PHASE 1: PLAN WISELY
It did not have the feel of hysteria at the start. Everything was calm and low-key and innocent. In this red-velvet restaurant at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street in Manhattan there was Pan American Airways Captain Kimball J. Scribner raising his martini and saying the fateful words, "No way we can lose this race. No way." Even that part was innocent, since airline pilots are permitted to drink if they promise not to pilot anybody anywhere for the next 24 hours, and the captain was between flights. So the Sixth Avenue Racing Team drank to winning.
This was our last plotting session before flying to London in the Daily Mail Transatlantic Air Race. The captain had announced cheerily that the jet stream would be waiting up there to kick us across to London in record time. "The computer found it," he said, winking wisely over his prime rib. "The Pan Am computer knows all. It tells us that the jet stream will be at 27,000 feet on Thursday night. Now, if I request 27,000 feet I'll get it because I am a senior pilot and nobody else can have it, right? We'll fly optimum all the way over. At the London end we'll zoom right in, no waiting. Never mind how; I can arrange that, too."
The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. As sure winners we would pick up prizes of $21,000 or more. There would be a gala awards banquet in London—black tie, of course. Prince Philip, of course. Champagne and balloons and glory. We shook hands and agreed to meet the next day at the Pan Am terminal at Kennedy airport to practice sneaking on the plane. Not everyone goes aboard a Boeing 707 by climbing up through a secret hatch in the belly of the plane, then slips out through the rest room to take his seat.
June 8, 1969
PHASE 2: READ YOUR MAIL
Naturally you do not just go off and win an international air race on nickels and dimes. People have to be hired. They have to be fixed, if possible. No effort would be spared, in fairness to London's Daily Mail, which had started this whole thing. A sassy, gaudy newspaper with a circulation of better than two million. Black headlines in ink that comes off on your fingers. Cheesecake. Vivid writing.
Vivid promotion, too. It was the Daily Mail which produced the RAF pilots Alcock and Brown as winners of its first transatlantic air race, in 1919. Winners in the only plane to finish—not too many were out over the waves in 1919.
Four years ago the Mail's idea man, Peter Bostock, jumped up in a staff meeting and said something like, "I say, here is a smashing idea: 1969 will be the 50th anniversary of our first great air race. Let's sponsor another one, chaps!" The contest would be international and all that, but everyone knew the Mail expected an Englishman to win.
There would be none of this routine takeoff-to-touchdown scoring, Bostock decided. This one would run from the top of the Empire State Building in Manhattan to the top of the General Post Office tower in central London. Or vice versa. It was diabolical. It was fiendish in its scope. So naturally 390 people from 10 countries entered right away. Plus one chimpanzee and one turtle.
Bostock found sponsors all over the world, winding up with $137,400 in prize money for 21 classes. Certain rules were made. Do not break any aerial laws, said one. Do not break any traffic or boating laws, said another. Little things. "We must play fair," said Bostock.
PHASE 3: CHEAT SCIENTIFICALLY
On the afternoon of our escapade, Captain Scribner strolled into the Pan Am terminal looking at once jazzy and sneaky in his stripes and braid. There was a young girl with him, one with big eyes, a bright smile, her hair parted in the middle. She was wearing mod sunglasses and rings on several fingers. The captain looked all around to make sure nobody was listening and hissed, "This is my daughter Susi."
Susi sort of wriggled and said, "The kids in school will never believe this."
Susi is 17 and had entered in the class for unsponsored contestants flying via a regularly scheduled airliner. I had entered in the sponsored class, and so had another gentleman we'll be coming to. We figured Susi for first in her class and one of us for first in ours—and a take that could shake 'em back at the office. Susi had been selected on the basis of her charm, poise, cuteness and overall demeanor. Ah, yes, and her daddy, who would fly the team to London.
