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The great air race, leg by leg (part 2)

continued from part 1

March 28: Phuket to Singapore (545 miles)

Kirstie: "He flew for 9 hours down the Malayan coast and, instead of enjoying the wonderful scenery, simply pointed G-KIRK south and gritted his teeth. He felt well enough for a little fun at one stage when he flew over the jungle at 20mph [sic] and throttled back and briefly cut the engine to yell to loggers "Hi - I'm on my way to Australia!" They laughed and waved. I can confirm that M fairly regularly uses this method of communication (ie switching off the engine and yelling) with people on the ground - especially with farmers in order to ask permission to land in a field." Yeah, okay, but at low level how do you re-start the engine on a Cub?

March 29: Singapore to Jakarta in Indonesia (516 miles)

Maurice didn't care for the island of Sumatra, which seemed to be under two feet of water. He kept thinking of having to ditch, flipping over, and drowning with his feet still dry. In the end, the only problem was that he lost radio contact with Jakarta and was overdue, and the Indonesians (not realizing that G-KIRK is always overdue) scrambled a search & rescue aircraft to look for him. Meanwhile, convinced that her husband would indeed reach Australia, Kirstie set out with their daughter Genevieve to meet him--with a two-year-old in tow, a flight almost as impressive as what Maurice was attempting.

March 30: Jakarta to the island of Bali (530 miles)

"They flew across the mountains of Java where, in bad weather, M attempted to film volcanoes. Again, he ran out of daylight as he headed towards Bali. As he continued over jungle M saw a graveyard of WW II aircraft.... He landed on what turned out to be a military airfield (again!). After a "standard grilling" /questioning? (he's now well practiced and somewhat blase)M was taken by staff car to a very good hotel and given a conducted tour of the town by military personnel."

March 31: rest day in Bali

"A car was sent for him at 04.30hrs ... and he flew out at the crack of dawn after a platoon of soldiers had helped to prepare G-KIRK.... Owing to radar vectoring (?) he flew in the wrong direction for some short time before crossing East Java which he describes as the most spectacularjungle. He saw rhinoceri and many species of monkey. He landed on an exotic "coconut type of beach" (as in Bounty advert?) to dipstick his fuel tank (the sophisticated method of fuel calculation used by the Kirk household) and was able to continue for the last 50 miles across the water to Bali. Despite there being a rest day at Bali M did not stop for any length of time but continued to eventually land in the dark (again!) on the island of Sumra [Sumba]. Here he found a little airstrip on which one aeroplane a week lands. Lots of people turned out to see him.... The airfield manager spoke English and took M home for the night as a guest."

April 1: Bali to Kupang in Timor (509 miles), then Darwin in Australia (446, total 955 miles)

Sumba gave Maurice a head start but actually a longer hop over the Timor Sea than if he had refueled at Kupang with the others. Instead, he stripped everything he could spare out of G-KIRK, including his blind-flying instruments, communciations gear except for a handheld radio, and even gasoline beyond what he absolutely needed to reach Darwin (Plan B was to land on the beach). "Just as the sun began to show itself," he told me over his mobile phone from Australia, "I took off against a 10 mph headwind." He flew at 20 feet AGL (some reports put it at 10 feet) and several close encounters with pairs of breaching whales. But he made Dawin airport with, as he tells the story, 15 minutes' of fuel remaining and half an inch of oil on the dipstick. (At some point, perhaps during the Phuket layover, Maurice welded an extension on the oil sump, doubling its capacity.) Kirstie and the two-year-old Genevieve were waiting for him. He got to bed at 11 p.m. with a 5 a.m. wakeup call.

April 2: Darwin to Tennant Creek (476 miles) and Alice Springs (249, total 725 miles)

Kirstie: "M and G-KIRK battled against headwinds to Tennant Creek for refuelling after which they set off again towards Alice Springs but were brought down by darkness. This time, as a variation, they landed on a small road at Attack Creek, near a campsite where they spent the night, guests of some marvellously hospitable people who cooked M supper and made him a bed. He reports that he was asleep by 20.00hrs and "had the best night's sleep this trip". They were away early the next morning - his fellow campers stopped lorries for them to take off from the road. They arrived at Alice Springs at approx. 14.00hrs. Before this arrival at Alice M and G-KIRK made an unscheduledstop owing to a shortage of oil. Again, they landed on a little road. M flagged down a truck which just happened to be carrying oil drums and whose driver kindly supplied M with the necessary to continue."

