Flight of Two Birds
Fokker FXVIII Pelikaan vs. Douglas DC2 Uiver
"The England-Australia Air Race of 1934, won by Scott and Campbell-Black."
Flyaway, Desmond BagleyThis is a great example of modern times myth-making. Everybody in Holland knows about the 1934 London-Melbourne race, and how it was won by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Only, it wasn't. Almost nobody outside of Holland even recollects KLM was a competitor at all.
You have to look at this against the backdrop of KLM's stubborn militaristic director Albert Plesman, who spared no effort to change from the Dutch Fokker-built to the USA-made Douglas aircraft. Read more about this here, here and here. Mainly because Anthony Fokker had been smart enough to become the sole European agent for both Douglas and Lockheed, he didn't go bankrupt; in fact, the Douglas aircraft were assembled in the Amsterdam Fokker factory. Fokker thus made millions while Plesman tried to ruin his factory. Fokker finally went bankrupt many years after Anthony had died, after an enormous come-back with the F-27, F-28 and later F-50, F-70 and F-100. It was only after that when mismanagement put a final end to the Fokker aircraft history.
It was for that reason that Plesman pushed ahead with buying the DC2, much against the wish of many of his flyers. They liked the way Fokker aircraft could be handled, while the DC2, come right down to it, was a bitch. Don't mix it up with the DC3, which may look the same to you and me but in fact was a very different aircraft. Douglas had learned much from his DC2 mistakes and the DC3 was much easier to fly, much larger and much more accommodating. It got many nicknames, but one of the best is "The amiable cow."
Like the Supermarine Spitfire, the Lockheed Constellation and Lockheed Hercules, the Piper Cub and the Boeing 747, the Douglas DC3 became one of the great classics of all time.
And so, to convince everybody he was right, Plesman entered the DC2 PH-AJU Uiver into the London-Melbourne race. Mind you, this was not a year after "his" KLM had broken a record with a Christmas mail-flight Amsterdam-Batavia v.v., executed with the PH-AIP Fokker F-XVIII Pelikaan, the sister ship of the Snip that, in December 1934, made the first commercial trans-Atlantic flight Amsterdam-Suriname-Curaçao.
After the Pelikaan record, public enthusiasm in Holland approached hysteria. You have to know Dutch to appreciate the bragging and blustering that went on in magazines and newspapers; and over the radio of course. Crowds collected, freezing their collective asses off on Schiphol airport in the middle of the January winter night, to welcome the Intrepid Flying Heroes.
But that was nothing to the pandemonium that broke out when Uiver returned from Melbourne. Alas, it's a hefty dose of fake history that was fed those maddened mobs.
Caveat: Bear with me here. The facts have been heavily distorted and it's almost impossible to find out what really went on. For example, in the book on the Pelikaan flight, the order of Djask-Bushir [Bandar-e-Jask and Bandar-e-Busher] airports is reversed.Pelikaan started out from Amsterdam Schiphol airport on Monday, December 18, 1933. In fact, the trip was planned with Fokker F-36 Zilvermeeuw but the 4 Wright Cyclone engines gave trouble, so at the last moment the plane was switched (F-XVIII had 3 Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines). Take-off was at 04:30. Route followed was Roma—Saloniki—Caïro—Baghdad—Bandar-e-Busher—Bandar-e-Jask—Karachi—Jodhpur—Allahabad—Kajota—Akyab—Yangon—Bangkok—Alor Star—Singapore—Palembang—Batavia [Jakarta], where she arrived on Friday 22 at 16:32. A flight of 8282NM/15339km, total time 89 hours and 27 minutes.
Also, the newspapers quoted make a hopeless mess, mixing Amsterdam, GMT-Zulu and local time, sometimes in one sentence. The same book quotes an article which has Pelikaan taking off from Singapore at 06:50 and arriving in Palembang at 06:15, without even bothering to mention what time zones are meant.
But at any rate, I've been able to figure out about how long both trips lasted. Here the fun starts.
Uiver started out from London, which is 546NM/1012km from Marseille; in fact, a weeny bit closer than Amsterdam at 548NM/1015km. Not worth bothering about.
I will also not bother about the trip Batavia—Melbourne. Suffice it to say that Uiver had the bad luck to encounter an electrical storm over Albury, had to make an emergency landing there and literally got stuck in the mud. And of course it was a great thing for the crew, and KLM, to come in second place in a commercial transport carrying passengers; even if there were only two. The crew that won flew a race place named Comet, for cryin' out loud!