The master plan had sprung from the Machiavellian mind of Jerry Cooke, a noted photographer, dashing bon vivant and world traveler whose sideburns are insured for several thousand dollars. Just before takeoff The New York Times brought us the unsettling news that the Catholic Church had devalued several saints, including Christopher, the patron of travelers.
"It is nossing, dollink," Cooke said, pretending an accent he doesn't have. He unbuttoned his shirt to show his religious medal on a golden chain. On it was the likeness of Czar Nicholas I or II of Russia.
Well, the captain led us downstairs in the terminal and out a basement door to where several planes were parked. He motioned us under one; we all doubled over and followed him around the nose wheel and under the belly. "Now, look here," he said, and pointed up.
There was a little hatch, not much more than a foot square. Someone inside the plane made a click and it fell open. A tattered sleeve or two later we were up in the cabin.
"That crawlway is awful," said Susi. "Look, I'm all dirty."
PHASE 4: BEAT THE BRITISH AT THEIR OWN GAME
The air race was to run for one week, from one Sunday to the next. The Sixth Avenue Racing Team held back—first to see how the early entries did it, and second, "because the jet stream's not ready yet," said Scribner. But it was obvious plenty early in the week that the race was going to be won on the ground. There was an awful lot of clever rushing around in motorcycles, in racing cars and helicopters to get between the two buildings and the planes. The early contestants were also doing a lot of crafty things—slightly illegal things that we had been thinking about doing ourselves. Those cheats.
"One thing they haven't thought of," said Cooke. "We shall have ourselves snatched from the top of the Empire State Building in a wicker basket lowered by winch from a hovering helicopter. How's that?"
"Lovely," said Scribner, who used to be a boy parachutist and once had his picture taken falling out of a plane, thumbing his nose at the camera. "But, no. The FAA won't let us."
Meanwhile, the military jets went out in front right away, as expected, Englishmen, of course. The U.S. Air Force, which has no sense of humor, declined to enter. Anyway, military was a separate class. It was the civilians who worried us.
Peter Hammond worried us the most. Englishman, naturally. Hammond started on the first Sunday. He elevatored down from the 86th floor of the Empire State, jumped behind a motorcycle rider, sputtered off crosstown to the 30th Street heliport, coptered to Kennedy and climbed on BOAC's regularly scheduled Flight 500 to London. Next thing anybody knew, he had popped out of the elevator on the 33rd floor of the GPO tower and punched in. Six hours, 54 minutes, 56.00 seconds.
"Something fishy there," mused Cooke. "No way he could have done it that fast." But the captain shrugged at the time.
"I tell you we can beat it," he said. "We'll have this tail wind pushing us right into London. Don't worry."
"We had better find out what Hammond did on the London end," Cooke said.
We have these London correspondents, Gwil Brown and Lavinia Scott-Elliot. Those are their real names; this is a true story. Gwil worries a lot about his golf grip and Lavinia is starting a collection of thimbles, but anyway they are the sort of people who can get a lot done.
"Hammond used a helicopter and motorcycle on this end," said Gwil over the transatlantic phone.
"Probably broke every traffic law in town," Cooke said.
"And not only that, he landed the damned copter on the Thames not far from Waterloo Bridge...."
"On the Thames?"
"On a barge in the Thames."
Cooke thought about it and sighed. "We had better set up the same thing," he said. We all looked at each other.
"But, Jerry, it will cost an awful lot of money."
Cooke shrugged grandly. "So it costs a few hundred dollars. So we simply pay back all our expenses off the top of our winnings and we're still rich." Everyone nodded brightly at that and Cooke turned back to the phone. "Better lay on the same setup for us," he said. "Charge everything. Hire a helicopter. Hire some motorcycles with Hells Angels-type drivers. Uh, how far is it from the Thames to the GPO tower?"
"Oh, a couple of miles," said Gwil.
"Hmm. Better make sure they're potential lawbreaking cyclists. Wait a minute! Could we hire some police motorcycles?"
Gwil sighed. "Are you kidding?"
"Well, then. Can the police be fixed?"
