Britain||Harold Brook
Ella Lay (passenger)
Time and Chance
|G-AABY||15||Britain||F/O Cyril Davies
Lt. Cdr. Clifford Hill
|Fairey Fox I||G-ACXO||35||Australia||Ray Parer
|Lambert Monocoupe D-145
|NR501W||33*||United States||John Wright
|de Havilland DH.88 Comet
Amy Mollison (Johnson)
|British Klemm Eagle
The Spirit of Wm. Shaw & Co Limited
|G-ACVU||47*||Britain||Flt. Lt. Donald Shaw|
Flt. Lt. Donald Bennett
|Airspeed AS-8 Viceroy||G-ACMU||58*||Britain||Capt. T. Neville Stack
|Granville Gee Bee R-6H
|NR14307||46*||United States||Jacqueline Cochran
|Fairey Fox I||G-ACXX||62*||Britain||Harold Gilman
The famous de Havilland DH.88 Comets were developed specifically for this race. de Havilland offered to build these highly customised race planes for the reduced price of £5000, requiring nine months notice. Five were ordered, and three were built (The Green ‘Un #19, Grosvenor House #34, and Black Magic #63).
de Havilland DH.88 Black Magic and The Green ‘Un. Granville R-6H (at rear) at Mildenhall
de Havilland DH.88 Black Magic at Mildenhall
Passenger, Mr Roelof Domenie’s ticket for the Uiver flight in the MacRobertson Air Race
One of the more remarkable entrants was Australian C.J. “Jimmy” Melrose. Jimmy was the youngest pilot in the field, at only 21 years old. He had just broken the record time flying from Australia to England, and amazingly, he entered the MacRobertson Air Race as his return trip to Australia.
Jimmy Melrose and his DH.80 Puss Moth, My Hildegarde, named after his mother. Jimmy won second place in the handicap division
KLM (Royal Dutch Air Lines) entered a 14-seat Douglas DC-2 airliner called the Uiver (Dutch for Stork). This was run as a commercial flight, carrying three passengers (two Dutch bankers; Pieter Gilissen, Roelof Domenie and German aviatrix and journalist Thea Rasche) and 25,000 letters. KLM did the full 22 stop-over version of the race.
Mildenhall RAF base, 60 miles north of London, was chosen as the departure point due to it’s space and modern facilities.
The KLM Uiver crew (colourised image). Left to right: Cornelis van Brugge (Radio Operator), Koene Dirk Parmentier (Pilot), Jan Johannes Moll (Co-pilot) and Bouwe Prins (Flight Engineer).
The Prince of Wales inspects the Uiver
The King meets Scott and Campbell Black
The Uiver being inspected at Mildenhall
voice communications on radio
Visitors and race aircraft at Mildenhall
The airfield was swept by horse drawn apparatus!
Famed Australian aviator, Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith was offered a DH.88 Comet with fixed-pitch propellors, which he declined as it would be uncompetitive.
Instead, he acquired a Lockheed Sirius 8A which he heavily modified - later known as Lady Southern Cross. En-route to England, the plane developed engine cowling cracks before it left Australia. That was the end of Smithy’s attempt at the race.
On day one of the race (20th October, 1934), the Uiver led to Athens, with the Boeing 247D second. Grosvenor House taking the lead by the time they arrive at Allahabad.
On day two, Grosvenor House led to Singapore. The Uiver was only eight hours behind despite making more stopovers.
Grosvenor House had an engine problem requiring shutdown over the Timor Sea. In Darwin the engine was inspected, with no fault found. Grosvenor House continued and arrived at Charleville about the time the Uiver landed at Darwin. Grosvenor House then set off for Melbourne with the Uiver arriving at Charleville that night before headed south.
Scott and Campbell Black in Grosvenor House arriving at Charleville (State Library QLD)
The Uiver DC-2 at Charleville (State Library QLD)
Boeing 247D Warner Bros Comet arriving at Laverton. Piloted by Roscoe Turner, with co-pilot Clyde Pangborn and radio operator Reeder Nichols, the Boeing finished third in the race.
Just 300km from Melbourne, the Uiver became lost at night in an electrical storm. The people of Albury came to the aid of the plane, in what is now a legendary story and the Uiver was able to make a landing on Albury Racecourse.
Grosvenor House was first to arrive at Melbourne, crossing the finishing line at Flemington racecourse at 3:34 pm on 23rd October 1934, a record time in the air of 70 hours, 54 minutes, 18 seconds.
After its forced landing at Albury the Uiver was freed from the mud on the morning of the 24th October, and minus two crew, passengers and cargo, was able to take off and fly to Melbourne to finish the race in second place overall, taking the handicap prize, despite the dramatic events of the night before. The Uiver’s flying time was 90 hours, 18 minutes, 51 seconds.
The race winners, Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black, arriving at Laverton in their de Havilland DH.88 Comet ‘Grosvenor House’.
The Duke of Gloucester presents race winners Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black with the gold air race trophy at Melbourne, Sir Macpherson Robertson at right. (State Library, VIC)
And so, the worlds greatest air race came to a close. It was run only 31 years after the dawn of aviation (the Wright Brothers first powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903) yet it was the beginning of modern intercontinental air travel as we know it today.
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