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Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, who made numerous record flights in the “Southern Cross” and in other machines



THE “SOUTHERN CROSS”, A THREE-ENGINED FOKKER MONOPLANE flown by Charles Kingsford-Smith nearing New York shortly after his North Atlantic flight from Ireland to Newfoundland in 1930. The aircraft was bought by Kingsford-Smith from the explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1928, and fitted with three new Wright Whirlwind engines of 220 horse-power each. The wing span was 71 ft 8½-in.

WITH no aeroplane, no money and no prospects of having either, Charles Kingsford-Smith and two companions planned to fly the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia. It was characteristic of this great aviator that he should have looked for the difficulties after he had decided to make the flight.

In 1927, when he planned this flight with Charles P. Ulm and Keith Anderson, there was no reason why anyone should back three virtually unknown fliers. Kingsford-Smith had been a pilot in the war of 1914-18, and after the war he had had experience of almost every type of flying except long-distance work. In 1919 he tried to make a name for himself as a long-distance flier, when he had been attracted by the £10,000 prize for the first Australian to fly from England to Australia (see the chapter “The First to Australia”). The Australian Premier, however, had forbidden Kingsford-Smith to enter because of his youth and inexperience.

But Kingsford-Smith had never surrendered that ambition. When he and Ulm and Anderson decided to cross the Pacific they knew that before they could obtain any backing they must first convince people that they were long-distance aviators of proved ability. So, with an old Bristol machine, they made a record flight round Australia, covering the 7,500 miles in ten days five hours.

The Prime Minister then promised them financial support, and the three aviators left for America full of confidence, and believing that in a short time they would return to be acknowledged as the first men who had crossed the Pacific from America to Australia by air.

But nine weary months of trials and tribulations were to pass before they returned to Australia.

Although the money promised to them was invaluable, vital even, it was not nearly enough to buy the type of machine they needed and, but for the generosity of an Australian business man, Mr. Myer, they might never have had a machine. Before they had met Myer, who lived in America, Sir Hubert Wilkins, the famous explorer, had been willing to sell them a machine. Mr. Myer gave them the necessary money, and they were able to buy Wilkins’s Fokker and to order three new Whirlwind engines.

This machine was to become the famous Southern Cross.

After so much delay no one believed in the ultimate success of this great flight except, of course, Kingsford-Smith and his friends. The Australian Government lost its enthusiasm for the project, and appealed to them to abandon the idea; newspapers began a campaign against it. Apart, however, from ambition, apart from the fact that they owed a debt of gratitude to Myer, there remained the problem of financial obligations. Kingsford-Smith, Ulm and Anderson were so deeply committed financially that it was imperative for them at least to make an attempt.

But even more money was needed, and the Southern Cross was entered for a prize that was then offered to anyone who could create a world record for endurance flying. To win, Kingsford-Smith and his companions would have to remain in the air for more than fifty-two hours twenty-two minutes, a record which had been made by two German fliers.

The Southern Cross remained in the air for fifty hours four minutes before it was obliged to land. The great gamble had failed. There was no alternative but to return to Australia. Keith Anderson was the first to go. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm, so penniless that they could not even buy cigarettes, flew the Southern Cross to Los Angeles, where they hoped to sell it.

And it was at Los Angeles that they met Captain Allan Hancock, a master mariner, who bought the Southern Cross from them and backed their flight across the Pacific.

The Southern Cross was a Fokker monoplane. The three Wright Whirlwind engines were of the J5C type, each of 220 horse-power. The aeroplane had a wing span of 71 ft. 8½ in. Four petrol tanks were fitted into the wings; each tank could hold 96 gallons. Under the pilot’s seat were another 107 gallons, and in the main tank in the fuselage there were 807 gallons, making a total load of 1,298 gallons.