"By an American contestant?"
"No, I thought not," Cooke said. "Well, can we eliminate the motorcycles entirely and be lowered in a wicker basket from a helicopter directly on top of the GPO tower?" Cooke has this thing for wicker baskets.
"Against the rules."
"Can we land on the Waterloo Bridge?"
"O.K., then. How do we get from this barge on the Thames to the shore where the cycles will be waiting?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Gwil. "I'll think of something. Maybe I'll rent a rubber life raft and we'll paddle across. Goodby."
PHASE 5: ONCE YOU HAVE PUNCHED THE CLOCK—GO!
Race night came all too fast.
Susi kissed her father goodby at the Pan Am terminal. "I'll see you in the cockpit tonight," she cried brightly. "I'll rise up out of the floor."
"Shhh!" said Scribner. "I don't even know you."
The Sixth Avenue Racing Team rallied at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Susi was wearing gray bell-bottoms, a bandanna, the rings, the big, mod sunglasses and leather-soled shoes.
"No," we said. "They won't do." Cooke and I were already wearing sneakers. We bought Susi a pair at Ohrbach's across the street. Then we bought her a hamburger to calm her down, and two pre-race drinks of Scotch to fortify ourselves, and went up the elevators to the observation tower.
Manhattan was spread out blackly 86 floors below us, and the night wind was blowing so hard around the tower platform it made the city lights seem all soft and gently focused. The air was heady with the smell of victory.
•9:30 p.m. "Now, let's go over the plan again," said Cooke, who was attired tastefully in a black ski parka lined with maroon satin and a tan whipcord cap and had a discreet little Nikon camera dangling from his neck.
We had enlisted the help of George Bloodgood, SI's picture editor, and several aides. They huddled with us, bristling with cameras.
"First," said Cooke, ticking the items off on his fingers, "we are booked on Pan American Airways' 10 p.m. regularly scheduled Flight 104 to London. As passengers...."
"I get the special rate," said Susi. "Daddy...."
"Shhh. Now, secondly, we must make it to London—to the top of the GPO tower—in less than six hours, 54 minutes, 56 seconds to beat Hammond's time. This...."
"Daddy can do it," said Susi.
Cooke scowled at everyone. "Please," he said. "Pay attention. Now, then, you will observe that if one is going to grab the 10 o'clock flight to London, one should be leaving this building right now—that is, assuming he is going to catch a copter to JFK and board the plane in the regulation manner. So look." He turned and pointed to the clock.
Two contestants stepped up on the platform, punched their timecards, wheeled in unison and sprinted for the elevator, while building guards yelled, "Look out! Contestants! Contestants!" Sightseers shrank back in alarm.
Now we were the only ones left.
Susi blinked. "Are they on our flight?"
"Don't worry," Cooke said. "They are on BOAC's 10 o'clock flight to London, which takes off same time we do. But you will note that they have punched out and we have not. Simple arithmetic tells us that the clock is running on them and not on us. Thus, when we check out we will have gained 10 minutes or more on them. It will be time we shall need at the other end...."
One of our helpers called over from the pay telephone, where she was holding an open line to Captain Scribner, who was ready to go at Pan Am. "The captain says the passengers are on board and they are about to close the plane doors," she said. "You have been counted as being on board. Better stand by!"
•9:55 p.m. "Where we gain the time," Cooke said, ushering us to the platform, "is that those other contestants must dash in through the terminal to the regular gate and go in through the door of the plane, whereas we will come in through the belly of the plane after it has taxied away from the loading area."
"Ugh," said Susi.
"Take your places!" Bloodgood yelled.
•9:58:24 p.m. We punched out on the clock and wheeled and ran for the elevators. "Contestants!" yelled Cooke in a terrible roar they could have heard in the Russian Tea Room uptown. Blood-good whipped into the elevator with us and we were off.
"When we get off at the ground floor," said Cooke, "we turn right and run out the revolving doors onto 34th Street. The ambulance will be waiting across the street, engine running."