But Uiver arrived in Batavia after 52 hours (my calculations say 50 hours and 7 minutes) while Pelikaan took 89 hours and 27 minutes. Aha! much longer, that. No so fast there... (In case you missed it, it's meant to be a pun.) Let us take the trouble to figure out how long the crew took on stops. Uiver's maximum stop-over time was 57 minutes in Alor Star, minimum 15 minutes in Aleppo. Total stops, as far as I can figure, 6 hours and 4 minutes.
Note: Europe, North-West is to the left, Far East to the right.
Pelikaan made a 16 hours 15 minutes stop in Caïro; her shortest stop was in Palembang, 13 minutes. The crew took it much easier and total stop-over time was 35 hours and 8 minutes.
Which results in a total flight time Amsterdam-Batavia, Pelikaan, of 44 hours and 19 minutes; and London-Batavia, Uiver, 44 hours and 3 minutes. In fact, seeing the official time of 52 hours versus my clumsy calculations, Pelikaan may have taken less flying time! The point is moot, am I right?
So Here's the Bouillabasse
Both crews were the cream of KLM's crop, which honestly is saying a godawful lot.
Pelikaan: Smirnoff, Snoer, Grossveld, Beukering Uiver: Parmentier, van Bruggen, Moll, Prins
"Hey guys, you got a cancer stick for me?"
Normal time schedule was 9.8 days/235 hours out, 9.1 days/218 hours home, so Pelikaan essentially cut some, not all, overnight stops and made the trip in .4 times the normal schedule. But the Uiver crew have been flying like maniacs, hardly getting any rest at all except brief uncomfortable slumbers en route. This in spite of Plesman's constant hammering that "safety always comes first!" Only three months later he got it coming.
Uiver left on December 20, 1934 on what no doubt was another try at a record, a Christmas mail flight Amsterdam—Batavia. But captain Beekman refused to take off from Caïro because of bad weather. Plesman threatened to fire him and so Beekman took off anyway, with the result that the plane just flew into the ground near Rutbah, Iraq, in what strangely enough is called the Syrian Desert.
Wreck of Uiver in the Syrian desert
In the aftermath, Ir. van der Maas of Rijks Studiedienst voor de Luchtvaart [national aviation studies] delivered his final report in February 1935. He blamed the disaster on the very bad weather, combined with "less favorable" flight characteristics of the aircraft in bad remous, and crew fatigue; and they were still only on the first day of the flight. So much for safety.In sharp contrast, it was in that same fateful year 1935 that in the USA the National Recovery Act had stipulated that a pilot was not allowed to fly more than 40 hours a month. I am totally sure Plesman and his pilots, part of a tight international community, were well aware of this.That was the last thing the Dutch heard about Uiver. Further reports silently disappeared and did not turn up before 1992.
Plesman should have been tried for dood door schuld [manslaughter second degree, when a defendant recklessly causes death] and convicted as the criminal he was, instead of being jubilated.
You can read more about the crash here.
Small wonder then that the Dutch public never lost its adoration for Uiver and crew. There was a café "De Uiver" in The Hague opposite Staatsspoor (now Centraal Station) which was around until at least the 1970s. It sported a prop on the façade—which, alas, looked much more like the wooden 2-blade Fokker than the metal 3-blade Douglas props.
Café De Uiver during mobilization, 1940 sugar for your coffee
Appropriately, in a crash I lost photos of the façade complete with prop; and also the address of the lady who kindly helped me to them.
Anybody out there who has one?
Don't let a good myth die
In 1999 the Dutch bought 1 of the 2 still flying DC2s around, and completely restored it. It finally ended up in the Aviodrome of Lelystad Airport. Of course they re-christened it Uiver and gave it, illegally, the original Uiver PH-AJU registration; technically the aircraft is still registered in the USA. But the Dutch authorities thought it a just fine idea.
They even went so far to use it for sightseeing flights, but this was stopped when in 2005 the plane sagged through its landing gear; it took almost two years to repair. That made them wise up.
After the Hague café had closed, an ex-KLM pilot (as far as I know) bought up a fish shop in Haarlem, which is not too far from Schiphol Airport, and opened Proeflokaal In den Uiver; proeflokaal literally meaning "tasting room" but let's face it, it's a bar. It was later followed by a Bierlokaal de Uiver, also in Haarlem.
Most of the Dutch are completely unaware that Uiver, their national pride, crashed in 1934.
They think the Aviodrome Uiver is the original one. A greatly successful confidence trick; all for safety's sake.
Check out KLM Blog "The Legendary Victory of The Uiver"
Their photos are much better quality than mine, duh. But the selection differs.
In the years 1934-1937, KLM managed to lose 2 Fokkers F-XII, 3 Douglas DC2s and 1 Douglas DC3.
Because they were so safe.
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