On the morning of May 31, 1928, the Southern Cross took off from Oakland, San Francisco. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm were co-pilots, Harry Lyon was navigator, and James Warner radio officer. For personal reasons it was a disappointment to Kingsford-Smith and Ulm that Keith Anderson was unable to be with them on this triumphant reversal of their fortunes. The flight had been planned in three “hops”, the first from Oakland to Wheeler Field, near Honolulu, the second and longest to Suva, Fiji, and the third to Brisbane. They reached Wheeler Field in about fifteen hours.

1,700 Miles Through Ocean Storm

The next stage to Suva involved a flight of 3,138 miles. Despite a series of rainstorms and the fact that the radio was out of action for three hours, they reached Suva in 34½ hours, after having made what was then the longest non-stop ocean flight on record.

The last lap to Brisbane, the shortest, a distance of only 1,700 miles, was regarded by Kingsford-Smith and his companions as the easiest of the three “hops”, but, as if to right the balance for two relatively easy stages, Fate held something back for them.

The first note of alarm came when the earth inductor compass went out of action. It was useless for the rest of the trip, and they had to rely on the magnetic steering compasses. But so good were the weather conditions, and so near home were the fliers — at least in comparison with the distance they had already flown — that they refused to be depressed by the failure of the earth inductor compass.

Their optimism soon proved to be misplaced. The moon disappeared; visibility was reduced to a few yards and the Southern Cross flew into a strong wind and torrential rain. Kingsford-Smith tried to climb above this belt of bad weather, but at 7,000 feet the conditions were worse. The glass windscreens broke under the force of the rain. A rush of water poured into the cockpit. Kingsford-Smith climbed still higher, but the bad weather persisted, and the wind became icy cold.

Then, as if the fliers had not had enough with which to contend, an electrical storm broke. Jagged flashes of lightning lit up the night sky. Blue flames played round the sparking-plug leads. Flooding threatened to put the magnetos out of action.

Navigation was almost impossible in such conditions. If the weather at sea level was equally bad, then all their safety devices would be useless.

After a while it was obvious that the Southern Cross would survive the storm, but that there was a distinct limit to the crew’s endurance. Kingsford-Smith’s hands were so numb that he had difficulty in holding the controls. The others also suffered, and Ulm was able to make only one entry in the log between 6.15 in the evening and 3.20 in the morning.

OVERHAULING THE ENGINES of the Southern Cross after its Atlantic crossing in 1930

OVERHAULING THE ENGINES of the Southern Cross after its Atlantic crossing in 1930. Kingsford-Smith later flew across America to Oakland Airport, where he had begun his first long-distance flight in May 1928 to Australia. When the Southern Cross reached Oakland in 1930, it had been flown by Kingsford-Smith completely round the globe at almost the greatest circumference.

Dawn brought an improvement in the weather, but they were 110 miles south of their course. That was only a small point, however, compared with the knowledge that they had reached their goal after having flown 7,389 miles across the sea and survived as bad a storm as any of them had ever experienced.

Kingsford-Smith and his companions were Australia’s heroes. Rewards and decorations were conferred on them, and the total money made from the flight was £20,000. But public acclamation and rewards were not enough; indeed, Kingsford-Smith was shortly to learn the bitter truth that public hero-worship can be the most fickle of all human emotions.

After the Pacific flight Warner and Lyon returned to America, and H. A. Litchfield and T. H. McWilliams joined Kingsford-Smith and Ulm as navigator and wireless operator respectively. These two, with Kingsford-Smith and Ulm, made three flights, one non-stop across Australia, and two across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand and back.

These were three more triumphs and records for the Southern Cross and its crew. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm then planned a flight to Great Britain. This was not to be merely a spectacular or record-breaking effort. Kingsford-Smith and Ulm had founded Australian National Airways, Ltd., and they wanted to negotiate in England for some new machines for their company.

At midday on March 31, 1929, the Southern Cross left Richmond, Australia, for the first stage of the flight — 2,000 miles to Singleton. Shortly after they had left Richmond the long-wave aerial was lost. Litchfield had leant out to take a sight through the drift indicator and his arm had caught on a button which controlled a length of copper wire fixed to the reel of the aerial, and long enough for three complete aerials should they have been wanted. Litchfield’s mishap released the reel, and the fullest extent of the wire ran out and was carried away. This meant that they could transmit but could not receive.

