Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Southern Cross Flight

The ‘Southern Cross’, the first flight across the Pacific (Eightieth Anniversary),

First trans-Pacific flight celebrates its 8oth anniversary in August 2008.

The Southern Cross inside the Kingsford Smith Memorial, a climate-controlled sealed glass building

The Southern Cross inside the Kingsford Smith Memorial, a climate-controlled sealed glass building

Our commercial flight operation is eighty years old.

Smith and Ulm were youngsters from the Imperial Air Force of Australia with un-satiable desire for flying over un-chartered territories; and taking risks was for them a way of life. This mission was not just risk taking; it was history in the making. At present when the age commercial aircraft operations is counted this land-mark flight is taken as the starting point and our commercial flights are eighty years old; as this Southern Cross flight occurred on 1928; crossing the mighty Pacific for the first time in an aircraft; covering a distance of 11588 km!

First lap from Oakland to Hawaii (3ist May 1928)

On 31st May 1928 they (the four member crew who took part in ‘Southern Cross’ Trans Pacific Flight) took off from Oakland in California and landed in Hawaii after 27hours. This event would have gone un-noticed had it been not the part of a great flight that turned out to be a marking in aviation history. As experienced pilots they knew the risks involved in such a long flight in a single engine aircraft. The team had a purpose too; to study the feasibility of connecting Australia with US by commercial aircrafts.


First edition cover of descriptive book of the flight

Second lap; a mission impossible (3rd June 1928)

These young pilots (Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm) were from the Imperial Air Force of Australia and crazy for establishing records in flying. This particular mission – a really risky one-they took entirely to satisfy their own thirst for flying through un- chartered territories. The second lap was the most challenging part of the journey flying 7388 miles above the unending vastness of the mighty Pacific; from Hawaii to Suva in Fiji – a journey no one has undertaken so far. Considering the standards of aircraft design and crude technologies prevalent in the flying equipments (the electronic revolution was not born at that time); it was a mission impossible.

The vessel

The Kingsford Smith Memorial, housing the Southern Cross

The Kingsford Smith Memorial, housing the Southern Cross

The vessel that was to take them across the Pacific was a Fokker F VII b-3 monoplane with three engines; which they named ‘The Southern Cross’. It was 14.56 meters in length with a wingspan of 21.71 meters. The aircraft was powered by Wright Whirlwind motors that were 304 horse-powers each and could attain a speed of 208 kph (cruising speed 178 kph). The Fokker F VII b-3 could carry a load around 5300 kilo grams and attain height of about 4400 meters. No doubt it was the ‘most efficient’ aircraft of that time. The Fokker VII b-3 even commanded a market share that exceeded 50% of the whole aircrafts sold at that time.

The crew,

Cowards die many times;

Valiant never taste it but once!

Pilot; Charles Kingsford Smith (popularly called ‘Smithy’) was pilot of the Australian Imperial Air Force. He was born in Brisbane Australia in 1897); who along with Ulm were engaged by the Inter-State Flying Services to see whether Flights between Australia and America could be engaged commercially.

Co pilot; Charles Ulm (1898) was also an Australian (who later met with an air-crash while trying to create a record in flights between America and Australia and disappeared).

Two people also joined them; one Mr. James Warner as a Radio operator and Mr. Harry Lyon as Navigator; both of them were Americans.

The making of an airport

The second lap of the flight was intended to land on Albert Park in Suva the capital of Fiji; at that time there was no airport worth its name a tremendous problem as the field to be used for landing of the aircraft was dotted with banyan trees which stood blocking the landing. Cutting these trees was easier said than done; as sanction for the same was hard to come by as no official was prepared to take that risk.

Robert Farquar and Sir Eyre Hudson

Robert Farquar a radio operator of Suva; who had been communicating with Southern Cross could not ignore the request of the cruising team. His running for sanction for cutting of trees from pillar to post rendered no results and finally he approached Governor Sir Eyre Hudson; the Highest authority of the island. Hudson could understand the significance of the mission he issued immediate sanction for the cutting of the trees and leveling the park. The telephone lines that stood nearby also were transferred to safer location for the landing of the plane that carried along with a piece of history.

The grace of God!

The improvised airport (rather a converted Albert Park) turned out to be center of the whole island and almost all people assembled there to see the most wonderful thing on earth the flying machine! When the aircraft landed in Suva there was thrill as well as some suspense; the aircraft that had no brake ran almost off the ramp and almost collided with the embankment on its eastern side; but nothing untoward happened; by the grace of god!

In Suva

Next day in a welcome ceremony arranged by the island authorities; school children of Suva presented an American Flag made of wild flowers to the crew members. The plane had to fly 30 km to Nasilai Beach near Nakelo to take fuel which was brought in a steamer (HMCS Pioneer). On June 8th they left Nasilai on way to Brisbane but did not forget to fly over Suva in an attempt to bid farewell to its people who gave them a warm welcome and love!

At Brisbane

The Southern Cross at a RAAF base near Canberra in 1943.

The Southern Cross at a RAAF base near Canberra in 1943.

A 15,000 strong crowd was there to welcome the crew and their famous aircraft which they called the ‘Southern Cross’ (Smith affectionately called it ‘Old Bus’). They reached Brisbane nine days after they have left Oakland and flew to Sydney where there was a heroes’ welcome awaiting for them. Smith had taken many more adventures with his flying talent and he was honored with the Harmon National Award for Australia for his achievements. Smith later got killed along with his co pilot in 1935; while trying to create a flight record. As his true partner in most of the adventures Ulm followed the suit and got killed in a crash. Anyway in the 80thanniversary of that great event let their souls rest in peace and eternal happiness.

Home is the hunter; home from the hills;

And the sailor home from the seas.