The Last Great Air Race - Part 1

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OneHungLow
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The Last Great Air Race - Part 1

#1 Post by OneHungLow » Fri Jun 09, 2023 8:29 am

There is a fascinating article in July's edition of FlyPast Magazine covering the 1953 London to Christchurch air race. It marked the apogee and the beginning of the end of the air races that characterised the British Empire during the 1920's and 30's.

The aircraft flown were split into two main categories made up of the speed section which ultimately was made of Canberras of the RAF and RAAF, and the Handicap section made up of a motley array of transports and civilian airliners from 3 countries. Ultimately only 8 aircraft made it to the start.
Racing between London and Christchurch was more than just sport – it was a chance to prove the Canberra’s long reach

There were great expectations for the 1953 England to New Zealand air race, with hopes that it would create the atmosphere and endeavour of the famous 1934 MacRobertson Trophy race to Australia. In the end, just eight aircraft took part, five of them Canberras, but a string of records were smashed.

Two categories of competitor traversed Europe, Asia and Australia, covering around 12,350 miles (19,880km). There were no compulsory rest stops, just iron-willed men and their machines striving for the prize. For both sections, the award was a glittering £10,000 – while that might not sound much, the average value of a house in Britain in 1952 was £2,750!

Although the London to Christchurch race took place in October 1953 it had originally been announced on September 1, 1949. It was held to celebrate both the centenary of the foundation of Christchurch and the 50th anniversary of powered flight.

Initially there was considerable interest from potential participants and on February 18, 1953, two weeks after the application list was closed, it was announced that 25 groups and individuals had registered their intent to take part. By the beginning of March this number had dropped to 19 and by the start, on October 8, it was down to eight contestants. The second prototype Vickers Valiant B.1 WB215, which was to have been flown by Brian Trubshaw, was withdrawn almost at the last minute as it was too factory fresh to make the start. (See the panels for the entrants and the RAF Canberras.)

Air race 1.JPG
The Melbourne-based Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) was building its version of the Canberra B.2, the Mk.20, under licence. The race would be an ideal opportunity to fully test the new bomber and alert the world to Australia’s aviation industry.

On February 7, 1953, William McMahon, Australian Minister for Air (and future Prime Minister) announced that Wg Cdr D R Cuming AFC*, then CO of the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), would manage the participating RAAF Canberras. A temporary unit, 1 Long Range Flight (LRF) was formed at Laverton, Victoria, in February with Sqn Ldr P F Raw DFC in command.

On April 13, English Electric-built A84-125 (formerly WD983) became the first Canberra for the LRF, landing at Laverton at 1705hrs. In May A84-307 arrived for use as a trainer and before long the unit’s Canberras were flying day and night.

Distance measuring equipment was installed in A84-307 early in June and a trial flight took place on June 8. Meanwhile, A84-125 carried out performance measuring at 25,000ft, 35,000ft and 46,000ft.

On June 13, A84-125 was flown to check single-engine performance and to practise engine restarts at 20,000ft. There was considerable excitement at LRF on July 1 when specially modified A84-201 was flown in from Avalon, New South Wales, by Sqn Ldr Peter Raw. The jet was allocated VNZIPA as its radio call-sign.

On August 13, long-range navigation flights began, using A84-307. These commenced with a sortie from Laverton which proceeded to Darwin, Northern Territory, at 40,000ft in 4 hours 15 minutes, and then continued to Singapore at 45,000ft in 4 hours 10 minutes. Singapore to Negombo, Sri Lanka, was flown at 35,000ft in 3 hours 15 minutes, before returning by the same route as far as Darwin, from there flying to Amberley, Queensland, at 40,000ft in 3 hours 5 minutes.

Good news was received on August 25 when the Australian unit was notified that its second race machine A84-202, call-sign VNZIPB, had made a successful first flight. It was delivered to 1 LRF three days later. The pace of preparations quickened, and by the first week in September the RAAF teams were eager to go. Flying A84-202, Wg Cdr D R Cuming, Fg Off R J Atkinson and Sqn Ldr C G Harvey took off at 1015hrs on September 10, bound for the UK. They were followed five minutes later by A84-201 flown by Sqn Ldr Raw with Fg Off F N Davis and Flt Lt W D Kerr.

They flew by way of Pearce and Guildford (both in Western Australia), Cocos Island, Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Malta to Lyneham in Wiltshire, effectively following the race route in reverse, arriving on the 16th. Refuelling detachments, aboard Douglas Dakota A65-96, also reached their various destinations in September.

While in the UK, both Australian Canberras were flown to the English Electric factory at Salmesbury, Lancashire. On October 3 they positioned to London’s Heathrow Airport, where they remained on display until the start of the race. Members of the public were allowed to see the jets up close and even look inside the cockpits.

Finally the long-awaited day dawned. Just before 1500hrs on October 8, the Duke of Gloucester and officials from the Royal Aero Club arrived to start the race. All five Canberras were towed to the start line where their tanks were topped up.

Beginning at 1735, and at five-minute intervals, the three RAF Canberras took off in race order followed by the two RAAF aircraft. Most money was on the RAF PR.7 as it had, on paper at least, a marginally better performance.

At 1750 Wg Cdr Cuming lifted A84-202 off from Heathrow and a dash to Bahrain saw it land there at 0950 the following morning. Ten minutes later it was on its way to Ratmalana, Sri Lanka, where it touched down at 1415. The turn-around time at this transit point was 15 minutes, the slowest RAAF time of the race. The Canberra was airborne again at around 1430 and heading for Cocos Island where it arrived at 1745. Sadly, on arrival its port tyre burst.