Then the doors hissed open and we all spilled out like the Flying Wallendas and turned right. The guard held up both hands.
"Left! Left, you idiots!" he yelled.
Everybody turned in their tracks in a blur of crashing bodies and cameras, bumps and little yips of pain. We ran the other way out the doors into the cool night of Manhattan. Pedestrians recoiled.
And there it was: that beautiful ambulance. Another key part of our plan. The engine was running, its doors were open and the emergency light was swirling around and around on the roof, painting cars and the street all around it in revolving streaks of red. Two ambulance men were out in the middle of 34th Street in their white coats, holding out their arms, stopping traffic. There was the slam of brakes and the bleat of horns. "Come on," they yelled.
The driver jammed into gear and hit the gas just as the doors slammed. For one terrible instant the tires screamed and gave off bursts of bluish smoke and then the ambulance slashed suddenly ahead into the traffic. The driver flicked on the siren and began pounding the horn. We started a wild slalom through traffic, hitting the brakes and skidding crazily sideways at intersections, running red lights whenever possible.
"Wow," said Susi. "This is groovy."
Cooke leaned forward and tapped lightly on the window beyond which Bloodgood was sitting frozen between the driver and his assistant. "You all right, George?" he asked.
Bloodgood nodded stiffly, but did not look back. "Can't talk now," he yelled. "I'm the only guy in the front seat with his eyes open."
And then there was our helicopter, its rotors turning fast, half-tilted up on its toes as though it was having trouble staying on the ground. We doubled over and sprinted into it. As the door shut, it rose into the air.
(Back on the ground a cop was interviewing Bloodgood, we learned later, and such was the magic of George's innocent blue eyes that he let him off with just a couple of small summonses that set him back only $50.)
•10:10 p.m. The copter dropped down at the Port Authority landing pad at Kennedy. As it settled to earth we could see the Pan American representative—cleverly disguised as a civilian—waving us toward the International Scout parked at the gate. We doubled over and ran to it.
"Captain Scribner has pulled away from the gate," the Pan Am man said. "And he's turning to taxi out for takeoff. Now, you know what to do. I'll drive right out there among the planes and I'll blink my lights and the captain will blink his lights and...."
"Wow," said Susi.
"...and I'll pull up right under the nose of the airliner. You must run under the plane from directly in front of the nose because he has all engines turned on...."
We all looked at each other significantly.
"...and into the hatch. And you're on your own. Have a nice flight."
"Thanks," we said.
The airliner loomed up like a gigantic, silverish monster out on the runway, away from the comforting lights of the terminal. There was a blurred impression of its wing lights blinking on and off, then the Scout skidded to a stop under the nose. We clambered out and ran single file under the belly.
There was a click and the little hatch opened. A pair of disembodied hands reached down and snatched us up, one at a time. There was the crawl through the passageway—in almost total darkness this time—and, finally, a step up to the flight deck. We stood up stiffly, aching.
"Hi, Daddy," said Susi.
Captain Scribner didn't look. But the back of his neck turned a little red.
"Out, out!" growled the engineer. He opened the compartment door. The entrance to the forward rest room was open, as planned, and the two of them formed a screen. One by one we slipped in. We were jammed up tightly, all grinning sort of goofily, when we heard the other door slam.
"Now, then," we hissed. "Walk out one at a time. Act casual."
"Oh, sure," said Susi. "I always share a rest room with two strange men."
As we filed out the stewardess smiled sweetly and showed us to our seats. The huge jet engines were revving up for takeoff. "Fasten your seat belts, please," she said. And then, "Welcome to our little flight. Is there anything I can get for you?"
"Why yes," said Cooke. "Now that you mention it. I'd like a double Scotch."
PHASE 6: BEWARE OF BREAKDOWNS IN THE FINAL SECONDS OF THE RACE
Somewhere out over the Atlantic, the 707 winging along smoothly while most of the passengers were dozing fitfully, the voice of Captain Scribner came on the cabin loudspeaker. He was making a routine announcement, but the message was clearly aimed at us.