It was a simple accident, yet one that was to be fraught with tragic and far-reaching consequences.

Kingsford-Smith decided to continue his flight. There was no apparent reason why he should have decided otherwise; the special weather reports which had been supplied to him before he had left Richmond had forecast favourable weather. But his decision proved to be a fateful one, for which he was to be severely criticized. Soon after the Southern Cross had passed over the centre of the Australian continent the weather changed and the fliers were caught in a storm which lasted throughout the night.

Because they were unable to receive any radio messages they did not know that Sydney had warned them of this sudden change in the weather. Dawn brought no relief except that visibility was to some extent improved. Kingsford-Smith flew on, with the idea of going round Cape Londonderry and then into Wyndham. Two hours passed and still there was no sign of the cape. The machine flew over a group of huts, which proved to be the Drysdale Mission. As a precaution, the fliers decided to confirm that Wyndham was now in a south-easterly direction. Ulm dropped a pencilled message asking the occupants of the huts to point the way to Wyndham. A group of natives came out and pointed — but the way they pointed was south-west and not southeast. Even allowing for deviations caused by the storm, it seemed incredible that the Southern Cross should be so far off its course.

RADIO EQUIPMENT fitted in the Southern Cross for the flight across the North Atlantic

RADIO EQUIPMENT fitted in the Southern Cross for the flight across the North Atlantic. Special sprung mountings were used for the apparatus to protect itfrom shocks and vibration. The transmitter is at the top of the framework, with one of the receivers in a metal box below it. In the foreground is one of the compasses used by the navigator, Captain Saul.

There could be no disputing local knowledge however, and Kingsford-Smith flew on through the bad weather in a south-westerly direction. Still there was no sign of Wyndham, and when they flew over another group of huts Ulm dropped another message. He asked the natives to place white sheets in the direction of Wyndham and to give, in large figures, the distance. To the amazement of the fliers the directions pointed east and the distance was given as 250 miles. One of these two groups of people was wrong, but this second group seemed very certain of their information.

The mystery was later explained by the fact that the people at the Drysdale Mission never found Ulm’s message, and had believed that the aeroplane was searching for the most suitable place on which to land.

When he received the second and more definite message, Kingsford-Smith knew that it was now almost hopeless to try to reach Wyndham, but he made an effort to do so. After an hour, however, the petrol began to give out and he knew that he must make a forced landing.

Meanwhile, McWilliams had been sending out continuous reports of their adventures, and as Kingsford-Smith brought the Southern Cross down on to a swamp McWilliams sent out his last message telling Australia that they had been obliged to make a forced landing.

The machine alighted without mishap, but the wheels were buried in fifteen inches of mud. Almost immediately the fliers realized that this was no ordinary forced landing. The swamp on which the Southern Cross rested was surrounded by jungle which was virtually impassable and which was intersected by creeks in which there were alligators. It was obvious that for the time being it was impossible to get the Southern Cross out of the mud.

Threat of Starvation

There was nothing to do but wait and hope for the arrival of the rescue parties; it was useless to try to penetrate the jungle. All Australia would have heard McWilliams’s messages, and rescue parties would be sent out immediately; but speed was imperative if the stranded aviators were not to starve to death. When they looked for the emergency rations that should have been packed, these were missing, and the mystery of their disappearance was never solved. The only food they had was a supply of special baby food which they were taking to Wyndham. The threat of starvation soon became a menace, and they were physically distressed by plagues of flies and mosquitoes; but more serious than all these predicaments, more serious even than the threat of starvation, was the fact that the radio situation was now ironically reversed. The transmitter was damaged and McWilliams could not send out a message, but he had rigged up a receiving set.

Although they were able to hear that searches were being made by water and by air, they were unable to send the rescue parties their position. A fire was lit on a hill, so that a passing aeroplane would see the smoke, but it was difficult to keep anything alight because of dampness.