Having been in the lead up to this point, the jet was now out of contention. It was 52 hours before it would be able to continue. The RAAF had considered the possibility of a tyre burst, but it had not been practical to move the heavy lifting gear required to all the transit points. It was also thought that the time required to replace a tyre and repair any collateral damage to the wheel, would almost certainly incur elimination from the race.
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OneHungLow
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Re: The Last Great Air Race - Part 2

#2 Post by OneHungLow » Fri Jun 09, 2023 8:30 am

Running almost to the same time as Wg Cdr Cuming’s aircraft was Sqn Ldr Raw and A84-201, which departed London at 1755. The crew reached Bahrain at 0945, exactly five minutes after A84-202. Having averaged the same speed over this sector, the RAAF Canberras were clearly very evenly matched.

The refuelling crew got the aircraft away in just nine minutes and Sqn Ldr Raw reached Ratmalana at 1419. Another outstanding effort by RAAF refuellers achieved a turn-around time of just eight minutes; A84-201 departing at 1427. It reached Cocos Island at 1753, just nine minutes behind its race partner which to their surprise the crew saw leaning forlornly on its burst tyre.

The refuelling team excelled itself, and A84-201 was turned round in just seven minutes. On departure, Sqn Ldr Raw immediately encountered a jetstream which allowed him to overfly Perth in Western Australia and he decided to go direct to Woomera, South Australia.

During this sector the nose wheel gear froze due to the low temperatures at the higher cruising altitude, and would not come down. As A84-201 touched down at 2300, the nose dropped onto the runway and scraped noisily along it until the machine could be brought to a halt.

Meanwhile, the RAF’s PR.7 WH773 stopped at Perth with a faulty generator and a damaged filler cap, but still managed to achieve fourth place in 35 hours 25 minutes.

Keen for A84-201 to win the race, the RAAF resolved to fix the nose gear problem. After acquiring spare parts, including a pitot head from another aircraft, the Canberra was airborne again at 0019 on October 10, just 79 minutes after the accident occurred. Its nose had been raised by placing a number of airmen on top of the rear fuselage while more airmen, journalists and photographers prevented the tail from touching the ground.

When the Canberra’s nose scraped along the ground it had created a hole in the structure. Impossible to repair in a short time, the jet departed without a pressurized cabin. This was not without consequence – when Flt Lt Kerr had to change a tube in his face mask he passed out. Luckily Fg Off Davis was able to reconnect it immediately, bringing Kerr round. The radio had also been damaged and although they could receive messages they could not transmit, which caused a 20-minute delay when trying to land at Harewood Airport, Christchurch.

The RAAF crew flew into Christchurch at 0432 on October 10 – but found they had been beaten to the post. They arrived in second place 24 hours and 34 minutes after taking off from London. This was 41 minutes behind the RAF’s Flt Lt R Burton in Canberra PR.3 WE139. The Australians had flown at an average speed of 501mph (806km/h) with a flying time of 22 hours 59 minutes, but they had been beaten by their problem at Woomera.

An enthusiastic crowd of over 10,000 had turned out on a wet and bitterly cold night to welcome the returning crews. Determined to at least finish the race, Wg Cdr Cuming had two tyres flown from Perth to Cocos Island and finally left the island at 0230 on October 12, arriving at Christchurch at 1345 after refuelling at Laverton.

After some local flying, the Australian Canberras were sent to 1 Aircraft Depot on November 2 for conversion to standard bomber configuration, and all personnel were advised that same day of their new postings which would take effect from the 16th. Wg Cdr Cuming returned to the ARDU, Sqn Ldr Harvey to the Melbourne University Squadron and all the others to 82 Wing Headquarters.

Two awards were made to the RAAF participants. On December 31, Cuming added an OBE to his AFC and Bar. Raw, who had previously been awarded the DFC and the Polish Cross of Valour while flying heavy bombers during World War Two, received the AFC. It had been a rewarding and challenging race that thoroughly tested both crews and machines, both in the air and on the ground.
https://www.key.aero/article/english-el ... t-air-race
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Coupe Montana - John Derry

#3 Post by OneHungLow » Sun Jun 11, 2023 10:05 am

Another long forgotten air "race" was the Coupe Montana, the cup being named after the Montana Hotel in Cannes, owned by French WW2 patriot and character Eddie Dissard, who had proclaimed his Hotel as a "rest place" for RAF crew after the second world war.

In 1949 the "race" (more record) was won, or record set, by John Derry in a Vampire. This photo commemorating Derry's win is bit racy by anybody's standards, even if one is in Cannes.

https://www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk/air ... fb5-vv217/
This aircraft was owned by the Ministry of Supply, but used by de Havilland for test flying. De Havilland test pilot John Derry flying this actual aircraft set a record in the spring of 1949 flying in 45 minutes from Paris to Cannes to win the Coupe Montana Prize, comprising a trophy and 10,000 francs. De Havilland was hoping this event would influence the Armee de l’Air to buy Vampires. The aircraft was transferred to the museum from NEAM in Sunderland in August 2009 by its owner Dave Charles, and is currently in storage pending restoration, when space allows
Cannes.JPG
Cannes.JPG (36.88 KiB) Viewed 1152 times



The Coupe Montana was organised by AVM Sir Robert George, an interesting man in his own right.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ge ... F_officer)
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Trophée Montana - John Derry

#4 Post by OneHungLow » Sun Jun 11, 2023 11:03 am

OneHungLow wrote:
Sun Jun 11, 2023 10:05 am
Another long forgotten air "race" was the Coupe Montana, the cup being named after the Montana Hotel in Cannes, owned by French WW2 patriot and character Eddie Dissard, who had proclaimed his Hotel as a "rest place" for RAF crew after the second world war.
https://www.aerosteles.net/steleen-cannes-montana

Trophee Montana.JPG
The observer of fools in military south and north...

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