"Our flying time to London," he was saying, "will be six hours." Then his voice took on a cheery note. "But we may go a little faster than that because of the winds aloft. We shall be flying from 25 up to 27,000 feet."
Cooke looked over and nodded. "Jet stream," he whispered.
Later on Scribner came out back to the cabin. He looked around. All the other passengers seemed to be asleep, so he bent over and gave us the rundown: "We have clearance up to 29,000 feet," he said. "And that other 10 o'clock flight, the BOAC, is restricted and must stay behind me. So we've got the air we want, and as of 12:50 a.m. we are four minutes ahead of him and gaining steadily. Now, you add that time to the 10 or more minutes you already have on those BOAC contestants and...."
"And we're in the money."
"Exactly. On this flight plan we should pick up 10 minutes on BOAC overall. We are now making more than 700 miles an hour ground speed. On the London side we'll drop to 27,000 feet and run straight in because it's faster...."
"What about that good ol' jet stream?"
The captain winced a bit. "Well," he said. "It turns out that the goddam jet stream has moved farther south tonight. Don't know why; it's just one of those things. If we run farther south to catch it, it only means we'll have to come back north to get into London and we won't have gained anything."
"But we gotta have that time."
"We're doing the best we can," he said. "Maybe we'll still catch a little edge of it."
•3:34 a.m. Scribner on the speaker: "We are still making 700 miles an hour and we should be in the London area in approximately 50 minutes. We have picked up a small piece of the jet stream, which is adding 75 miles an hour to our speed."
Then the big 707 began to nose down into London, coming in steeply and fast until we could see bright green lawns and chimneys below. We began wrestling back into our racing bibs—orange Day-Glo affairs marked with the words "Daily Mail Transatlantic Air Race Competitor."
"Not enough," Cooke said, checking his watch. "As of this very minute, we have only 23 minutes to get to the GPO tower."
"It's not enough," said Susi. "Uhh, is it?"
The plane touched down smoothly at 9:33 a.m. London time—just seven minutes ahead of its scheduled time. The Pan Am representative started screaming at us before the cabin door opened. "Come on. Come on!" he yelled. We spilled out into the companionway, blinking. "This way," he yelled, and disappeared around a corner at a dead run. He moved in a special way on that slippery, waxed tile floor, picking his feet up high and slapping them down full-foot. No heel-and-toe stuff. Ahead, the corridor stretched down to infinity, dim in the distance. Still running, he turned to us and panted, "Give me your passports and customs forms. Fast. I'll rush them through." We handed them over, breathing heavily, our jaws slack and our eyes starting to roll in our heads. Except for Susi. She was sailing along on all that 17-year-old power, giggling and looking around.
Down a ramp, around a corner; into the busy main terminal. There were flash impressions: A huge crowd of people, recoiling and staring in alarm. "It's those crazy air racers. Look out." And, "What in the world is that!" "They're Americans, my dear, pay no attention to them."
Ahead of us, the Pan Am man fanned out all three passports in front of the immigration man, who stamped them pow-pow-pow. We smiled at him, our mouths so dry that the smiles remained stuck somewhere up on our teeth, and wheeled out through the front door. A few feet away a Pan Am station wagon was waiting, engine running and doors open. More flash impressions: slashing around curves, under bridges, knifing through traffic. And suddenly, there was the helicopter. Running.
We slammed the doors and it took off steeply. Sitting there was Lavinia—cool and pretty, a scarf tied around her head. She looked at us and raised her eyebrows ever so slightly, then reached down and began handing out crash helmets. "Here," she said. "Put these on. You'll need them."
"They're keen," said Susi.
"Mmmmmph," said Cooke, regretting that lost wicker basket.
