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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
7 October 1919: Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., operating under the name KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, was founded on 7 October 1919 by Albert Plesman, making it the oldest carrier in the world still operating under its original name, though the company stopped operating during the Second World War—apart from the operations in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean.
The first KLM flight was on 17 May 1920, from Croydon Airport, London, to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, carrying two British journalists and a number of newspapers. It was flown by an Airco DH.16, registration G-EALU, piloted by Henry (“Jerry”) Shaw.¹ This airplane, named Arras, was leased from Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited, a British company. Shaw was that company’s chief pilot.
In 1920 KLM carried 440 passengers and 22 tons of freight. In 1921 KLM started scheduled services.
As of September 2018, KLM’s fleet included 120 airliners, mostly Boeing aircraft. Another 19 airliners are on order. The airline has approximately 32,000 employees.
¹ Please see Henry “Jerry” Shaw (1892–1977), an article by Katy Whitaker, English Heritage, 2014, at Britain from Above: http://britainfromabove.org.uk/sites/default/files/Shaw_Final.pdf
1 June 1943: British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Flight 777-A was a scheduled passenger flight from Lisboa-Portela de Sacavém Airport, in neutral Portugal, to Whitechurch Airport, England. The airplane was a Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM Royal Dutch Airlines) Douglas DC-3-194 twin-engine, 21-passenger commercial airliner, serial number 1590, with British registration G-AGBB.
The DC-3 had been delivered to KLM by ship, the Holland-America passenger liner, SS Statendam, which arrived 11 September 1936. The airliner was assigned Netherlands registration PH-ALI and named Ibis. It was the first of ten DC-3s ordered by KLM, and it regularly flew a London–Amsterdam–Berlin schedule.
KLM’s DC-3s were configured with a three-seat flight deck. A third seat was placed behind the first pilot, for use by a radio operator/navigator. A chart table was behind the second pilot’s seat.
When Germany invaded Holland in May 1940, Ibis was flown to England and was then leased to BOAC. Once in England, it was re-registered G-AGBB. Although it remained a civil aircraft, Ibis was painted in the standard Royal Air Force dark green, dark brown and gray camouflage. The original KLM flight crew continued to fly the airliner for BOAC.
At about 12:45 p.m., a flight of eight Junkers Ju 88C fighters, which were patrolling the Bay of Biscay to protect transiting U-boats, encountered the camouflaged DC-3 and shot it down.
All those aboard, 13 passengers and 4 crew members, were killed. Actor, director and producer Leslie Howard, who portrayed “Ashley Wilkes” in the 1939 motion picture, “Gone With The Wind,” was one of the passengers who died.
Ibis had been attacked by German fighters on two previous occasions. On 15 November 1942 a Messerschmitt Bf-110 twin-engine fighter damaged it. On 19 April 1943, six Bf-110s attacked. Both times the DC-3 had been damaged but was able to land safely.
27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.
A terrorist incident at Gran Canaria International Airport (LPA) on the island of Gran Canaria resulted in the airport being closed for flight operations. This forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller Los Rodeos Airport (TFN) on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways at Los Rodeos were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, which led to many delays.
Los Rodeos Airport has only one runway, Runway 12/30, with a parallel taxiway and four short taxiways joining the two.
Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor ¹ was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on Runway 12 (“One-Two”) because the parallel taxiway was jammed with airplanes. The airliner proceeded east-southeast, intending to exit the runway to the parallel taxiway after passing by the congestion around the terminal.
Also on the runway was Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn (“Rhine”). The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members on board. Flight 4805 had back-taxied for the entire length of Runway 12, then made a 180° turn to align itself with Runway 30, the “active” runway.
Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet (305 meters). Takeoff rules required a minimum of 2,300 feet (701 meters). What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners.
The control tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on Runway 30 (“Three-Zero”) for takeoff, and to hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and to report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner because of the fog, and their flight crews could not see each other.
The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten, apparently misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.
The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, immediately turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet (18 meters) on the runway because its extreme nose up angle.
KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet (91 meters) from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over American airliner’s fuselage, but the rest of the Dutch airplane hit at 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards (229 meters) down the runway, and it also caught fire and exploded.
All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, including the co-pilot, but the remaining 335 died.
The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).
The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).
The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,520 have been delivered to date. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.
¹ Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America. On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.