By the second day the four aviators suffered from the terrible heat, the indifferent water, the bites from mosquitoes and flies and the shortage of food. On the fourth day the position was desperate. Although aeroplanes were searching for them none had apparently passed near the Southern Cross, which, with its great white wing, was a conspicuous landmark, rendered even more conspicuous by the fact of its lying in a clearing in the jungle.

It was on the fourth day that the threat of starvation became a reality. The aviators were by now almost too weak even to attend to the fire which was so vital to them.

By this time McWilliams had rigged up a transmitting set, but this depended on Kingsford-Smith and Litchfield turning a large wheel while Ulm held the generator to it to make a friction drive. Kingsford-Smith and Litchfield were so weak, however, that they could not turn the wheel for more than a few seconds, and McWilliams’s signals were too brief to be successful.

AN ATTEMPT TO GENERATE POWER for the transmitter when the Southern Cross made a forced landing

AN ATTEMPT TO GENERATE POWER for the transmitter when the Southern Cross made a forced landing in the jungle in the north of Western Australia in 1929. Kingsford-Smith is shown turning one of the landing wheels, while Ulm, his co-pilot, holds the generator against it. Weakness, due to lack of food, prevented the fliers from succeeding in their efforts to send out useful messages by this method.

Meanwhile, the fliers suffered the cruellest blow of all. Three machines had passed near them at different times. The four aviators, weak and desperate, watched them fly so near, yet not near enough. It was a terrible experience, for with the disappearance of each machine there disappeared also hopes of rescue. The fliers listened continually to the radio, and heard from Sydney that every effort was being made — surely, they thought, one of those several machines must see either the white span of wing or the beacon? So near the Southern Cross had the three aeroplanes flown, and so systematic was the search that Kingsford-Smith felt certain that help would eventually arrive — but it would probably arrive too late. Each day was now rapidly shortening their lives, and they knew they would not be able to survive much longer. The most terrible part of the ordeal was the fact that they could listen-in to the efforts being made to rescue them, but they were helpless to send out any indication of their position.

Drama and anxiety were added to their desperate plight when Kingsford-Smith and Ulm heard that their former colleague, Keith Anderson, with his mechanic, H. S. Hitchcock, had joined in the intensive search. Anderson and Hitchcock set out — and disappeared, and thus another threat of tragedy was added to the situation.

At last help came. Kingsford-Smith and his companions were eventually seen by the Canberra, a D.H.66 biplane, chartered by the Search Committee which had been specially formed to organize rescue parties. Captain Holden, the pilot, cruised above the stranded party, dropped a note and some food. For five days an aeroplane returned and dropped more food, and by the end of that time the aviators’ physical condition was improved to such an extent that they were able to leave. Two rescue machines landed near the Southern Cross on the swamp, the surface of which had now dried to a hard crust. Nineteen days after it had been forced down, the Southern Cross took off again with its crew safe and sound.

Anderson and Hitchcock, however, were dead, their machine having crashed.

Record Australia-England Flight

A Committee of Inquiry was set up, but even before it published the results of its investigations a certain section of Australian opinion had turned against the men — and Kingsford-Smith in particular — who had been national heroes. This critical and antagonistic feeling was not widespread, but the minority who expressed it, like many minorities who must be heard, made a great deal of noise. Grave allegations were made suggesting that a forced landing which had caused two deaths had been deliberately planned as a publicity venture.

The Committee of Inquiry examined every aspect and detail of the flight. Its equipment, preparation and organization were all subjected to the closest investigation. There were many witnesses and the crew of the Southern Cross were cross-examined. The Committee made strong criticisms of the flight and of certain decisions taken by Kingsford-Smith; but the worst that could have been said against Kingsford-Smith and Ulm was that they were guilty of errors of judgment, and it was easy enough for a Committee of Inquiry to say what should have been done when it was reviewing the situation in very different circumstances. But the Committee made a particular point of saying that “There was nothing placed before us which could impugn the honesty of the crew of the Southern Cross, or of any one of them”.

