In the week Qantas prepares to launch the first regularly scheduled nonstop flights linking the continents of Australia and Europe, the Northern Territory government is reviving an air race first held when such an undertaking would have been inconceivable.
In 1919, the Australian Government challenged the world’s leading aviators to fly from Great Britain to Australia in less than 30 days.
Waiting for the first successful flight would be a prize of 10,000 pounds.
It was called the Great Air Race and six teams entered the contest. Three teams crashed, two fatally. A fourth was imprisoned in Yugoslavia after being thought to be “Bolsheviks”. Just two crews finished.
And there was only one winner.
On the morning of November 12 1919, pilots Ross and Keith Smith, along with mechanics Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, took off in their Vickers Vimy G-EAOU from Hounslow aerodrome in West London.
Over the next 29 days they passed through countries including France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia before touching down at Fannie Bay, Northern Territory.
The realisation that it was possible to fly from Australia to Great Britain was part of the inspiration that spurred the founding of Qantas, by Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh, in 1920.
To celebrate the centenary of the Great Air Race in 1919, the Northern Territory government is backing a new Great Air Race to be held in 2019.
The advancement in aviation technology over the past century means the journey between Australia and Great Britain now takes 24 hours rather than 30 days. Indeed Qantas’s forthcoming Boeing 787-9 flights from Perth to London shows the journey can be done nonstop.
Therefore, the Great Air Race 2019 will be for electric-powered aircraft, with batteries to be charged using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, or by hydrogen fuel cells, with the hydrogen to be produced by renewable energy. And competitors will have to complete the journey within 30 days.
University of NSW Emeritus Professor of physics John Storey said the race would help spur innovation in battery technology.
“The heart of the problem is to store enough energy in the batteries without making the aircraft weigh like an elephant,” Prof Storey said.
“The event is technically feasible, but being able to complete the route within 30 days is by no means a foregone conclusion.
“That makes 2019 the right time to stage it: in 2009 it would have been impossible, in 2029 it will be routine. It’s a very happy coincidence.”
More information can be found on greatairrace.com.au.
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