17 February 2004
AN INSIDER'S VIEW OF THE UK-NZ AIR RACE 1953
Don Gannon with his fuel planning graph
The well-attended February meeting of the Woking Branch of the Aircrew
Association enjoyed a fascinating talk by ex-RAF navigator Don Gannon, who took
part in the 1953 UK to New Zealand Air Race.
and route map.
The race was the idea of a group of NZ businessmen who wanted to promote New
Zealand trade and tourism. They offered a prize for winning the race in under
24 hours. The idea caught the imagination of a number of countries, including
the UK, and an official Royal Air Force entry was given considerable resources
to train and prepare.
The prototype Canberra PR3
Don Gannon was a senior navigator on reconnaissance Canberra aircraft, which
had longer range than their bomber counterparts at that time. During proving
trials, he developed a graphical method for optimising speed and height to fly
for maximum range or least time en route. It was natural, therefore, that he
was selected to navigate one of the RAF's entries.
After careful planning and extensive proving and training flights, the race
entrants assembled at Heathrow in early October 1953. It seemed most likely
that the winner would either be from UK or Australia - flying Canberras of
London-Basra record certificate.
Don's aircraft captured the London-Basra record on its first leg, but then had
technical problems which delayed departure. A refuelling problem left them
with less fuel than expected for the next leg, but Don's graphical planning aid
saved the day and they managed a good time despite the setback. As they
refuelled again in Perth, they had one Australian Canberra ahead of them on a
more direct route through Woomera. However, as they flew past Woomera on their
final leg, they heard on the radio that this aircraft had suffered an
undercarriage collapse and could go no further.
UK-NZ record certificate
Don's aircraft was the first to land at Christchurch in dreadful weather after
a very good radar talkdown from Air Traffic Control. However, since they were
not the last to leave London, they had to wait some time before it was
confirmed that they had won the race. Their time of 23 hours 50 minutes 42
seconds was under the magical 24 hours and they duly claimed the prize.
Report by David Jackson vice absent PRO
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