Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Australia’s Greatest Aviator

...........................Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

I was surfing on the T.V. recently when I came across a show
called “Air
Australia.” It was a four part series on aviation in
Australia. This was the third part and had been on for ten
minutes (I was already watching something else on another
channel). I switched on my DVD and recorded the rest of the
show. Weeks later I watched the show. This covered all of the
history of aviation in
Australia from the early days to the
current period. A lot of the third part was about Charles
Kingsford Smith. During my school days we had learnt about
“Smithy”, but there was a lot I did not know about his
record breaking flights.

From watching this show I was eager to learn more about
the exploits of this remarkable man, so I set about
researching his life. From what I discovered I thought I
should blog my findings.

Charles Edward Kingsford-Smith was born in the suburb of
Hamilton, Brisbane, Australia on February 9, 1897. His father
was a bank manager in
Queensland, who later worked with
Canadian Pacific Railways in
Canada, subsequently returning
Sydney, Australia with his family.

On 2 January 1907 young Charlie Smith was rescued from
certain drowning at Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach by bathers
who, just seven weeks later, were responsible for founding
the world’s first official surf lifesaving group at Bondi Beach
on 21 February 1907.

At the age of 13 he began studying mechanics and electrical
engineering at
Sydney Technical College and graduated as an
Electrical Engineer at age 16. World War 1 burst over
and Charles enlisted on his 18th birthday. He enrolled in the
Australian Military Forces in 1915 firstly serving in the
. It was 1916 and aeroplanes were new inventions.
The planes 'Smithy' learnt to fly were made of fabric, wire and
timber. It was something he loved from the very first moment.
He couldn't wait to see some action. After fighting at Gallipoli,
and a stint as a motor-bike despatch rider, he was chosen to
Britain's Royal Flying Corps which urgently needed pilots,
and then in 1917, in
as a fighter pilot he was awarded
the Military Cross for gallantry in action.

In one of his many flying missions during the war his plane
was riddled with bullets. 'Smithy' was shot in the foot and
later had three toes amputated. His war days were over.
He was presented with the Military Cross by King George
and at only 20 years old was a war hero. He travelled to
America and worked in Hollywood as a stunt pilot. It was
a dangerous occupation and when another stuntman was
killed he quit. On returning to
in 1921 he was broke.

........Stunt flying in America.

The aviation industry in Australia was booming so 'Smithy'
founded the Western Australian Airways and provided the
first regular Australian airmail service between Geraldton
Derby. In 1926, with fellow pilot C.T.P. Ulm, he undertook
a round-Australia flight in 10 days 5 hours - which halved the
previous record. But what he really wanted was to be the first
to fly across the
Pacific Ocean. In 1927 with borrowed and
donated money he went to the
United States to purchase and
prepare a Fokker Trimotor aircraft that he named the "Southern Cross".

................Smithy in front of The Southern Cross.

The "Southern Cross", or the "Old Bus" as it was affectionately
known, weighed 6840 kg. This included 4 crew at 291 kg,
3541 kg of benzine and 109 kg of oil. The aeroplane had a
wingspan of 23 metres; it was almost 15 metres long and
stood 3.9 metres high. It had a cruising speed of 150 kph.

On May 31, 1928, 'Smithy' with co-pilot Charles Ulm,
navigator Harry Lyon and radio operator James Warner set
off from
San Francisco. The crossing was a three-legged
marathon in a plane with an open cockpit. When they reached
Brisbane, eighty three flying hours later they had completed
the first air crossing of the Pacific. Three hundred thousand
people welcomed them when they flew to

This historic photo above shows the Fokker FVIIb-3m
NC1985 Southern Cross about to touch down in front of a
crowd of 20,000 at
Brisbane's Eagle Farm aerodrome on
9th June,1928
following its historic first crossing of the
Pacific Ocean
by air. The flight had taken 83 hours flying
time to cover the 7,388 miles (11,822 km) from
, to Brisbane, stopping in Hawaii and Fiji en route.

L-R: Harry Lyon, navigator, Charles T.P. Ulm, relief pilot, Capt. Charles Kingsford-Smith , pilot and James Warner, radio operator.

March 31st, 1929 Kingsford-Smith, Ulm, Litchfield and
McWilliams take off from Sydney to fly to England, and
disappeared whilst flying Southern Cross over the Kimberley.
They were saved this time, but only after a harrowing
10 days and close to starvation. The only provisions they
had were coffee and brandy. Search aircraft, the Kookaburra,
which had disappeared while searching the lost plane and
crew was later found with the bodies of Keith Anderson and
H. Hitchcock. The two men had died of thirst. They were
found by the aeroplane '

Refuelling after being forced down in the Kimberleys.

June 25th, 1929 Kingsford-Smith, Ulm, Litchfield and McWilliams
make the first flight from
Sydney to London in record time of
12 days 18 hours.

................Charles Ulm and Smithy.

In 1930 at the age of 32 he flew 16,000 kilometres single
handedly and won the
England to Australia air race. In 1933
after once again breaking the record for solo flight from
England to Australia
, he was acclaimed as the world's greatest
airman. 'Smithy' held more long distance flying records than
anyone else on earth.

