Monday, May 14, 2018
The Highest Powered Mediumwave Station in the Southern Hemisphere
On a previous occasion here in Wavescan, we presented Part 1 in a mini-series on the topic of The Highest Powered Mediumwave Station in the Southern Hemisphere. Today, we present Part 2 in this same series, though we begin with the story of the famous London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934.
The purpose of the London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934 was to honor the centenary of the city of Melbourne, the earliest settlement of which was founded by European settlers from the island of Tasmania. The small group of settlers disembarked from the ship Enterprize on August 30, 1835 and established a settlement at the site of the current Melbourne Immigration Museum. Initially the name for this new settlement was an Aboriginal name, Dootigala.
Two years later, a planned city was laid out, and the name of the city was changed to Batmania, a name that was not related to Batman nor to Tasmania, but rather to honor John Batman, an early explorer in the area. However, later in that same year, the name for the planned city was changed again, this time to Melbourne, in honor of the then British Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne.
For the first quarter century after the several states were federated into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, Melbourne was not only the state capital for Victoria, but it was also the de facto national capital, until the city of Canberra took over in 1927. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Melbourne with its nearly five million inhabitants has been declared the World’s Most Livable City seven years in a row, 2011 - 2017. Additionally, Melbourne was the host city for the 1956 Summer Olympics, and for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
As Wikipedia informs us, the London to Melbourne Air Race began in October 1934 as part of the Melbourne Centenary celebrations. The idea of the race was devised by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and prize money of £15,000 was provided by Sir Macpherson Robertson, a wealthy Australian confectionery manufacturer, on the conditions that the race be named after his MacRobertson Confectionery Company, and that it be organized to be as safe as possible.
The race was organized by the Royal Aero Club in England; it began at the Royal Air Force aerodrome at Mildenhall in East Anglia 70 miles north of London, and it ended at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne Australia, a distance of some 11,323 miles. There were five compulsory stops on the way; at Baghdad Iraq, Allahabad India, Singapore Malaya, and in Australia itself at Darwin in the Northern Territory and Charleville in Queesnaland. A further 22 optional stops were provided with stocks of fuel and oil, and the competitors could choose their own routes.
The basic rules were: No limit to the size of aircraft or power, no limit to crew size, but no pilot to join the aircraft after it left England. Each aircraft must carry three days rations per crew member, as well as floats, smoke signals, and efficient instruments.
The take off was set at dawn (6:30 am) on Saturday October 20, 1934, and the planes flew off at intervals of 45 seconds. By that time, the initial field of 64 planes had been whittled down to just 20, including three purpose-built de Havilland DH88 Comet Racers, two of the new generation of American all-metal passenger transports Douglas DC2, and a mixture of earlier Racers, light transports and old bombers.
First off the line, watched by a crowd of 60,000, were Jim and Amy Mollison in the Comet Black Magic (radio callsign GACSP) and they were early leaders in the race until forced to retire at Allahabad in India with engine trouble. At the previous stopover, they found that no aviation fuel was available, and instead they took on a load of motor car petrol. This burned out their plane’s motor.
An additional 8 planes withdrew during the flights due to technical problems and accidents. In addition, a total of 6 planes took so long to arrive in Melbourne that they were discounted.
Now in 1931, three years before the running of the London to Melbourne Air Race, the then highest powered mediumwave station in the British Empire the 7½ kW 2CO had been installed near Corowa in country New South Wales. During the night of Tuesday October 23 (1934), the Dutch entry in the London to Melbourne Air Race got hopelessly lost. It was a very stormy night, they did not know where they were, and neither did anyone else, in spite of the fact that they had radio equipment aboard the plane.
The Dutch KLM plane named the Uiver (Stork) was an American Douglas DC2 piloted by Captain K. D. Parmentier and First Officer J. J. Moll, together with three fare paying passengers. While flying from Charleville in Queensland on the last leg of the flight to Melbourne, the plane encountered a fierce electrical storm which cut all wireless communication. They were hopelessly lost and low on fuel.
Royal Australian Air Force RAAF wireless operators at Laverton near Melbourne were trying in vain to contact the plane Uiver (radio callsign PHAJU). They alerted all towns along the route from Queensland to Victoria to be ready to help. Radio stations were asked to broadcast emergency messages, navy ships switched on their searchlights, and railway stations along the Melbourne to Albury line put on signal lamps.
The location of the missing plane was first discovered as it flew over the small town of Henty, midway between Wagga Wagga and Albury. Not knowing where they were, the crew of the Douglas DC2 flew almost due east until they saw the night lights of a regional city and they flew over it hoping somehow to learn the name of the city. This city was Albury, on the north side of the Murray River boundary between the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The Chief Electrical Engineer for the city of Albury Lyle Ferris heard the drone of the Douglas DC2 overhead and he realized that it was the lost plane. He rushed to the electrical power station
and signaled A L B U R Y in Morse Code to the plane by turning the city lights on and off. The crew stated afterwards that they did see the flickering city lights, but they could not read the Morse Code due to violent air turbulence.
In the meantime, Arthur Newnham, the announcer on radio station 2CO in Corowa, made an emergency broadcast by phone from Albury appealing for cars to line up on the racecourse to light up with their headlights a makeshift runway for the plane to land. A large number of people responded to the radio broadcast and they lit up the race course with a circle of cars so that the pilot could see where to land.
At 1.20 am, the Uiver dropped two parachute flares and made its approach to land, coming in from the north. It bumped several times on the undulating centre of the racecourse, and it slithered to a halt 100 yards short of the inner fence. The aircraft had landed safely.
The world was listening on shortwave and on local relays from international shortwave stations. Millions of people around the world who were huddled anxiously over their wireless receivers breathed a collective sigh of relief; the ordeal was over.
Early next morning, radio station 2CO interviewed the crew and local citizens who had joined in with the rescue project of the Dutch KLM DC2. This special programming was broadcast Australia wide on mediumwave, and on shortwave worldwide.
During this next morning the city mayor, Alderman Alf Waugh, rallied 300 local citizens to pull the plane out of the thick Albury mud. All unnecessary cargo (including 3,500 pieces of mail), and all personnel except the two pilots were off loaded so that the Uiver could take off from the race course track. The plane then flew on to Melbourne where it came in second in the race.
In gratitude, KLM made a large donation to the Albury Hospital, and Mayor Alf Waugh was awarded a title in Dutch nobility. The Dutch postal system issued a special postage stamp honoring the Albury experience.
For the rest of the story, we should mention that the first place winner in the air race was the scarlet Comet Grosvenor House, (radio callsign GACSS) flown by Flight Lt. C. W. A. Scott and Captain Tom Campbell Black. This plane arrived in Melbourne in less than 3 days, despite flying the last stage with one engine throttled back because of an oil-pressure indicator giving a faulty low reading.
The Grosvenor House was awarded a magnificent trophy for its win; but seven years later, this trophy was given to the Red Cross in Australia, and they had it melted down for its metals as part of the war effort.
The Movietone Radio Newsreels gave complete coverage to the race; and it was two years after this race (1936) that the Southern Hemisphere’s most powerful radio station 2CO was put off the air for eleven minutes, simply by a tiny mouse that had crawled into the radio frequency amplifier.