An Air Adventure of a Lifetime
The 1990 World Vintage Air Rally.
World Vintage Air Rally letterhead i
Airmen and airwomen have always been an adventurous lot. In 1990 two well known Australian adventurers set about organising an air rally from England to Australia. Not content with a rally that included the latest in aeronautics, Hans Tholstrup and Lang Kidby planned a rally for vintage aircraft built prior to 1950. Hans had previously made a name for himself by circumnavigating the Australian continent in an open powered boat and by completing the first transcontinental journey in a solar powered car ii, while Lang had organised various expeditions in New Guinea and Australia iii. We have selected a file that reveals details about the planning for this event, and the participation of an entrant from Canberra, for our January Find of the Month.
In information forwarded to potential competitors, the event organisers were keen to point out that the event was not a race, but an ‘air adventure of a lifetime’ that would test each pilot’s flying and planning abilities.
Competitors must assess the speed and characteristics of their aircraft, make a judgement on the delays likely to be encountered enroute and predict the elapsed time for each leg exactly as pioneers had to do in the days before radio to avoid unnecessary searches for “lost” aircraft.iv
In true adventurer style, the key characteristics to be demonstrated by competitors were mutual assistance, safety and comradeship; the ‘real victory will be to reach Brisbane and one of us will just happen to win the points prize’.
It was an enticing challenge for one Canberra resident. Dr Antek Skotnicki registered for the event and decided to seek sponsorship from Canberra-based businesses and organisations. A file was raised when Dr Skotnicki asked for financial support from the Canberra Tourism Development Bureau (CTDB). In a letter to the Bureau he said ‘it would be a privilege to carry the Canberra livery on the fuselage of my vintage Bonanza v. The ’Bonanza’ he referred to was the aircraft he chose to fly, an early model Beech 35 Bonanza built in 1948. His was just one of seven of the same model aircraft that took part in the rally.
The CTDB agreed to provide sponsorship having been assured that the aircraft would carry Canberra signage and that the event would receive generous exposure from media in Australia and abroad. Dr Skotnicki had also intended to take the plane to various Australian air shows following the vintage air rally. He included an image of how he thought the plane would be decked out in his correspondence to the CTDB, with “CANBERRA” written in bold type along the fuselage. The Bureau suggested that their new logo, 'Canberra, the Natural Capital', might be a better option. It isn’t revealed in the file who had the final say on the livery, or how the decision was made, but neither of these two suggestions were taken up. We can see from newspaper reports of the event and from photos that Dr Skotnicki’s Bonanza ended up flying under the name of 'Soul of Canberra' vi, the name displayed much more modestly than was originally proposed and placed towards the front of the plane.
Beech 35 Bonanza aircraft with rejected livery design vii.
Nonetheless, Canberra’s involvement in the air rally was secured by having one of it’s residents as a competitor and support through local sponsorship. To generate interest from participants the promoters claimed that;
Man will become one with machine travelling over 10,000 miles competing for the championship all the way, and enduring every kind of weather condition, experiencing the challenge and difficulties a vintage aircraft may encounter. In the slipstream of aviation pioneers, the World Vintage Air Rally will retrace part of the Empire Mail Route to commemorate the golden years of flying. viii
Not all the planning for the event sounded quite so romantic. Medical advice for competitors included some basic tips such as drinking lots of liquids ‘(preferably not brewed)’, wearing hats and sunglasses and being wary about what was eaten on stopovers. Skilful navigation would be crucial to the safety of the competitors and the success of the event, and yet the recommendations for the equipment to be used were straight forward and to the point;
A trip from England to Australia can be done with a single VHF radio and a magnetic compass. Common sense would suggest you carry a back-up radio at least in the form of a hand held VHF… we will also be going over some of the most inhospitable country in the world and some decent water legs as well, anyone who does not carry an emergency locator beacon is stupid. ix
World Vintage Air Rally 1990 - Route map x
Twenty-four rally entrants and their crew including men and women took off from White Waltham airport near London on the 25 March 1990, after Richard Branson had delivered an ‘appropriate speech’. Eleven of these finished the race by arriving at their intended destination in Australia xi.
Dr Skotnicki and his co-pilot Dr Don Young left the rally at Crete due to delays and safety concerns, flying ahead of the remaining aircraft. They continued onto Australia and ‘made a smooth landing’ in Canberra on the 28 April 1990. They had flown 30,000 kilometres in 35 days.
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ArchivesACT: 89/19955, Canberra Entry: Sponsorship in World Vintage Air Rally.
i. ArchivesACT: 89/19955, Canberra Entry: Sponsorship in World Vintage Air Rally.
ii. Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 3). Hans Tholstrup. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:53, December 20, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hans_Tholstrup&oldid=919332944
iii. Lang & Bev Kidby website. World Vintage Air Rally. Retrieved 20 December, 2019. https://next-horizon.org/expeditions/wold-vintage-air-rally/
iv. ArchivesACT: 89/19955, Canberra Entry: Sponsorship in World Vintage Air Rally.
vi. And old Soul lands softly (1990, April 29). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122103775
vii. ArchivesACT: 89/19955, Canberra Entry: Sponsorship in World Vintage Air Rally.
x. And old Soul lands softly (1990, April 29). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122103775
xi. Lang & Bev Kidby website. World Vintage Air Rally. Retrieved 20 December, 2019. https://next-horizon.org/expeditions/wold-vintage-air-rally/
Links to External Websites
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 3). Hans Tholstrup. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:53, December 20, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hans_Tholstrup&oldid=919332944
Lang & Bev Kidby website. World Vintage Air Rally. Retrieved 20 December, 2019. https://next-horizon.org/expeditions/wold-vintage-air-rally/
And old Soul lands softly (1990, April 29). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 1. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122103775
Abpic, Air Britain. Photo Library. https://abpic.co.uk/pictures/view/1017907
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