Brian has written a drama-documentary script based on “The Dalgety Flyer” trip from London to Sydney in 1987/8. If any producers from the film or TV world want to know more – click here to contact Brian.
This is the story of a journalist who gets caught up in a billionaire’s dream, and when the billionaire rejects it as “too risky and too expensive”, finds the money to make it happen anyway, and throws up his career to complete it.
The dream is to race the ghost of Ross Smith, the first man to fly from England to Australia back in 1919. The billionaire is Kerry Packer. The journalist is Brian Milton, married, two children in private education, a mortgage on two houses, the presenter of financial programmes on TV-am, and a man haunted by a terrible accident which was caught on film. The race against Ross Smith is by microlight aircraft, under-powered by a tiny 447 cc engine. The object is to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary on January 26, 1988.
The opening scenes outline Ross Smith’s race to Australia on black and white film, the “terrible accident”, Packer’s interest and then rejection, Milton’s decision to make the flight work, the conflict between training and career which ends with Milton walking out of TV-am and throwing himself into learning how to fly better, and some of the frights he has doing so.
On the flight itself, leaving London’s Docklands in headwinds on December 2, 1987, Milton nearly crashes twice in cloud in the Rhone Valley. On December 9, his Flyer is wrecked by cross-winds on a Greek island. Assisting his mechanic, Mike Atkinson (who has a first class ticket to Sydney with 30 stopovers, and carries a spare engine as hand baggage), Milton glues the Flyer back together again in six days, and flies on across the Mediterranean. The wrong fuel – kerosine instead of gasoline – puts him on the ground by the Dead Sea in Jordan, trying to cross mountains into the Saudi desert when the engine stops. Atkinson again comes to help him, and the following day they fall under the patronage of King Hussein. The crossing of the Great Saudi Desert is plagued by poor fuel and sandstorms. Milton has two dozen partial engine failures, and two real ones.
On Christmas Day, 1987, Milton has another engine failure – a fuel blockage – trying to cross the Persian Gulf in the middle of the Iran/Iraq War, and ditches at sea. He is pulled out of the water by helicopter, but with Atkinson’s help he goes back out into the Gulf six hours later by helicopter and rescues the Flyer, despite Iranian gun-boats attacking two tankers, and killing seven people, just to the north of where the Flyer ditched. Atkinson and Milton clean the Flyer between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, change engines and get more instruments from England, glue together the bits that fell off, and on December 31, Milton flies across to Muscat, and then on to Pakistan and in to India.
On January 6, 1988, he has another out-landing on a remote track south of Allalhabad because his fuel filter collapses. That evening, lost and map-less (the Indian Government had changed his route but had not made maps available for his new route), Milton is haunted almost to death by a Djinn that tries to force him to jump out at 5,000 feet. This haunting lasts three days, all the way to Calcutta, and halfway around the Bay of Bengal, and is only beaten in a bizarre way (erotic thoughts of his lover). Milton goes through Rangoon just days before the massacre in late January 1988, and from Bangkok onwards he has a daily struggle against monsoon weather. In Malaysia, he is forced to land in a paddyfield by a broken earthing wire, which Atkinson repairs the following day. Monsoons force a landing on a plantation track just north of Singapore, and the helicopter sent out to guide Milton to safety loses him in cloud, so Milton has a second road landing to ask the way. The helicopter pilot is so pleased to see him at his base that he “bounces” the microlight, nearly killing Milton.
Monsoons feature daily down Sumatra, and along Java and the Indonesian islands, driving Milton out to sea each day while storms rage. At Timor, his sponsor, Dalgety, sends out a plane full of journalists, the first Australian journalists in Indonesia since 5 of them were murdered “pour encourager les autres” for covering the troubles in East Timor.
On his flight to a remote island in Northern Australia – Milton has not the fuel to reach Darwin in one leg – he is given directions by a helicopter from a floating oil rig that just happens to be there that day. He reaches Darwin on January 21, 1988, and races across the Outback to try and get to Sydney in time for the Bicentenary. He has a night landing in Tennant Creek, 550 miles south of Darwin in the Outback, to catch the biggest earthquake in Australia in 100 years. Atkinson, chasing Milton by van with an Australian journalist for company, nearly dies when his van breaks down in night temperatures of more than 100F. When Milton reaches Charleville, he learns that Sydney doesn’t want him for the Bicentenary, but Brisbane does, so Milton spends Bicentenary Day in Brisbane.
On a rushed early morning flight the following day heading for Sydney he lands on the wrong golf course looking for Greg Norman, and breaks an under-carriage leg. This he repairs, but poor weather drives him out to sea and back again to a landing in a disused airfield which ruins his propeller. Atkinson has this fixed, and the following day, 59 days after leaving London, Milton circles over Sydney Harbour Opera House.
This is a “buddy” story, built around the details of a desperate man forced by the logic of his decision to have an adventure, to take the risks he does. No matter how bizarre his luck, he survives in the end because of his refusal to give up. He is supported in this epic adventure by his great friend who keeps putting the aircraft back together again.
There are two sub-plots. One is that Milton’s much younger lover, thinking he might die, gets pregnant by him – and tells him 4 months later – and this occasional story runs in parallel until the baby’s birth. The second sub-plot is the air of boardroom menace around the bosses of Dalgety, the sponsoring company, pegged to the fortunes of the flight (a year later those tensions forced the removal of Chief Executive Terry Pryce, and ultimately, the demise of a great company that had lasted 150 years).
Milton went on, ten years later, to become the first man to circumnavigate the world by microlight.