After the inquiry the stock of the Southern Cross and its crew was at a low ebb. The heroes of yesterday were (in some quarters) the outcasts if not the villains of today. But Kingsford-Smith was undeterred and, with Ulm, Litchfield and McWilliams, he made another attempt to fly to England. Although various causes made them lose four days on their schedule, they reached Croydon Aerodrome in what was then the record time of twelve days eighteen hours.

Back in Australia, Kingsford-Smith and Ulm were busy with the organization of Australian National Airways, but as soon as the company was on a working basis, Kingsford-Smith turned his attention to a transatlantic and trans-American flight. The Southern Cross had been completely overhauled at the Fokker works at Amsterdam, but the urgent pressure of work with his new company prevented Ulm from accompanying Kingsford-Smith on the Atlantic flight. Kingsford-Smith had with him, as co-pilot, Evert van Dyk, an experienced Dutch aviator, J. W. Stannage as radio operator (Stannage had been one of the crew of the rescue machine Canberra) and Captain Saul as navigator.

THE ARRIVAL OF KINGSFORD-SMITH and his companions at Washington

THE ARRIVAL OF KINGSFORD-SMITH and his companions at Washington, U.S.A., to receive the congratulations of President Hoover after their Atlantic flight. They travelled in the giant Fokker air liner, seen in the background, which was one of the world’s largest commercial aircraft in 1930. Kingsford-Smith is standing second from the cinematograph camera in the centre right of the photograph. His companions are on his immediate right.

On June 24, 1930, at 4.25 a.m. (Greenwich Mean Time), Kingsford-Smith and his crew took off from Portmarnock Beach, Ireland. As with all transatlantic flights fog was the greatest handicap, but the difficulties of the crossing were emphasized by the curious behaviour of the three compasses. When the aviators were near the Newfoundland coast, none of the compasses agreed and it was impossible for Captain Saul to check any deviation from the course. The fog prevented him from checking his position by the stars. This went on for some time, and then there were fears that the petrol supply would not last.

Despite the fact that he could not afford to waste any petrol, Kingsford-Smith decided to climb above the fog belt, where they could then try to discover what was wrong with the compasses. But as they emerged from the fog the compasses suddenly showed normal readings. The probable explanation of this mystery is interesting, and in his book, My Flying Life, which he wrote in collaboration with Commander Geoffrey Rawson, he said:

“It is now believed that each particle of moisture in the fog belt off Newfoundland is, for some unknown reason, heavily charged with electricity, and it is my belief that our continuous flight through this moisture-laden atmosphere had so charged the steel components of the plane that they had become magnetized, and this directly affected the magnetic needles of our compasses, causing them to deviate from normal.

Unofficial Race

“It might be asked: how is it that these effects have not been experienced in ships which for over four centuries have navigated in these waters with magnetic compasses? The answer is that the ship is earthed in water, with the result that the electrical charging of the vessel is dissipated in the water, whereas there was no outlet from our plane. This theory is in some measure confirmed by the fact that when Stannage pulled out his aerial switch — as he did on several occasions — a big blue flame, an inch long, was immediately generated — proving conclusively that the plane was highly charged, and thus making the whole machine a giant condenser for the energy for which there was no release except the discharge into the particles of fog having an opposite polarity.”

The Southern Cross eventually landed at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, after having crossed the North Atlantic in 311 hours. After this triumph they flew across America until they had reached once more Oakland Airport and completed the circuit of the globe at almost its greatest circumference.

Kingsford-Smith’s next contribution to air history was his solo attempt to beat Hinkler’s record flight to Australia in 15½ days. For this attempt the Avro company built him an Avro Avian sports biplane, which was called Southern Cross Junior.

The Avro Avian had a D.H. Gipsy II engine and a cruising speed of 90 miles an hour; 113 gallons of petrol could be carried in the tanks; this supply gave a range of 1,700 miles.

