Mrs Jordan of Marine Parade, Fremantle baked a cake with red, white and blue icing and the South Perth Zoo gave them a kangaroo they really didn’t want.
For they were about to set a world distance record and every kilo counted.
But being obliging and polite, in September 1946, the US Navy pilots accepted the 16kg, 9-month old grey Kangaroo named “Joey” for their record-setting non-stop flight from Perth to Seattle and possibly Washington DC.
The flight crew made up of Commanders Eugene Rankin, Tom Davies, Walter Reid and Roy Tabeling were top US Navy pilots who were testing the capabilities of the new Lockheed Neptune patrol plane.
In fact, the plane to be used for the record flight, called “Turtle”, was the third off the production line.
The West Australian reported that Mrs Jordan’s cake even carried the inscription “To the Turtle’s Good Luck” and one of the pilots said; “It’s typical of the hospitality that the Perth people have given us since we’ve been here.”
The crew of the Turtle were overwhelmed with the friendless of Perth people who flocked to see the plane.
Many set up picnics to watch the test flying ahead of the record flight.
And those test flights highlighted a problem with the fuel-laden Turtle which could not sustain flight if one engine failed just after take-off.
At the time the two runways at Perth would have put the Turtle over Perth after take-off and a danger to residents, so the operation was moved to Pearce.
According to a paper authored by Captain Victor S. Gulliver, U.S. Navy (Ret.) the plane was known as “The Turtle,” after the Lockheed project to study extending its range.
A Disney cartoonist designed the famous nose art for the plane of a determined turtle astride a bicycle sprocket turning a propeller.
The Turtle was stripped. Off came turrets, guns, the main oxygen system, cabin heaters, much of the radio equipment and wing and propeller anti-icing and de-icing equipment was removed.
Additional fuel tanks were installed in the nose, rear fuselage, bomb-bay and wingtip tanks added.
In total, the plane could hold 8,525 gallons of fuel – more than 5,000 gallons more than a standard
Neptune making the plane 13 tons over its take-off weight.
To help it off the ground Rocket Assisted Take-off (RATO) units had been attached to the plane.
On September 29, 1946 at 6:11pm, CDR Davies stood on the brakes as the throttles were pushed forward to maximum power.
At the other end of the 1.6km runway, he could make out the throng of news reporters and photographers.
According to Capt. Gulliver scattered across the air base were thousands of picnickers who came to witness the spectacle of a RATO take-off and who stood when they heard the sound of the engines being advanced to maximum power.
When the slowly advancing airspeed needle touched 87 knots, Davies punched a button wired to his yoke, and the four RATO bottles fired and the speed leapt to 115kts allowed the plane to take flight – but only just.
The Turtle lumbered out to sea over Rottnest to gain height before turning back to overfly Perth and the Darling Range and head for Alice Springs.
Next was Cooktown, the Coral Sea, southern New Guinea, Bougainville, and onto the vast and empty Pacific Ocean.
The crew’s only worry was Joey the kangaroo, who hunched unhappily in her crate and refused to eat or drink.
However by midday of the second day as they approached California CDR Reid came up to the cockpit smiling. “Well,” he reported, “the damned kangaroo has started to eat and drink again. I guess she thinks we’re going to make it.”
But while Joey was no longer a problem the weather was now becoming an issue.
Severe turbulence and headwinds were playing havoc with the fuel burn and while they were well passed Seattle, Washington DC was problematic.
By midday on the third day they concluded they could not safely stretch the flight all the way to Washington, DC and CDR Davies chose the Naval Air Station at Columbus, Ohio to be their final destination.
At 1:28 p.m. on October 1, the Neptune’s wheels once more touched the earth after 11,236 miles and 55 hours and 17 minutes.
The Turtle’s record for piston/propeller driven aircraft was only broken by Burt Rutan’s Voyager, a carbon-fibre aircraft, which made its historic around the world non-stop flight in 1986.
The Turtle is preserved at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola in Florida.