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8: Count down for the Silver Gull

On 18 December 1933 everything was ready. Take-off was timed for three o'clock in the morning. In the evening of the 17th Ivan stayed quietly at home with Margot, wrapped in her loving thoughtfulness for him. She understood his every mood and as the hours passed they grew closer in mind and spirit.

Silently Ivan settled her in the car beside him and silently they drow the cheerless miles to the airport.

Schiphol was alive with crowds, ablaze with arc lights and popping flash-bulbs. It was a historic moment. Margot, thanks to her make-up, was dazzlingly lovely and she smiled and posed with practised ease. Ivan, gazing at her fondly, thought that surely in all the world there had never been a woman like this.

After kissing his beloved wife goodbye, he went to the mechanics tinkering with the engines (as usual) and he did not like their answers....

Zoom in... Zoom in...

Above is shown a special Air Mail cover carried by KLM's famous Fokker FXVIII 'Pelikaan' on her record-breaking Christmas mail flight from Holland to the Netherlands East Indies in 1933. This special flight should have been carried out by KLM's new tri-motor Fokker FXX 'Zilvermeeuw', but due to severe engine troubles during starting up, it was at the last moment decided to take the one year old, but reliable 'Pelikaan', being in preparation for a scheduled flight to the East. All covers had already been stamped with a special red Zilvermeeuw postmark. The cover shown above, a special Zilvermeeuw cover with a picture of the new aircraft at the back, has been postmarked 18 DEC 1933 and backstamped Soerabaja 23.12.33.

....Even when the crew had settled, when the door was shut, the last goodbyes spoken, Ivan did not feel that a record-breaking flight was starting. His hand was on the throttle when, suddenly, one engine coughed and spluttered. He paused, listening for it to pick up, to hum in tune with the others. Instead it quietly faded out ... then a second engine failed ... then the third.

Plesman was furious and roared: "Wheel out the Pelican ... shift the mail to her ... she leaves in an hour".

The Pelican ! A design from 1932 ! A Fokker FXVIII tri-engine machine from the ordinary fleet, with a speed of only 194 km/h. The Pelican with registration PH-AIP, standing in her hangar ready for the next routine flight, with no special boosting for a record-breaking attempt ... but the Pelican ! A sweet little machine; Ivan had flown her often, knew how she responded to his every demand like a well-bred hunter.

"The mails must go, Smirnoff ... you must get there ... Do you hear?" Plesman talked urgently.
"They will be there." For the first time Ivan felt confident and comfortable.
"By Christmas?"
"Before it !"
They grasped hands. "By God ! I believe you might !" breathed Plesman.

This time he swung Margot off her feet as he kissed her goodbye. No doubt now about his confidence.
"See you New Year's Day!" he yelled to Margot, then ducked into the cabin of the 'Pelican' and shut the door.



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