Australian Racing Moths
In the Great Australian Tiger Moth Race, it's not whether you win or lose, but whether you can stand that damned uncomfortable cockpit long enough to even finish.
- By Derek Grzelewski
- Air & Space magazine, March 2004
(Page 3 of 3)
By 2 p.m., all 40 Tigers are back in Maitland. The judges have noted the flight times, as well as opened each Moth’s gas tank to measure the fuel remaining. It’s eventually determined that John Cameron and David Theiss, flying VH-AJA, place first, at 3:51:58 and a fuel burn of 29.7 liters per hour. A close second goes to Frank Williams with his grandson, Andrew Biggs, navigating (3:53:26; 31 liters). In all, 10 aircraft were slapped with penalties, ranging from 10 to 40 minutes.
The announcements are followed by a traditional Australian barbecue. In the evening, the race’s sponsor, Airbus, holds a 1930s-theme party (the decade of the Tiger’s debut), complete with a 19-piece swing band, that brings in 250 guests, some dressed in ’30s flightsuits. Nancy Bird Walton bestows more awards: best score for a two-Tiger team from each Australian state, best-restored Tiger, oldest pilot, youngest pilot…
Soon after, the racers head home, though for some, like the five who have to cross the entire country to return to Western Australia, more adventures await. At a remote desert gas station, the wind grows so strong it takes three team members to steady each aircraft during refueling. “Flying Tigers is a lot like sailing,” team member Mick Harcourt tells me later. At one point, when the wind turns 180 degrees, “our ground speed was 14 mph,” Harcourt says.
The total trip takes six days—a “sore butt” exercise—but Harcourt explains that you make it by toughening up and focusing on the scenery. And as much fun as the race and the camaraderie had been, taking in the vast expanse of the stark, mysterious Outback, at what the team discreetly referred to as “an undisclosed altitude,” must have been grand indeed.