A Fleeting Peace

Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire

The Greatest Air Race: England - Australia 1919

Nowadays less well-known than the 1934 MacRobertson Race, but even more of a challenge - it was only 16 years since the first aeroplane flight, the only machines available were flimsy and unreliable, there were virtually no airfields, and they only had primitive navigation aids.

The 6 Australian (and 1 French) teams had almost incredible adventures.

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The Aerial Derby 1919 - 1923

The 'Aerial Derby' Air Race round London began in 1912; the race held in 1919 (the 'Victory' Derby) was actually the fourth.

To begin with, Flight thought it was "quite the most effective race of the year". However, by 1922 they said "this year's race was even duller than last year's".

40 aviators took part in these 5 races; they were all pioneers, and one or two of them were quite bonkers.

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The Schneider Cup 1919 - 1931

I'm sure you've heard about the Schneider Trophy (elegant / dangerous seaplanes, gallant Brits, Reginald Mitchell, etc, etc). I merely wish to point out here that either the Italians or the Americans should have it, really.

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The Air League Challenge Cup 1921 - 1932

The Secretary of the Air League of the British Empire (Air Vice Marshall Sir William Sefton Brancker, of whom much more elsewhere), decided in 1921 to encourage air racing with a new competition.

The only people who could realistically compete in the early years were all in the RAF. Nevertheless, in 1921, "in spite of the fact that at times a 40 miles an hour easterly wind was blowing and a miserable drizzle fell on and off throughout the afternoon, some quite decent racing was put up".

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The King's Cup Race 1922-39

The King's Cup - which was the premier air race in Britain between the wars, and had a significant role in preparing our aviators and aircraft industries for WWII - has been sadly neglected; even where it is mentioned, the focus is mostly on the aircraft, not the personalities.

Which is a shame, because the 275 people who took part provide a fascinating cross-section of private fliers in the British Empire between the wars.

They are all here, together with cute maps, results and descriptions of each individual race.

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The 1933 Circuit of the Oases in Egypt

Sir Christopher Brand became Director-General of Aviation for Egypt and decided that an international race, with prizes, would be A Good Thing. Lots of people turned up and, once the weather had stopped being, ahem, 'feminine', they had a splendid time. Oh, and a British team won, btw :-)

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The Greatest Air Race (again): The 1934 MacRobertson Race from Mildenhall to Melbourne

The MacRobertson Race itself - probably the most successful air race of its kind, ever - is spendidly and copiously documented elsewhere. What is more difficult to find, is information about the people involved; many of them have fascinating stories, it turns out.

I've also discovered that they got the handicap results wrong (although it's probably a bit late to say this, now, I suppose); and in these pages you can find, in exhausting detail, my reasoning. Whichever way you look at it, David and Kenneth Stodart in the Courier woz definitely robbed.

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The 1936 Schlesinger Race from Portsmouth to Johannesburg

The poor old 1936 Schlesinger Race has become a rather sad and unloved affair (Flight said "the less said about it the better") but, ignoring their advice, I aim to present a complete account of it here.

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