.....................Smithy at the controls of The Southern Cross.

A Lockheed Altair 8D was shipped to Australia from the USA,
and rechristened Lady Southern Cross entry in the 1934
London-Melbourne MacRobertson Race but they did not race.
The plan had to be dropped when modifications to the aircraft
could not be completed in time, and it was then shipped to
England in 1935, from where Charles Kingsford-Smith and
Tommy Pethybridge set off for

They died in 1935 when his plane crashed into the sea off
Burma coast during an attempt to break the England
to Australia speed record. Despite the RAF's search of
the entire Rangoon-Singapore route, no trace of the Altair
was found for 18 months. In May 1937 its starboard
undercarriage leg was picked up by Burmese fishermen on
the rocky shore of Aye Island off the south coast of Burma
about 140 miles south-east of Rangoon. The theory grew
that Smithy had flown into the 460-foot top of the jungle
covered island and the aircraft had plunged into the sea,
the wheel breaking off and floating ashore. But an Australian
expedition to the island in 1983 searched the seabed without
success. The remains of the crew have never been located.

Charles Ulm died in 1934 when his plane crashed in the Pacific
while attempting to retrace his 1928 flight from
Oakland to Australia.

Charles Kingsford-Smith was knighted in 1932 for his
services to aviation in the Commonwealth of

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith has been honoured by his picture
on at least five stamps and is shown on the 20 dollar note.

Conscious that the Southern Cross had become an icon
and a national treasure, Smithy was able to negotiate,
with difficulty, a sale of the aircraft to the Australian
Government for £3,000. On
the 18th of July 1935, Smithy
flew his faithful 'Old Bus' for the last time from its base at
Sydney's Mascot aerodrome (that one day would become
Kingsford Smith International Airport) to RAAF Richmond
for storage. The Southern Cross was kept in storage until
restored to flying condition during the Second World War to
feature in a film about the life of Smithy. Placed back in
storage, its future was uncertain. Plans were laid to house
it in a purpose-built building at
Brisbane's Eagle Farm Airport.
Brisbane's Eagle Farm Airport closed in 1988, the
Southern Cross was re-housed in a new building on
, about a mile distant from the previous site.

The Southern Cross in the purpose-built building.

Most of the pictures are taken from old archived shots stored at
Australia, although this is a great coloured picture taken in 1985.

All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on each photo.

Some records broken by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

1930 Kingsford-Smith, Evert van Dijk, Paddy Saul and John
S.W. Stannage in "Southern Cross" make first successful
east-west crossing of
North Atlantic from London to New York.
Ireland to Newfoundland, 1,900 miles in 31 hours 30 min.

Kingsford-Smith lands at Oakland Airport, California. He was
the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. The "Southern Cross"
took off from
Oakland on May 31st, 1928, and landed at
Oakland, July 4th, 1930.

Flying solo in the 'Southern Cross Junior', a small Avro Avian,
Kingsford-Smith breaks the
England Australia record by flying
10,070 miles from
London to Darwin in 9 days 22 hours 15 min.

1931 Kingsford-Smith is rescued making the first England-Australia
airmail from Koepang in April, and in May takes the first
Australia-England air-mail to Akyab. Kingsford-Smith flies the
"Southern Star" from
Sydney to London and returns with the
first Christmas air-mail.

1933 October 4th. Kingsford-Smith breaks the solo England
to Australia record flying a Percival Gull monoplane,
"Miss Southern Cross", 10,070 miles from
London to Darwin
in 7 days 4 hours 44 minutes.

Looking at the type of planes ‘Smithy’ and crew flew and the
amount of miles flown, it is a remarkable achievement what
was accomplished. Aviation as we know it today would not of
been possible except by the daring, bravery and raw “guts” of
flyers like Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler (another
Australian pilot), Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and many others.


Peter said...

Wow you really "flew"into that post Wazza its only a couple of weeks since you told me you planned to do it. good post.

Puss-in-Boots said...

That's a great post, Warren. He's certainly an interesting character and what a lot he's done for aviation in Australia. We learnt a bit about "Smithy" at school, too, but you've given lots more information on the man.

Lee said...

That was a good programme, "Air Australia" covered a lot of ground (no pun intended). "Smithy" certainly was a colourful character.

Meow (aka Connie) said...

Great, interesting post, Warren. I always enjoy the interesting stuff you and Peter post on your blogs.
Thanks for signing my Guest Book, Warren.
Hope your weekend is going well.
Take care, MEow

Jim said...

Hi Warren, that was great. His exploits reminded me of those of Amelia Earhart. She has fascinated me although I haven't written about her. I had thought of writing a historical fiction concerning her.

Merle said...

Hi Warren ~~ Great post about Smithy. You do a lot of research to post about the people and places you share with us. What is next on the list?
Thanks for the jokes you sent me, they will get posted.
Take care, my friend, All the best, Merle.

LZ Blogger said...

Wazza - 86 hours to Brisbane from Oakland? Wow... and I thought our flight from LAX to Sydney on Qantas' 747 of 16 hours seemed long? ~ jb///