Kingsford-Smith took off in this machine from Heston Aerodrome at dawn on October 9, 1930. He was by no means a fit man, having recently had an operation for appendicitis, and an attack of influenza shortly after the operation, but he could not afford to wait. Other pilots were after Hinkler’s record. Ahead of him was Captain Matthews, who had left some weeks earlier but who was delayed by a breakdown at Rangoon. Two other pilots, Pickthorne and Chabot, were over the Persian Gulf and Flight Lieutenant Hill was beyond Karachi. It was not the distances that these men were ahead of him that concerned him, but the time they were taking over each section.

KINGSFORD-SMITH TAXYING IN after his record-breaking flight from England to Australia in 1933

KINGSFORD-SMITH TAXYING IN after his record-breaking flight from England to Australia in 1933. On this flight he flew solo in a Percival Gull machine named Miss Southern Cross. He took off from Lympne on October 4 and reached Australia in seven days four hours forty-three minutes. For this flight he received a grant of £3,000 from the Government.

Kingsford-Smith’s first “hop” was one of 1,000 miles from Heston to Rome, which he accomplished in thirteen hours. Except when he flew over the 9,380-feet peak of Mount Mongioje, near Genoa, when heavy air-bumps were so severe that one of the bracing wires of the Avro was broken, he had fair weather conditions on this first stretch. Within five days he had reached Karachi, where he met Pickthorne and Chabot, who had been forced to abandon their flight. Hill, they told him, was still well ahead and making good time, and Matthews was ready to leave Rangoon, but he could no longer hope to break the record. This left Hill and Kingsford-Smith, and their flights to India had now resolved themselves into an unofficial race.

Hill remained a problem and a worthy rival until Kingsford-Smith landed at Sourabaya, in Java, where he learnt that he was only about a day behind his rival. Hill, he was told, was almost exhausted and, although Hill knew that he would probably beat Hinkler’s record, he knew also that he would hold a new record only for a few hours, as he realized that Kingsford-Smith was flying a faster machine.

The next day Kingsford-Smith caught up with Hill. He landed at Atamboea, to which he had flown in one stretch of 854 miles from Java. As he touched down at Atamboea, Hill greeted him. Hill’s attempt was finished. That same morning, when he had been a day ahead of Kingsford-Smith, he had wrecked his machine beyond repair. Kingsford-Smith tried to make room for him in the Avro, so that they could complete the trip together, but it was impossible to take a passenger. Before Kingsford-Smith took off, Hill, with characteristic sportsmanship, gave him his collapsible rubber boat.

The boat was not needed, and Kingsford-Smith added another record to his fame when he reached Port Darwin at ten minutes to two in the afternoon of October 19, having flown just over 10,000 miles in less than ten days — a wonderful achievement for a man not in the best of health.

Air Mail Pioneer

In 1931, after he had failed in a gallant attempt to lower James Mollison’s Australia to England record of eight days nineteen hours twenty-five minutes, Kingsford-Smith was involved in dramatic fashion with the carrying of the first air mails between England and Australia preparatory to the establishment of a regular service.

The first experimental outward-bound air mail from England crashed near Koepang on Timor, and Kingsford-Smith flew from Australia to Timor and brought the mail back. Later the same year Kingsford-Smith was concerned with the transport of the first air mail from Australia to England.

One of the machines belonging to his own company, Australian National Airways, the Southern Sun, was chosen for the flight, and it left Sydney on November 20,1931, for England with the Christmas mail. Five days later the Southern Sun crashed at Alor Star. Kingsford-Smith received the news that same afternoon. By December 5 he had reached the wrecked Southern Sun; he would have been there earlier but for an accident which delayed him at Port Darwin. He reached Darwin, where a heavy thunderstorm had made the ground soft and the visibility bad; his machine struck a telegraph pole. The wing fabric was torn, a cylinder was damaged and a propeller dented. Three valuable days were lost at Darwin while the repairs were carried out.

