Norfolk Island has the slowest refueling arrangement of all the regular
stops along the route from Oakland to Sydney. If you pull up to the pump
first, you finish first. Arriving just minutes later could put you at
the end of a several-hour line, if three or four other aircraft in the flight taxied in before you.|
So, Denny made sure he always got there first. Until one fine day...
An aircraft is usually flown at whatever speed you get when you set the engine power to some fraction of it's maximum. Seventy-five percent of maximum is generally thought of as the highest power output that the engine should be expected to deliver for cruise. A one-hundred horsepower engine will be delivering seventy five horsepower when it is running at 75% power. Lower settings, like 65% and even 50% are used if speed is not an issue and if lower fuel consumption is.
At a given power setting, a higher altitude gives a higher speed. It's fairly simple. At a higher altitude, the air resistance is lower.
The highest speed an aircraft can obtain, in level flight, is at full throttle and as low an altitude as possible. Here the engine is the most important factor. At a lower altitude, more air is available for the engine and more power is developed. A one hundred horsepower engine can develop one hundred horsepower only at sea level. If it is taken to a higher altitude, the air is thinner and the power output is reduced.
And that was the basis of Denny's strategy. About an hour out of Norfolk Island, he would drop down about a thousand feet below the rest of the flight. This would allow him to increase his power and thus his speed. He never announced what he was doing; it just seemed to happen. By the time he called the field for landing instructions, he was a few miles ahead of everybody else and nobody could make up that disance in the short time remaining.
Time after tine, Denny got there first.
It wasn't really important to be first at the gas pump because nobody was going to go on until the next day anyway. It was a matter of principle. I grew tired of being last, also as a matter of principle.
So at the next opportunity, I watched closely as the flight approached Norfolk Island. When Denny slowly started moving below the rest of the flight, I maneuvered into a position off to his right side and slightly behind him so he couldn't see me. And when he stopped his descent at a thousand feet below the others, I moved another thousand feet below him. Now, I had the speed advantage. I was moving out in front, below his nose, where he couldn't see me. By the time I called in for landing instructions, I was in the lead and there was nothing he could do about it.
There was a look of surprise on his face as he taxied up to the fuel pump behind me. We were better friends after that.