De Havilland DH 88 Comet
Sir Macpherson Robertson announced that he would put up the prizes for a race from Mildenhall, England, to Melbourne, Australia, to mark the Centenary of Victoria. de Havilland advertised that they were prepared to produce a 200 mph specially-designed racer if anyone would put up the cash, and they received orders for three.
The de Havilland D.H.88 Comet attracted three orders before the February 1934 deadline which had been stipulated by the manufacturer for guaranteed delivery before the Race in October. Purchasers were Mr A. O. Edwards, managing director of the Grosvenor House Hotel, Bernard Rubin, and Jim and Amy Mollison. The Comet was of wooden construction throughout, the front section of the fuselage containing three large fuel tanks behind which were two tandem seats for the pilot and copilot. Two 230 hp high compression de Havilland Gipsy Six R engines were installed, driving Ratier two-position propellers which were set to fine pitch before each flight. These went into coarse pitch automatically at 241km/h, when a sealing disc in the spinner opened to release the unit's internal pressure and thus activate the control mechanism. Other notable features included the provision of manually retractable landing gear and split trailing-edge flaps.
Designed and built in 7.5 months the first Comet was flown on September 8, 1934, only six weeks before the start of the race.
Hubert Broad flew the first Comet, intended for the Mollisons, at Hatfield on 8 September 1934. Its Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 9 October and certificates for the other two aircraft on 12 October, just eight days before the Race.
Dawn on 20 October saw the departure of the first contestants, including the Mollisons' Black Magic G-ACSP, Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller's G-ACSR (owned by Rubin) and C. W. A. Scott and T. Campbell Black in G-ACSS Grosvenor House. Black Magic accomplished successfully the non-stop London-Baghdad leg but was forced to retire with engine trouble at Allahabad. Cathcart-Jones and Waller, after getting lost and being forced to land in Persia, struggled through to Melbourne to finish fourth in the speed section. They flew straight back, with mail and film, to set an out-and-return record of 131/2 days. Scott and Black were the speed section winners, covering the course in 70 hours 54 minutes; Grosvenor House is now preserved by the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, Bedfordshire.
The start of the England-Australia race
Two further Comets were built, one as a mailplane for the French government and the other for Mr Cyril Nicholson, who sponsored two unsuccessful attempts on the London-Cape record. During the second attempt the crew baled out over Sudan, on 22 September 1935.
Several more records were made, including a New Zealand-and-back record of 10 days 21.5 hrs.
Turner, Bill DH88
Engines: 2 x de Havilland Gipsy Six R inline, 172kW / 230 hp
Max take-off weight: 2413 kg / 5320 lb
Empty weight: 1288 kg / 2840 lb
Wingspan: 13.41 m / 44 ft 0 in
Length: 8.84 m / 29 ft 0 in
Height: 3.05 m / 10 ft 0 in
Wing area: 19.69 sq.m / 211.94 sq ft
Max. speed: 381 km/h / 237 mph
Cruise speed: 354 km/h / 220 mph
Ceiling: 5790 m / 19000 ft
Range: 4707 km / 2925 miles at 220 mph