It was overcast; London flashed beneath us in a grayish blur. The Thames came up under the copter, snaking its way into town. The pilot said, "Will you please get your knee out of the controls. I simply can't fly if you don't get your knee out of the controls." He was talking to Cooke, who was half-turned in his seat, shooting pictures. Then the pilot said, "There's the tower."
We stared at it: 36 stories tall, round, with a revolving restaurant on top, looking like a reject from the New York World's Fair.
"Where's the barge?" the pilot said, dropping the copter heavily and swinging it over the river. Lavinia leaned forward and pointed down.
Oh, God, it was roughly in the middle of the river, way out from shore. The top of one hatch, about 10 feet square, had been painted silver. Great landing pad. One false move and you're right in there with the coal. There was an oldtime motor launch tied alongside, and its skipper, in a suit and tie, was standing at the wheel, leaning back and looking up at us. The name of the motor launch was the Gimpy. And that tells it all.
Going across the river we sat on top of the deckhouse. "When you jump off at the pier, turn right and up the gangway," Gwil had instructed. "The motorcycles will be waiting there on the street."
The Gimpy shouldered against the pier and hands reached out to snatch us off; we wheeled right, up the gangplank—and a woman suddenly jumped out to block our path. "Over the wall," she yelled. "It's closer." So we scrambled over this old brick wall. As we stuck our heads up we could see the three cycles waiting. The drivers were zapping the engines loudly with that irritable cough that powerful motorcycles make. They were all looking back over their shoulders at us. They were in black leather jackets with studs all over them; in black pants and boots. They wore white Dawn Patrol scarves, a nice touch.
I grabbed mine by his front pockets and he blazed away in a little wheelie. In a second all three cycles were weaving through traffic, engines spitting loudly and kicking the sound back at us from the buildings all around.
Traffic was heavy; pedestrians kept jumping out of the way with that dignified little hop peculiar to London. When we came to traffic lights the drivers would walk the cycles between oncoming cars, bringing everyone to a screaming stop.
Then it happened. My driver hunched his shoulders and leaned the cycle far over into a fast left turn. Very neat. I leaned back and glanced up at the street sign. It was a one-way street, and we were going the wrong way. It was one of those annoying little things that will happen. There was a truck coming right at us, for one thing.
My driver wrenched the handlebars savagely and we missed the front fender nicely. I got a quick glimpse of the driver leaning forward with his mouth twisted in an Olde English curse. Then the cycle caromed off the side of the truck. I put my hand out to ward it off, as if I could actually have done it; my wrist slammed against the paneled side and I had a quick impression of my watch sort of exploding. The wrench of it pulled my arm back, and when I got the arm around in front again the watch was gone and there was a small scrape along my thumb. No matter. We would charge the watch to the Sixth Avenue Racing Team when we got all that money. The motorcycle skittered over to one side in a neat little dance step; the driver thrust out one foot and sort of kicked and yanked the machine upright when it hit the curbing. Then around two more corners and up an alley and there was the GPO tower, looming tall and round. There was Gwil, standing on the steps in a raincoat, looking calm.
"Get off, dummy," he yelled. Then he wheeled and sprinted into the building.
The elevator had gone; I stood there and looked at the indicator blinking off the floors up to 33 and slowly back down again.
"It's Susi," said Gwil. "She just ran in a second before you."
Great. There was one winner kicked home. Then the elevator doors slid open and Gwil shoved me inside. "Go!" he yelled. "I'll go hunt for Cooke."
At the top the place was knee-deep in television cables, spectators and Daily Mail types. Up to the time clock and click! It was all over.
There was a brief glimpse of Susi before the newsmen closed in on her, asking questions and taking pictures. She was all big-eyed and smiling prettily.
"Hi," she said to me. "I've got six hours, 55 minutes and 48.43 seconds. I think I'm a winner."
"Of course you are, my dear," said Cooke. He had just checked in and he was now trying to look very continental and rested. His motorcycle had gotten lost and had finally taken the scenic-tour route to the tower. "Let's see, now. I'm afraid that the rest of us are slightly off the pace." He looked at me. "What's your time?"
