The Daily Update
(Cue “She Sells Sanctuary”)
EP: “Hello and welcome to our final Daily Update. It is now the 29th of February, 2024 back home. I’m Elias Pacheco for Radio Chachapoya, Claus Ullrich, and the magnificent team from Piper’s Performance Planes. Their Howard 500, that Bill Piper the Fourth procured for the division as an inspiration, is all packed and ready to go. I’ve spent the morning dealing with the airport, the caterers, and the headlining band. It’s been raining on and off all week, but the skies over Cairns cleared just about an hour ago.
“So, thinking that Melo might need a ride from Darwin to Cairns, or at least using that as an excuse, I’ve got Sara up for one last Australian cross-country. I realized that I was only getting in everybody’s way anyway. Rodg Carter from Cezium gave me a not-so-gentle nudge out the door when he told me that they’d have something for me to look over in about eight hours or so. That’s about the time it’d take to get the Saratoga to YPDN and back. And if I’m not in an aeroplane, I’d just be fidgeting.
“On the 7th of December of last year, ViperPilot2 reopened, ‘The Next Challenge.’ The next day, at 20:20, he said, ‘There's been some murmuring about a possible Australia Air Rally, recreating the 1976 Route.’ Rather fateful words, I must say. During that month, Club Chachapoya members settled on a re-creation of the ‘76 and merged it with the backcourse of a route proposed by AirBasil_1 to form a 25-leg, 3,500-mile long behemoth we called the Combined. They even developed scenery for places in which there were no airports, such as Caiguna.
“Behind the scenes, Melo and I developed the Leaderboard and the Spotters’ Guide spreadsheets with the goal of providing maximum flexibility to the timed participants. They could run the ‘76 as a standalone race, run the Eastern standalone in a different aircraft, or run the whole, 3,500-mile Combined Route. They could even set a time for the ‘76, switch planes for the Eastern, and then go back and complete the Combined in their ‘76 entry.
“The planning thread was so active that I could not systematize the Rules until the weekend before the race. I was in the air already, having left Cuernavaca in a Seneca II on New Year’s Day, and having picked up the Saratoga from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for a flight to Goose Bay, Canada, with the Piglets’ Howard in tow.
“I wasn’t the only one flying from my home airport to the Gaggle’s starting point in Perth. jgf flew his Staggerwing from Cleveland to Australia, flying against the wind and milking the last iota of fuel mileage out of his Beech in the process. Bossspecops set out from EGDF – Dean Forest – on the Severn, heading east.
“Other aircraft rode in style. defaid was in Toronto for AirBasil_1’s fly-in challenge. The aircraft that he had chosen for the Gaggle, a 1979 Piper Arrow T-Tail, was in Cardiff. He, dj, and his crew loaded themselves into a C-130, flew it to Scotland, loaded the Arrow onto the transport, and flew the rest of the way to Australia. An Archangel conveyed VP2 to Australia. He and his Lady flew in a C-17 and a senryú. And a flight from Bremerton to Williams Lake in his Chipmunk disabused Melo of the notion of flying it to Perth. He prevailed on some friends of his in the military to give him and his Chippie a lift to Darwin, took forever to get his aircraft repainted, and then flew his race plane down the coast to Jandakot. Although not entirely, as fuel system problems forced him to change Chipmunks along the way.
“Others either lived in Australia or got themselves to Perth, and picked up their planes in-country. ScottishMike found a nice Mooney, Tao a Twin Comanche, JSMR a Cessna Centurion, and MAD1 a 182RG. PhrogPhlyer obtained both helicopter and ‘76 race pilot from the RAAF.
“AirBasil’s company sent down a Citation air ambulance. They and the Royal Flying Doctor Service watched over us. Fortunately, their services were never needed.
“And then there were those who wished they could have joined us. Sirrus had planned to, but had to have major surgery and is now on the slow but sure path to recovery. He followed the goings-on of the race from the FBO, and has recently felt up to posting. Hopefully he can join us for our next major event. And Rupert’s wife, Molly, unfortunately fell ill, and he had to care for her. He kept up with us as he could. At last report, Molly was on the mend and looking forward to celebrating her 80th in February. Happy birthday, Molly!
“As the start of the race approached, most of the participants spent their days testing and surveying. Many also worked on turning Caiguna into a usable airstrip. If only it had had a usable restaurant…
“Before we knew it, Race Day was upon us. defaid and dj were the first to start. They were quickly followed by Bosss, ScottishMike, and VP2. A new publication sprang up around the race: Chachapoya Chronicle helped us to get to know the places in which we were flying with a personal heart and exquisite prose.
