20 October 1934: MacRobertson International Air Race

Poster by Percival Alerbert Trompf (Australian National Travel Association/State Library of new South Wales a928613)

20 October 1934: As a part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the city of Melbourne, in Victoria, Australia, Sir Macpherson Robertson sponsored the MacRobertson International Air Races ¹ from the newly-opened Royal Air Force station, Mildenhall Aerodrome, in Suffolk, England, to the Flemington Racecourse at Melbourne, Victoria,  Australia. The distance was approximately 11,300 miles (18,185 kilometers). The winner of the race would receive a prize of £10,000 (Australian), which was approximately £7,500 (British Pounds Sterling) or $5,700 U.S. dollars. All competitors who finished the course within the 14-day race would receive an 18-carat gold medallion.

The course included five mandatory stops: at Baghdad, Kingdom of Iraq; Allahabad, Indian Empire; Singapore, Straits Settlements; Darwin, Northern Territory, and Charlevile, Queensland, both in the Commonwealth of Australia. Fuel was provided at these and more than 20 other locations along the route.

Map of MacRobertson International Air Races from Pilot’s Brochure. (State Library of NSW, call number 93/889)

The race was scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, 1 minute before sunrise on Saturday, 20 October. Competitors were scheduled to depart at 45-second intervals. There had been “more than seventy” airplanes entered, but only 20 actually started the race.

Two de Havilland DH.88 Comets and a Gee Bee at Mildenhall Aerodrome prior to the 1934 MacRobertson Race. The airfield had opened 4 days earlier. In the foreground is the Mollisons’ “Black Magic.” (BAE Systems)

The first to take off were James Allen Mollison and Amy Johnson Mollision, C.B.E., in their black and gold de Havilland DH.88 Comet racer, Black Magic (#63, registered G-ACSP). The race included three airliners: a modified Boeing 247D, Warner Brothers Comet, flown by Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn; a Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM) Douglas DC-2 named Ulver (Stork), with a flight crew of 4 and 3 passengers; and a De Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide.

Turner and Pangborn’s Boeing 247D, “Warner Brothers Comet.”
KLM Douglas DC-2 PH-AJU (National Library of Australia 144684167)
O. Cathcart Jones and K.F. Waller, de Havilland DH.88 Comet G-ACSR, #19.

Jackie Cochran and Wesley L. Smith flew the “Lucky Strike Green” Granville Miller DeLackner Gee Bee R-6H, Q.E.D., race number 46. Difficulties with the airplane forced the pair to abandon the race at Budapest.

Jim and Amy Mollison with their DH.88 Comet.
Flight Lieutenant C.W.A. Scott, A.F.C., circa 1931 (Scott Family Collection)

First place went to Flight Lieutenant Charles William Anderson Scott, A.F.C., and Captain Tom Campbell Black in the DH.88 Grosvenor House. Their elapsed time was 2 days, 23 hours, 18 seconds, with a total 71 hours, 0 minutes flight time. Placing second was the KLM Douglas DC-2 at 81 hours 10 minutes air time, and in third place were Turner and Pangborn’s Boeing 247D. Only nine of the competitors finished the race, with the final finisher, the Dragon Rapide, arriving on 3 November.

In 1941, the MacRobertson Trophy was donated to the Red Cross “to be melted down for the war effort.”

¹ The race was named after Sir Macpherson’s business, MacRobertson’s Steam Confectionary Works at Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia. The race is also known as the “MacRobertson Trophy Race,” the “1934 MacRobertson London-to-Melbourne Air Race,” or “The Melbourne Centenary Air Race.”

The MacRobertson Trophy.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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