"From the top of the Empire State to the top of this tower in six hours, 57 minutes, 24.39 seconds."
Cooke calculated on the back of an old matchbook cover. "That is two minutes and 28.39 seconds over Hammond's time," he said. "And has just cost us something like $12,000."
"But two minutes is close—right? I mean, for crossing the Atlantic and all."
After all, figuring 18 miles from the Empire State Building to Kennedy, 3,427 miles across the Atlantic and 19 miles to the GPO tower, we had averaged 499 miles an hour for the whole thing.
PHASE 7: HAVING LOST, FIGURE OUT SOMETHING TO TELL EVERYBODY BACK HOME
Leaving Susi to calculate her winnings, Jerry and I did a postmortem over lunch.
Let's see. We had lost on the little things. One, the little old jet stream was not where the compute had said it would be and our flying time had been routine, not record. Two, the Gimpy was too slow. All the available speedboats had been cleverly hired. Three, everybody had a better motorcycle route than we did, plus people stationed with red flags all along the line to stop traffic. Wish we had thought of that. And the run-in with the truck had cost precious seconds. Still....
"We are," said Cooke, "the fastest Americans to finish in our class."
That brightened everybody. We all raised our glasses. "To the fastest American team." This ragged little cheer brought the waiter, so we ordered some wine.
"Of course," said Gwil, "you understand there is no prize money for that category."
"No. But it's something to tell them back at the office."
PHASE 8: GIVE UP GRACEFULLY
It would be nice and clean and warming and noble to report that honesty is the best policy and that virtue always triumphs and all that. But no.
We stayed on in London until the contest ended Sunday night and discovered that everyone had cut corners a little bit on the rules; everyone cheated a bit here and there. Where is justice?
Hammond continued to lead until Sunday night; in fact, he had flown back to New York again and had made a second attempt on Saturday—succeeding in cutting his time by only 55.93 seconds to six hours, 54 minutes, .07 seconds. And that was with "special help" from London air traffic control.
Then late in the evening along came Ken Holden, a gaunt, trembling man in a baggy flight suit. He had punched out at the Empire State Sunday at 9:42 a.m., made it to JFK in 15 minutes through light traffic to catch TWA's Flight 702. There had been a little fancy footwork at the takeoff area when the TWA plane deliberately jockeyed in front of a Qantas Airways plane which also carried some contestants. But Holden came through in six hours, 48 minutes, 33.88 seconds to take it all.
Publicity Man Bostock came up to the top of the tower and plucked nervously at Holden's sleeve.
"You're English?" said Bostock.
"No," said Holden, "I'm Irish."
Bostock stepped back. "Oh, my God," he said.
All right, then. One of the Sixth Avenue Team members had won and we were still the winning American entry in our class. Only five Americans in all the classes finished in the money, and in the pub across the street there was dark talk among them of fixing. But Susi went over to the Royal Garden Hotel in a cute little minidress—and guess how big her eyes were when they gave her a check for $6,000. Susi also got to meet Prince Philip, who was enchanted. Cooke and I went home.
The next one of these air races will be in the year 2019. Let's see, now. Susi will be 67 years old then and Cooke and I....
Forget it. We've been to London. Nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to race there.
Poised to leave the Empire State Building are racers Jerry Cooke, Miss Scribner and Bob Ottum, while their ambulance crew waits below. After a death-defying run they board a helicopter for Kennedy airport, belly up into a Boeing 707 through a secret passage to the flight deck, where Susi's pilot father awaits, then take off for London. Ottum catches a nap against the rigors of the dawn.
Having journeyed by chopper from Heathrow airport to a barge on the Thames, the Americans scramble into a launch...from which they leap to the dock, Ottum landing first. Waiting are three motorcyclists to get them through London's traffic on the last dash to the GPO check-in—where Susi learns she has won $6,000. Bob and Jerry? Zero.