“Just a couple of days into the Gaggle, we realized that the thread structure wasn’t working for us. So we changed it.
“It was around that time that signs of strain began to show in ScottishMike’s Mooney. What was supposedly an academic mission by his sponsors soon revealed itself to be something else. The something else ended up with the suspicious death of one of his passengers and the disappearance of the other, and a mystery involving a triangular formation of cairns by a hole, close to where the man died.
“It wasn’t until five days into the race that the paint finally dry enough on Melo’s Chipmunk for him to fly out of Darwin toward Perth.
“Some entrants flew in spurts, several legs and then spent some time in a place. Others did one leg at a time. Captain Dirk Doovalacky started for the PhrogPhlyers, as did MAD1 and jsmr. Tao and jgf enjoyed just flying along, keeping pace with the racers without the hassle of timing.
“This is endurance air racing in classic aircraft. Some teams had mechanical problems. The PhrogPhlyers were the first, with a tail rotor gearbox failure that fortunately they caught on the ground. The Bosss and his Sealand were grounded in Warrnambool with control issues. A 70-year-old radio correspondent had his medical temporarily pulled.
“Despite their problems, the PhrogPhlyers were the first to finish the 1976 Australian Air Race, on the 1st of February. Their CV of 7 proved vulnerable, however; they finished the 1976 in last place. Eleven days later, defaid and dj finished with a -2. Two days after that, ScottishMike finished with a +2. On that same day, Melo won the race by finishing with a 0.
“defaid and ScottishMike sat 2 and 3 on the podium for six more days, but then the Bosss and VP2 both finished with 0’s to share the silver, send defaid down to bronze, and knock ScottishMike off of the podium altogether. And on the 21st, JSMR took the bronze with a 1.
“By this time, jgf had already nearly completed a circumnavigation of all of Australia.
“PhrogPhlyer flew a Vampire on the Eastern Route, finishing with a -20. Frustrated by this, he took the controls of his team’s Bell 206 and won the Combined on the 23rd with a CV of 0. On that same day, Melo ran the Eastern in a Canberra, setting a -2 that was all the more impressive because it had to be quite a change from the Chipmunk. VP2 finished the Eastern with a +2 two days later in The Lady, which added to his +1 to Coff’s Harbour gave him a +3 for the Combined.
“After his co-second-place finish in the ‘76 in his Sealand, the Bosss decided that he would complete a circumnavigation with it, and while that was being fitted with additional tankage for the longest leg of his planned Pacific crossing, Free-Fly the Eastern Route, switching seaplanes at each port. He made it as far as Rockhampton, where his Russian Beriev would fly no more. Added to that, he was told that there were major issues with his Sealand. He was stranded and needed a lift from ScottishMike and his flying companion, Suzanne to get to Cairns.
“This just in: Club Chachapoya’s 2024 Great Australian Air Gaggle is officially over! It has now passed midnight in the UK, and since the last remaining racers were from there, we can now release the final results:
“On the third step of the podium for the Eastern Route are the PhrogPhlyers with a -20. They win $6,250. On the second step is ViperPilot2, finishing on the 25th with a +2. He wins $12,500. And on the top step, winning the Eastern overall, is Melo965, finishing on the 23rd with a -2. He takes home $25,000, which added to his first-place winnings from the 1976 Australian Air Race gives him a total of $50,000 for the Gaggle.
“Now for the Combined, winning the Silver is ViperPilot2, with a +3. He takes home $25,000 for second place – since there was no third-place finisher, the $10,000 prize for the Bronze is split evenly between the other two finishers. And the PhrogPhlyers take home the Gold with their perfect CV set on the 23rd, and $45,000.
“The total winnings for the Gaggle, then, are:
“The PhrogPhlyers in first place with $51,250.
“Melo965 in second with $50,000.
“ViperPilot2, the only team to earn podium finishes in all three events, in third with $43,750.
“Bossspecops and JSMR share fourth place with $6,250 each.
“And I am so proud to present the Spirit of the Race Award to Bossspecops!
“As for your humble correspondent, I am feet-wet on my way home – back to Cairns, sorry – after filling up in Darwin. I’ll see you all at the party in a couple of hours. I had planned to finish my last regular broadcast with some profound words. At this point, I’d settle for some profane ones, yet none come. Maybe I’ll find some by the time I see you in Cairns. Maybe it’ll take a few more days, I don’t know. The final Leaderboard has been tallied; the final Daily Update has now concluded. For now, Sara is humming along at 15,500’ The comm frequencies are quiet; the sun’s going down; it’s just the sound of the engine.
“Nothing left to do but fly…”