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London-Sydney Air Race Begins

March 12, 2001

LONDON (AP) _ Pilots from around the world set off on Sunday in small aircraft, bound for Australia in the London to Sydney Air Race.

Thirty-eight pilots from 10 countries took off from Biggin Hill airfield south of London on the first leg of a 14,000-mile journey that follows the same 28-day schedule and route as a 1919 challenge race sponsored by the Australian government.

Thick fog near the airport delayed some of the adventurers at the start of a voyage that will take them over the Persian Gulf, India and Singapore and on to Australia.

The crews of two rapid Piper Aerostar aircraft were the fastest, making the trip to Cannes in the south of France in three hours. For those flying vintage aircraft, it was a much longer journey to Cannes, the first of 30 refueling destinations.

Arriving in Australia first does not guarantee victory. Pilots are ranked along the way according to a complex formula which takes account of the highest speed their planes can reach.

The 35 aircraft _ 34 planes and a helicopter _ have maximum speeds ranging from 75 to 180 mph.

The slowest and oldest plane entered in the race is a Piper Cub plane built in the 1940s. It is being flown by Maurice Kirk of Britain, a former Royal Air Force volunteer reservist.

A special trophy will be awarded in memory of two American women, Barbara Gard, 52, and Gwen Bloomingdale, 58, both of Provincetown, Mass., who died en route to the race last week when their twin-engine plane crashed into the sea off the coast of Iceland.

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