The MacRobertson Trophy Air Race

The 1934 air race from London to Melbourne was sponsored by Melbourne businessman and philanthropist Sir Macpherson Robertson, founder of the MacRobertson Confectionary Company. The race was to celebrate the Melbourne and Victorian Centenary.

MacRobertson's operated in Melbourne from 1880, and became the largest confectionary company in the Commonwealth, with famous brands such as Freddo, Old Gold, Snack and Cherry Ripe. Cadbury acquired MacRobertsons in 1967.

The race was initiated as part of the Melbourne Centenary celebrations. An exquisite gold trophy, cash prizes of £15,000, and gold medals for all crew and passengers who reached Melbourne were provided by Robertson. He also wanted safety to be a priority.

Sir Macpherson Robertson

Sir Macpherson Robertson

MacRobertson Air Race Competitor Medal

Competitor medal

1934 London Melbourne MacRobertson Air Race Poster

1934 Promotional Poster

The race was run by the Royal Aero Club, London. It started at Mildenhall, England and ended in Melbourne, a distance of 18,200km. There were compulsory stops in Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, Darwin and Charleville. There was fuel, Shell oil and supplies in an additional 17 locations which did not attract a time penalty. Landing in other locations attracted a time penalty.

1934 London Melbourne MacRobertson Air Race Map

Map of the Air Race route

There were more than 60 entrants when the race was announced but this was whittled down to 20 aircraft from seven countries that actually made the race start, as shown below in finishing order.

*Indicates did not finish.

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Aircraft Reg No. Nationality Crew
DH.88 Comet
‘Grosvenor House’
G-ACSS 34 Britain Charles Scott
Tom Campbell Black
Douglas DC-2
‘Uiver’
PH-AJU 44 Netherlands Koene Parmentier
Jan Moll
Bouwe Prins
Cornelis van Brugge

(Passengers)
Pieter Gilissen
Roelof Domenie
Thea Rasche
Boeing 247D
‘Warner Bros. Comet’
NR257Y 5 United States Roscoe Turner
Clyde Pangborn
Reeder Nicholls
DH.88 Comet G-ACSR 9 Britain Owen Cathcart-Jones
Ken Waller
Miles M.2F Hawk Major ZK-ADJ 2 New Zealand Sqn. Ldr. Malcolm McGregor
Henry Walker
Airspeed AS.5 Courier G-ACJL 14 Britain Sqn. Ldr. David Stodart
Sgt. Pilot Ken Stodart
DH.80 Puss Moth
‘My Hildegard’
VH-UQO 16 Australia Jimmy Melrose
Desoutter MkII OY-DOD 7 Denmark Lt. Michael Hansen
Lt. Daniel Jensen
DH.89 Dragon Rapide
‘Tainui’
ZK-ACO 60 New Zealand James Hewitt
Cyril Kay
Frank Stewart (photographer)
Miles M.3 Falcon G-ACTM 31 Britain Harold Brook
Ella Lay (passenger)
Fairey IIIf
‘Time and Chance’
G-AABY 15 Britain F/O Cyril Davies
Lt. Cdr. Clifford Hill
Fairey Fox I G-ACXO 35 Australia Ray Parer
Godfrey Hemsworth
Lambert Monocoupe D-145
‘Baby Ruth’
NR501W 33* United States John Wright
John Polando
DH.88 Comet
‘Black Magic’
G-ACSP 63* Britain Jim Mollison
Amy Mollison (Johnson)
Pander S4
‘Panderjager’
PH-OST 6* Netherlands Gerrit Geysendorffer
Dirk Asjes
Pieter Pronk
British Klemm Eagle
‘The Spirit of Wm. Shaw & Co Limited’
G-ACVU 47* Britain Flt. Lt. Donald Shaw
Lockheed Vega
‘Puck’
G-ABGK 36* Australia Jimmy Woods
Flt. Lt. Donald Bennett
Airspeed AS-8 Viceroy G-ACMU 58* Britain Capt. T. Neville Stack
Sidney Turner
Granville Gee Bee R-6H
‘Q.E.D.’
NR14307 46* United States Jacqueline Cochran
Wesley Smith
Fairey Fox I G-ACXX 62* Britain Harold Gilman
James Baines

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).

DH.88's

DH.88 Black Magic and The Green ‘Un. Granville R-6H at rear

DH.88 Black Magic at Mildenhall

DH.88 Black Magic at Mildenhall

1934 Domenie KLM Ticket

Mr 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 Puss Moth

Jimmy Melrose and his Puss Moth, My Hildegarde, named after his mother. Jimmy won second place in the handicap division

KLM entered a 14-seat Douglas DC-2 called the Uiver. This was run as a commercial flight, with 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.

The KLM DC-2

The KLM Uiver crew. Left to right: Cornelis van Brugge (Radio Operator), Koene Dirk Parmentier (Pilot), Jan Johannes Moll (Co-pilot) and Bouwe Prins (Flight Engineer).

Prince of Wales inspects the Uiver at Mildenhall

The Prince of Wales inspects the Uiver

Scott and Campbell Black meet the King at Mildenhall

The King meets Scott and Campbell Black

The Uiver at Mildenhall

The Uiver being inspected at Mildenhall

Mildenhall RAF base, England was chosen as the departure point due to space and modern facilities.

Radio Communication at Mildenhall

voice communications on radio

Visitors and competitor aircraft at RAF Mildenhall

Visitors and race aircraft at Mildenhall

Mildenhall airfield being swept before the air race start

The airfield was swept by horse drawn apparatus!

Charles Kingsford-Smith

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith

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 8 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 set off for Melbourne. The Uiver arrived at Charleville at night and then headed south.

Scott and Campbell Black in

Grosvenor House arriving at Charleville (State Library QLD)

The Uiver at Charleville, QLD

The Uiver at Charleville (State Library QLD)

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.

Grosvenor House was first to 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, flew on 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 Duke of Gloucester presents trophy to Scott and Campbell Black

The Duke of Gloucester presents Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black with the 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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