I was actually able to find the article online in its entirety as it appeared on May 7, 1979. By Clive Gammon, it was titled "The Great Bird Bash" and described as:
A team of birders used a mechanical dragon and a plane to cover the Southwest in a try for a new 24-hour world sighting record, but, alas, the jet lagged and the warblers lammed
If that is not enough encouragement, I highly recommend you read it in full (and it is lengthy) in the SI vault here. It's incredible to me how recently Sports Illustrated had such pieces on birds and birding, and if you know of anything else, please email me.
We think we have it hard on big days now, driving around heavily scouted areas after days or weeks of other birders finding so many species and reporting them online...when you add in the aircraft, this was birding at the highest level of difficultly and ambition. Thanks to Steve for the article and everything he has done for conservation.