April 3: rest day in Alice Springs

Ah, those blessed rest days! Maurice caught up with the field at mid-day, "so tired that he began to talk of being unable to face further 11 hour days and toyed with the idea of simply heading straight for Sydney," Kirstie wrote. "It seemd to me that not to finish the route when so, so near completion was not an option and I urged him to continue - so close! I have never before known M feel unable to continue flying. Usually the more hours the better."

This is one tough lady. Flying from London to Alice Springs with a two-year-old must have been nearly as much work as hand-flying the distance in a Piper Cub.

April 4: Alice Springs to Birdsville (518 miles) to Longreach (307 miles, total 825 miles)

Kirstie: "M arrived [in Birdsville] at 14.30hrs and pedalled hard to catch us at Longreach. In doing so he had an emergency over the Simpson Desert when his oil pressure fell to below 20lb/ and oil temp. rose to 120 degrees C.... He decided to attempt a landing on the hard sand below but as he neared landing he realsed what an idiot he was - his engine was running - just - and if he turned it off it might well not restart. So Plan B and a flash of inspiration - M is used to flying low - that is his modus operandi at home. He realised that flying low over baked sand in the afternoon heat was not helping G-KIRK's engine cool - a sort of Icaraus in reverse situation. Instead of landing, therefore, he climbed slowly, slowly to 2000ft and throttled right back until G-KIRK was just hovering. She gradually cooled down after approx. 40 minutes." Maurice spent the night at a cattle station.

April 5: Longreach to Coolangatta (617 miles)

Maurice skipped Longreach and headed straight for Coolangatta, landing short and again spending the night at a cattle station somewhere in the Australian outback. Of course no better aircraft for rough-field and road landings (and presuambly auto-gas refuelings) could possibly be imagined. That's the way the L-4 did much of its work during World War II.

April 6: rest day in Coolangatta

This was (perhaps) the nearest to disaster that G-KIRK came during the whole trip: two bolts sheared on the wooden cruise prop, which cracked, throwing it out of balance and causing an alarming vibration. Maurice was unable to land because of the mountainous terrain, then bacause of forest, and finally, hey, because he was so close to Coolangatta that it no longer seemed to matter. He touched down before noon, I gather. As it happened, just about the only major spare part in his kit was a climb prop (i.e., fine pitch) that he'd brought along in case the cruise prop couldn't handle the heavy fuel load. Lyle Campbell was carrying the spare in his Albatross along with Kirstie and Genevieve. Thank God for that Anglo-American Special Relationship!

Kirstie: "Aware that headwinds forecast for the following day meant that they might not reach Sydney for the flypast, M and G-KIRK pressed on from Coolangatta at 15.00hrs heading as far down the coast as they could get. They reached Coffs Harbour Aeroclub at sunset. After a barbecue he met old flyers who saw the race in 1934. He stayed in the bunkhouse of the club overnight and was able to leave early next morning for Sydney harbour. Again I get the impression that M's race has involved more fun than that of anyone else."

April 7: Coolangatta to Bankstown-Sydney (393 miles)

By God he made it! G-KIRK wasn't the fastest plane in the race--in fact, it was by a huge measure the slowest. But Maurice was the only pilot who flew every one of the 12,000 nautical miles between Biggin Hill and Bankstown. (Only G-KIRK and a helicopter didn't have an autopilot, and the helicopter had a co-pilot.)

April 8: The fly-past over Sydney Harbour

Of course Maurice hoped to loop the Sydney Harbour Bridge as the finale of his adventure, or so he claimed, but the Authorities (by now I have come to think of them with a capital letter, like Big Brother) anticipated him and stationed three police helicopters straddling the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The air traffic controller informed G-KIRK: "Air Race 35, you do not have clearance to enter the harbour with the other race aircraft." Maurice acknowledged the transmission and watched the official finishers fly over the bridge without him.