ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

17 February 2004

AN INSIDER'S VIEW OF THE UK-NZ AIR RACE 1953

Don Gannon with his fuel planning graph
and route map.
Don Gannon
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.

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
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 varying types.

London-Basra record certificate.
London-Basra
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
UK-NZ
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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