Flying Typewriters


The Baby that went around the world in record time


By Robert Messenger


By the mid-1930s, portable typewriters had been reduced to the height of a matchbox. They were small, slim, light and compact enough to be taken and used almost anywhere.

A classic example was the Baby Empire taken by British aviation writer and World War II hero Victor Ricketts on a de Havilland DH88 Comet when he and Spitfire test pilot Arthur Clouston smashed 11 world records on round-the-world flights in March 1938.

Interestingly, the Baby Empire, used by Ricketts to type reports of the flight to be sent back to London newspapers, was made in England by a company owned by a World War flying ace, Bill Mawle.

Ricketts and Clouston flew from Gravesend in England to Mascot in Sydney and on to Blenheim in New Zealand, and returned to Croydon, London, a total distance of 42,567km, in 10 days, 221 hours, 22 minutes. To mark Australia’s 150th anniversary of European settlement, their Comet was rechristened “Australian Anniversary” for the record-breaking flights.

Clouston and Ricketts later flew in the Battle of Britain, with Ricketts awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Ricketts, who is profiled at the Battle of Britain Monument in London, was killed in action in July 1942, aged 29, when he failed to return from a photographic sortie to Strasbourg and Ingolstadt.

However, both the record-breaking Comet and the typewriter which flew in it have survived. The Comet is housed in the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in England.

Ricketts’ daughter, Carole Tozer, lives in Queensland and still has her father’s typewriter, which is in splendid condition given it is now 80-years-old. Better still, it continues to reside in its original leather case, especially designed to carry a small typewriter plus notepaper and other documents.