Kingsford Smith joined the AIF in 1915 and was sent overseas to serve at Gallipoli, Egypt and France. His career in aviation commenced in 1916 when he joined the Australian Flying Corps, and he proved an immediate success in this field. He shot down four enemy planes in his first month as a fully-fledged pilot. Smithy himself was eventually wounded and shot down in France. He was awarded the Military Cross for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty", before continuing to the end of WWI as a flying instructor. Here is a picture of Smithy in his flying kit.
After the war ended, Kingsford Smith seemed to lead a life of boys' own adventures - initially he and some associates bought aeroplanes to commence taking fare-paying passengers, but the project struggled financially. Smithy ended up performing barnstorming stunts and taking people on joy flights in order to produce some cash flow.
In 1928, Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm and two crewmen left California to fly across the Pacific Ocean to Australia in his now-famous aircraft Southern Cross. With refuelling stops in Hawaii and Fiji, they reached Australia in just over 83 hours of flying time. They landed at Brisbane's Eagle Farm on 9th June and were greeted by over 25,000 excited Australians. This image shows the Southern Cross landing in Brisbane.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #68924)
But there was a major hiccup in 1929 when Smithy set off from Sydney for England, where he intended to buy some more aeroplanes for the purpose of commencing an airline. Bad weather and loss of communication caused him to land in the far north-west of the country, triggering a major search. One of the planes in the search party crash-landed in Central Australia and the two men aboard died from thirst and exposure. There was some fallout as far as Kingsford Smith's public reputation was concerned - some sections of the public felt that his landing was a publicity stunt that caused the unnecessary deaths of two fellow aviators. There was an official enquiry which found that Kingsford Smith had no case to answer.
Kingsford Smith did establish his airline, Australian National Airways, but the loss of a plane over the Snowy Mountains together with the depression meant that it was not a success. Meanwhile, Smithy continued to pioneer aviation by breaking records and competing in air races.
Smithy was knighted for his service to aviation in 1932, and his adventurous life still continued. Awarded the trans-Tasman mail route, he and his flying companion PG Taylor set off on the initial flight - it rapidly turned ugly. The starboard engine was damaged in flight and had to be turned off. Then the port motor ran low on oil, leaving only the centre engine functioning properly. In an amazing feat of courage, Taylor crawled out on the wings six times to gather oil from the starboard engine and transfer it to the port engine, thereby saving their lives.
As we all now know, Kingsford Smith later perished during an attempt to break the record for flight between England and Australia. It is presumed that his plane, Lady Southern Cross, and all aboard came down somewhere near Burma in November 1935 - although some parts of the aircraft were found, no bodies have ever been recovered. His most-recognised aeroplane, Southern Cross, was preserved for years before being housed in a special hangar near the Brisbane International Airport. The first photo below shows the craft being towed towards its new resting place, and below it is a recent image of the plane today.
Think of the changes we have seen in aviation in the eighty short years since Smithy's heyday. I'm sure that he couldn't imagine the size and complexities of today's passenger aircraft. Compare the cockpit of Southern Cross with that of a modern passenger plane.
(Photo: © imagebroker.net / SuperStock)
And lastly, don't forget that Sir Charles Kingsford Smith is featured on the Australian $20 note.
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