I always enjoy your odd pages in Motor Sport in particular the one devoted to Old Aircraft. A couple of days ago at a “Steptoe Auction” I came across a book called “The Dangerous Skies” by our famous aviator Air Commodore A.E.Clouston. This story recounts his exploits in the De Havilland Comet which he bought from a wrecker’s yard for some £250. Research has shown that this plane is the actual one that Scott and Black flew in the 1934 MacRobertson London to Melbourne Air Race in 1934. The records that Clouston established together with its Australian Air Race win must make it one of the most historic record-breaking planes of all time.
It would appear that altogether five Comets were built by De Havillands. Three for the Air Race and two later which went to France. The Scott and Black plane G-ACSS was painted red with white trim, the Mollisons plane G-ACST painted black and the Cathcart-Jones & Waller plane G-ACSR painted green with silver trim. The Mollisons came to grief at Baghdad, having made their own adjustments to carburation, which eventually led to their demise. G-ACST apparently ended its days somewhere in Portugal.
I am told that the Clouston plane is now in the Shuttleworth Collection undergoing a long term restoration. This surely is the least that this famous plane deserves. If the “Winnie Mae” can hold pride of place in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. the Comet is at least equally deserving.
After the 1934 Air Race the Air Ministry bought the Comet for research purposes, and in the spring of 1937 the plane crash-landed during full load tests at Martlesham Heath, whereupon the Air Ministry sold the plane to a scrap dealer, and it was at this stage that Clouston paid a five pound deposit on the Comet and talked Mr. Tasker into paying the other £245.
A young aircraft engineer Jack Cross agreed to repair the damaged plane for £150, against the quote by De Havillands of £1,000. From here on the plane put up really remarkable performances in many spheres of the world.
After breaking the London-Cape-London record with Betty Kirby-Green Clouston then met up with Victor Ricketts, and under sponsorship of the Australian Consolidated Press went on to break virtually all the records, England to New Zealand and return, as well as many intermediate records. Here in New Zealand Air Commodore Clouston is not as well known as our famous aviatrix Jean Batten, but Clouston accomplished far more, although not single handed.
Where are the heroes of the Comet’s history? Is Air Commodore Clouston still alive? He should be. Perhaps he is still living in England. Is his aircraft engineer Jack Cross still around? These People should be able to tell some great stories about this famous aircraft. This plane was the forerunner of the Mosquito which in turn made its mark during World War 2.
In Havelock North close to Hastings, New Zealand we have one of the De Havilland Aircraft engineers who was responsible for the carburetter settings and magneto timing on the Scott and Black Comet, Mr. George Tillson. George at that time, as a specialised aircraft engineer was getting 1/6d an hour for a 47 hour week. No wonder he came out to New Zealand as aircraft engineer to Mr. Piet Van Asch of Aerial Mapping Co. Ltd. who at that time had just purchased a new 1936 ST25 Monospar aircraft, English registration G-AEJW. This plane first flew on July 1st 1936 and was used for some time for Flight Survey work from Castle Bromwich Airfield at Birmingham. This Monospar is now unique. New Zealand registered ZK-AFF, it has been kept in mint condition since that time, and restored to new condition as required. Still with a current Certificate of Airworthiness, the plane makes a great sight in our skies as it flies quietly round on its twin 90 h.p. Pobjoy motors.
I hope that someone more knowledgeable than myself can take up this most interesting Comet story and bring us up to date with a great piece of history.
Hastings, N.Z. – Gordon Vogtherr