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On a wing and a prayer.

This is an unusual set because it has a slightly shifted focus. The world is a fascinating place if you can just get a different viewpoint. This is all about those fly boys and girls from the days when the record books were being written.

But first a different viewpoint...

I am not sure where I stand on the issue of jockeys in horse-racing. My view is they are essentially ballast, if you can train a dog to go around a track then I am sure you can train a horse. Then again I saw a race which involved jockey newbies which had an experienced jockey acting as pacemaker and this really was fascinating. The experienced jockey just sat in the saddle and had no trouble maintaining its basic lead position whilst the jockey newbies pushed and pulled and generally looked very energetic whilst presumably actually hampering the abilities of the horse. I assumed if they sat still they would travel along like the more experienced jockey.

Clearly I am missing some pretty important elements to this game. This can be verified by the fact I can remember just about every winning bet I have ever made and this does not represent an amzing act of memory and also I have never ridden on a horse in my life.

I am pretty sure where I stand when it comes to pilots of aircraft, we need them but whilst there are many a set dedicated to the contraptions these pilots sit in there are not all that many which actually mention the pilots. What is even better this set reflects the fact women were just as expert in the pilot business as men. I have not got the facts and figures to hand but for some reason this percieved equality seems to have been rather eroded over the years until now you only really think of blokes being pilots. Now I really do not want to start beating on about a world which institutionally under-utilizes at least 50% of its population and indeed given the barriers set-up there is a good case to say the world under-utilises the entire population so lets get on with something I know a bit about.

being a pretty lurid pink, very Penelope Pitstop

Carreras, Famous Airmen & Airwomen [1936]

The cards illustrated are representative of the sets entire style. A picture of the pilot and the picture of their aircraft of choice.

The reverse of the card also has a little illustration on the reverse of the cards as a sort of ornamental banner and that is great fun, quite unusual.

Detail of card back

Not only is the set very even handed when it comes to sexes it is also commendably even handed when it comes to nationalities. Card 3 has Dr Eckener. He is illustrated next to the Hindenburg. I suppose it is a suprise to find him in the set because he is the pilot of an airship which is not the first aircraft which springs to mind and also because he was the fellow that trained all the wartime Zeppelin Pilots as the card informs us. The card also explains he had recently flown the airship around the world and made over 2000 voyages and regularly flew the route between Germany and South America on the New Graf Zeppelin Route.

Airships are such an interesting evolutionary backwater. Rather like some of our prehistoric ancestors; you are never quite sure why they died out and you always hope you might just re-discover a colony of them thriving somewhere. It would be grand to see airships floating in the skies once more in the same way ocean going cruises exist. Just because we filled them with rather volatile gas and they went up like candles once upon a time is like discounting ships because we used to have to row them.

Amundsen also appears (card 16) another airship pilot and explorer of the ends of the earth. After the First World War he took it easier choosing to do his exploration by airship. Mind you trying to reach the North Pole by airship in 1925 could be considered more dangerous than going by foot. The card notes Amundsen tragically disappeared in 1928 when he set out from Alaska to find his friend Nobile. Disappearing without trace is clearly an occupational hazard for early aviators and explorers.

Whilst floating about in an airship seems like quite a sound concept card 4 and Col. Samuel Franklin Cody must have had some sort of screw loose to even imagine his contraption was going to fly. However I should have known better, a man that could engineer a moustache like the one he sports should be capable of some pretty amazing things. From the illustration it looks like something an six year old would put together if given a couple of sheets of paper and some pipe cleaners. It looks a more unlikely flying machine than the Wright Bros. efforts.

However it all worked very well for him. He made the first British flight in 1908 and gained a world record for a cross-country flight with his second machine. He won £4000 ($6500 approx) Military Prize and an additional £1000 ($1700 approx) for best British aeroplane in 1912. The War Office employed him in the Balloon Section (you have to remember the Army had a cycle patrol group at this time as anyone with the set Players, Army Life [1910] will be aware). Whilst there he helped design the first British Dirigible Airship, 'Nulli Secundus'. All very British, Samuel Franklin Cody was born in Texas in 1861.

Bleriot (card 5) rather felt having more than one wing was only for those that wanted their flying to be safe. He made the monoplane famous with the Cross Channel crossing he made in 1909, obviously considering flying above land being far to safe. He is illustrated in his aircraft with the white cliffs of Dover visible in the middle distance. I bet he was pleased to see them.

Does that look safe to you?

It must be something about the French climate but card 8 is Adolphe Pegoud and not content with the rather staid antics of his pal Bleriot he became the second person after Berry to leap out of his aircraft and descend by parachute (the early British airforce rather felt parachutes were for the weak-minded and only an excuse to leap out of an aircraft for no good reason). Adolphe was not content with a mere second place in history and determined to shock everyone rigid when he flew upside down and then did performed the looping-the-loop trick in the sort of aircraft which getting them off the ground was an achievement only rivalled with getting them back down in one piece.

Lets move away from these 'stick and string' aircraft and onto something which looks more like the sort of thing you might actually sit in rather than on.

With this change time to introduce a woman, Mrs Beryl Markham (card 21) pilot of a Percival Gull. One of the things I do not like about the modern boxing era is the fact you could almost fill a football stadium with the holders of current world championship belts. Different weights is fine but different organisations well that is just tedious. To a greater or lesser extent records generally can be a bit like this. I saw a tallest man in the world thing the other day (the fellow was tall) but that was not good enough on had to come the tallest man in Britain and then that was not good enough, on comes the tallest women in England and still not good enough for added amusement in came the shortest man in England. It could have gone on, why not the tallest man in Essex, or perhaps the tallest man in Walton on the Naze. The constant breaking down of records means in the end everyone will hold a record or two. Anyway Beryl was the first woman to make the East-to-West N.Atlantic Crossing and also hold the record for the fastest East-West N.Atlantic crossing.

Percival Gull was obviously something to be seen flying about in. Harry Frank Broadbent (Australian) is seen in one. In 1935 he beats CJ Melrose record for a solo flight around Australia and in the same year flew from Australia to England.

It was also the aircraft of choice for Miss Jean Batten (card 43). While it seems everyone wanted to get from Australia to England she was keen as mustard to do it the other way around. It was third time lucky for her, the previous attempts ending in India and Italy.

Mrs Harry Bonny (isn't that annoying, I'd have liked the card to at least tell us what her mother used to call her when it was time for dinner. Perhaps it was Harry but I doubt it) was an Australian airwoman. Australians were pretty keen pilots as lets face it half of them needed airstrips in the back garden if they wanted to visit the neighbours for coffee. The card shows her plane as being a pretty lurid pink, very Penelope Pitstop. The card notes her principal acheivement as being a solo flight from Australia to England.

Card 32 has another woman with a strange name, this time Victor actually this time it is The Hon Mrs Victor Bruce F.R.G.S. She gets a mnetion here solely because her achievements meant she was awarded the French Indo-Chinese Order of the Million Elephants. Now that would have to be some sort of talking point at a party.

Card 47 is CJ Melrose, now this fellow looks just like every blonde bloke you see in Australian soap operas, it must be something in the water as he learnt to fly in Australia. Born in 1912 he was killed in 1936 in Queensland whilst taking delivery of a passenger machine.

Fame is by an large a pretty fleeting thing and that card makes you realise it.

Wiley Post is famous (or at least I remember him). He appears in the Believe it or Not set on the trade card section. An expert in long-distant flight in 1931 he flew aroud the world with Gatty in 8 days which was a new world record. Indeed the card notes the flying time was actually only 4.5 days.

In 1935 he was killed along with the film actor Will Rogers just prior to a flight from America to Europe. It reminds you of just how many people died in the early days of aviation and the sheer numbers that just disappeared never to be seen again. It was not all that long ago and seems remarkable now in a world where people are tracked almost 24 hours a day whether you want to be or not.

Amy Johnson

Cigarette cards are a great leveller in one sense as card 22 has Col. Chas. Augustus Lindergh. His card is no bigger or smaller than the other cards, his face no more or less heroic than the next and the text on the back of the card no more or less flowery than the rest. You can make out the famous name, Spirit of St. Louis on the front of his plane and you also get the idea he could not really see out of the front of the thing. His was the first solo flight West-East of the N.Atlantic.

Surely though the most famous of the bunch are 2 women (or they are for me). Amelia Earhart (Mrs Putnam) as the card puts it and Mrs JA Mollison (Miss Amy Johnson) C.B.E, B.A, F.R.G.S, A.R.Ae, S.I appearing on cards 25 and 34 respectively. The achievements of these women are just too much to mention really. Amy Johnson only learnt to fly in 1930 but had managed to make record flights to Australia, India, Tokyo and the Cape. Then later with her husband did the Altantic crossing and a record non-stop to Bagdad as well as the England to India record all by the time the set had been issued. Now that is someone in a hurry. Her husband James Allan Mollison appears on card 38.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic when she did it in1928.

So there we have it just a few of the 50 airmen and airwomen depicted on this set of cards. Given the slightly off-kilter approach to the subject it deserves a small place in everyones heart as do so many of these early pioneers. And of course there have been lots of good old 1930's movies about many of these people. I wonder if the British pilots could really cut through fog with their accents.