CLIMBING ON BOARD the Southern Cross before his flight across America in 1930

CLIMBING ON BOARD the Southern Cross before his flight across America in 1930. Kingsford-Smith made stops on the way at Chicago and Salt Lake City. Uim, Kingsford-Smith’s co-pilot on many flights in the Southern Cross, was unable to accompany him on his Atlantic and transAmerican flights, because of pressure of work. He was busy with the organization of Australian National Airways, which he and Kingsford-Smith had founded.

At Alor Star he transferred the mails to his other machine and set off for England, racing against time so that the Christmas mails should be delivered. Success was essential. Failure meant a blow to Empire flying prestige, a break of faith with the public who had entrusted 45,288 letters and packets to be safely delivered, and a black mark against Kingsford-Smith’s own company. Fog and bad snowstorms hampered him along most of the route, but he reached Croydon on December 16, in the magnificent and (for that type of machine and work) record time of thirteen and a half days. Kingsford-Smith’s superb achievement was, however, allowed to go to waste, and the aviator who had been described by Anthony Fokker and by Mollison as the world’s finest pilot was reduced to giving joyrides in the Southern Cross at ten shillings a time. But if his efforts were regarded with some indifference in certain quarters, they were appreciated elsewhere. In June of that year King George V knighted him.

In 1933 Kingsford-Smith planned to fly solo from England to Australia in Miss Southern Cross. He took off from Lympne on October 4 and reached Australia in the record time of seven days four hours forty-three minutes.

He was once more the hero of the hour. Cheering crowds welcomed him, King George V sent his congratulations, the Government granted him £3,000 free of income tax. But once again he was to experience the bitter truth that nothing is more fickle than public hero worship; as he himself put it: “A national hero may often become a nation’s whipping-boy overnight”. The trouble arose over the Mac-Robertson Trophy race in 1934 (see the chapter “Some Famous Air Trophies”). As this race was to be held in connexion with the Melbourne Centenary, what would be more appropriate than that the race should be won by an Australian aviator? And what more appropriate choice could there be than Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, K.B.E., A.F.C., the hero of the hour?

Ill-informed Criticism

The money to enable him to compete was raised by private and public subscriptions in Australia. Numerous difficulties arose, however, which caused a delay in his leaving Australia for England; and then, when everything was ready, the engine cowling was damaged to such an extent that further delay followed and he could not reach England in time for the race.

The public’s disappointment was easy to understand, but it is difficult to understand the allegations that were made against him in some quarters, to the effect that he had never really intended to compete at all. He felt his position keenly and he was distressed by these unjust criticisms, for there had been others which even questioned his courage. He was determined that something must be done to live down these criticisms. Although he strongly resented the charges made, he quickly appreciated that money had been subscribed for an aeroplane that he could not now use.

He decided to return the machine, a Lockheed Altair, to America, and one can imagine that he would be glad to be free of it, attached as he was to his aeroplanes; but ill-fortune had dogged the Lockheed from the outset. He had been strongly criticized by ill-informed people because he had bought an American machine, but a suitable British-made machine was not then available for him.

He decided to make a spectacular return to America, and once more he made preparations for a flight across the Pacific to Oakland Airport — to the scene of the flight which had first made him a world-famous hero. If he succeeded he would be the first man to fly to America from Australia by way of the Pacific, as he had been the first man to fly in the opposite direction.

With P. G. Taylor as co-pilot he flew the 7,380 miles from Australia to San Francisco in forty hours, including a record flight of fifteen hours from Honolulu to San Francisco.

In the following year, 1935, Kingsford-Smith set out from England on what was to be his last flight, the cause of his death was a mystery, and all that is known is that he disappeared while flying over the Bay of Bengal.

THE SOUTHERN CROSS LANDING AT PORT DARWIN with the first experimental air mail from England to Australia in April 1931. The mail was being flown by an Imperial Airways machine which crashed near Koepang, on the island of Timor. Kingsford-Smith flew to Koepang, picked up the mail and returned with it to Port Darwin.

You can read more on “Charles Augustus Lindbergh”, “The First to Australia” and  “James Allan Mollison” on this website

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith