Attempts were made to hold a race meeting in 1935 but it was not until the following year that the first of a series of international events was held. The Douglas June Effort Committee in co-operation with the Lancashire Aero Club announced their ambitious plans early in 1936. The Round-the-Island race would be called The Manx Air Derby to be held on Whit Monday. Also it would be preceded by a much bigger affair in which competitors flying to the Island were invited to take part in a race from London to the Isle of Man, on Whit Saturday. It aroused tremendous interest in the aeronautical world and attracted 20 entrants including many famous names. The start was at Hanworth Aerodrome, London, and the race route would be via Speke, where a compulsory stop of one hour was required to check and refuel aircraft, before flying on to Blackpool, St. Bees' Head, then across the Irish Sea to Maughold Head and the finishing line in Douglas Bay. Machines would then land at Ronaldsway, courtesy of Isle of Man Air Services Ltd. The total distance to be covered was 298 miles including the 31 mile sea crossing which would be patrolled by lifeboats. The event was to be open to any type of aircraft, both British and foreign, and it is interesting to note that the entries included one of the new Cierva autogiros. The event was sanctioned by the Royal Aero Club and overall control of the event was in the capable hands of Captain R. H. Stocken M.I.Ae.E. of the Guild of Air Pilots. With so many different types of machines competing the handicappers had a formidable task in deciding starting times according to known performance which, theoretically, were designed to bring all aircraft over Douglas at the same time. The first aircraft would leave Hamworth at 10.00 a.m. and the last at 12.55 p.m.
The assembly at Hamworth made a splendid sight, despite atrocious weather conditions of rain and low cloud. It was very much 'down on the dirt' as they sped northwards in search of Speke. Some, including Tommy Rose, missed the airfield altogether. while others had difficulty in locating the line to cross and in reporting to officials. The Autogiro reached Speke but was delayed with rudder control problems before flying direct to Ronaldsway. Progress of the race was broadcast by B.B.C. North Region and spectators lining Douglas Promenade, in cold and miserable conditions, were kept informed by loud speaker. The judges were in position and were headed by the Duchess of Bedford who had flown to the Island in her own DR 60G Moth, the flight from Devon taking just over three hours. She was assisted by Mr. C. Fox J.P. and Captain Howard Pixton, who had given great support to the organisers. Just after 3 p.m. news of the first aircraft to be sighted at Maughold Head was given and immediately all eyes strained to catch the first glimpse of the winning machine. It was the DH 85 Leopard Moth piloted by the youthful Alex Henshaw who received tremendous cheers as he dived across the Bay, circled and headed for Ronaldsway. Three minutes elapsed before a stream of aircraft arrived headed by C. Hughesden (Hawker Tomtit). He was followed by G. Cowen (Puss Moth), W. Humble (Miles Hawk) and Captain John Higgins who was loudly applauded as he skimmed over the finish in the big DH 86A. It had only recently been purchased by West Coast and he had 13 passengers with him! One of them was to commentate for the B.B.C. but the trailing ariel had been lost as a result of the low flying.
A crowd of 1500 had assembled at Ronaldsway to greet the competitors in the cold and wet conditions but they gave Alex Henshaw a tremendous reception when he stepped down from the Leopard. Still only 19 years old he wore baggy trousers and a green shirt. Late arrivals included the stalwart Mabel and Sheila Glass who had force-landed near Heston, Wirral, when out of petrol. Fastest in the race was W. Humble who had averaged 143.8 m.p.h. in the Miles Hawk.
Whit Monday dawned cold but clear for the first Manx Air Derby, to be held in the afternoon. There were 15 starters and the course was the same as mapped out in 1932 but three laps would be covered - a total of 156 miles. With the help of slide rules the handicappers assigned each competitor a starting time behind R. F. Hall who would be first away in the little 40 h.p. Hillson Praga. He was away at 3 p.m. and the other less powerful machines were on their second lap before the faster machines took off, the Miles Hawk, powered by a 200 h.p. Gipsy Six engine bringing up the rear. The crowds around the course then saw the faster boys carve their way through the field in this great test of skill. But Mr. Hall was not to be outdone and he brought the Hillson Praga across the line to win, completing the course in 117 minutes and 52 seconds (89.5 m.p.h.) Second was the little Aeronca in the hands of Flying Officer A. E. Clouston, the famous New Zealand aviator, who had taken 108 minutes 28 seconds (82.52 m.p.h.) followed by L. Lipton in his DH Moth with a time of 83 minutes 22 seconds. Mr. Humble's Miles Hawk was fourth and fastest at 178.75 m.p.h.
It had been a very exciting afternoon and there was plenty of action at Ronaldsway as machines landed after the race. Joy rides were then available in West Coast's Dragons but it was the Cierva Autogiro that was the highlight of this part of the proceedings. His Excellency was brave enough to ascend in the Autogiro, anxiously watched by Lady Butler. Many others availed themselves of the opportunity of 'hanging in the air.' In the evening the Palace Ballroom, largest in Europe, was packed for the presentation of awards.
Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of: The Manx Experience