Arctic Aerial Exploration
Antarctic Exploration
Australian record flights
equal flying rights for women!
Calbraith Rogers
Cobham and Hinkler
Byrd and Bennett
Wiley Post
Amelia Earhart
Howard Hughes
Kingsford Smith
Amy Johnson
Beryl Markham
Italo Balbo
Jimmy Doolittle

Charles Kingsford-Smith and the Pacific Crossings

In 1927, 1928, and 1931, three historic crossings of the Pacific took place that underscored how the world was shrinking—and one trans-Pacific event took place in 1 927 that aviators might just as soon have wanted to forget. The door to the Pacific was opened with the flight of U.S. Army Air Corps officers Lester J. Maitland and Albert F. Hegenberger, in a Fokker Trimotor called the 'Bird of Paradise' (a virtual carbon copy of Byrd’s plane. the America ), from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii.

Unlike Bert Hinkler during his flight to Australia, Maitland and Hegenberger could not put down along the way and had no landmarks to guide them along the twenty-four-hundred miles (3,86 1.3km) of featureless ocean. The successful flight was a tribute to the piloting skills of Maitland, the navigating skills of Hegenberger, and the reliability of the Whirlwind engines and the Fokker aircraft. That same year; James P. Dole, president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, issued a challenge offering prizes to the first two fliers to cross the Pacific from California to Hawaii non-stop. He intended to encourage a trans-Pacific flight as a prelude to eventual air transportation between Hawaii and the mainland.

Dole, a member of the National Aeronautic Association, believed that the flight was well within the capabilities of the competitors for the Orteig prize, who had to fly a thirty-six-hundred-mile course. He hoped Lindbergh and Chamberlin would be induced into competing, but neither showed any interest. The authority that certified the race was appointed by the promoters, and therein lay the problem. Entrants with virtually no chance of making the flight were allowed in and, in Dole’s words, the contest. dubbed the Dole Derby, became a free-for-all.

The Dole Derbv was won by stunt pilot Art Goebel, flying a Travel Air called the Woolaroc second place was taken Mart in Jensen, flying a Breese monoplane, the Aloha. But during the  course of the race, four planes were lost and ten people died, including the only woman entrant. Mildred Doran (known as the “Flying Schoolmarm” ), and the flying team of Scott and Frost (flying a prototype of the new Vega, the Golden Eagle). A number of sponsors of other races withdrew their support and the ban on uncertified transoceanic flights that was officially placed on the Atlantic was unofficially extended to the Pacific.

The Fokker Trimotor Bird of Paradise in which Lieutenants Lester Maitland and Albert Hegenberger made the first flight across the Pacific—from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. The twenty-four hundred miles represented the longest all-water flight made to that time.

Crew of the Southern Cross's historic 1928 first trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane. From left: radio operator Jim Warner, relief pilot Charles Ulm, Smithy, navigator Harry Lyon.

Into this dour environment stepped Charles Kingsford-Smith. “Smithy,” as he was known, was precisely the wrong man to place in charge of an attempt to cross the Pacific. An average flier during the war, afterward Smithy demonstrated himself to be a reckless, hard-drinking, irresponsible thrill-seeker who had caused many accidents and injuries in the aftermath of his barnstorming stunts.

In connection with the Dole Derby (which he passed up because it seemed foolhardy, even to him), it was unlikely that anyone would sponsor him or certify any aircraft in which he wanted to attempt a Pacific crossing. In spite of all this, as a result of patience, careful planning, and a measure of luck he found himself in 1928 in possession of the Fokker Trimotor, now called the Southern Cross, that Sir Hubert Wilkins had flown in the Arctic. He also had a political sponsor—the Premier of New South Wales, who was coming up for re-election—and a new image—the result of a highly publicised record-setting flight around the perimeter of Australia that gave Kingsford-Smith and his partners, Charles Ulm and Keith Anderson, an air of respectability.

Smithy and the Southern Cross which he used to call 'my old bus.'

The Fokker trimotor Southern Cross flies past Mt Taranaki on arrival in New Zealand in 1933

On May 31, 1928, the Southern Cross took off from San Francisco for Hawaii and then went on to Brisbane, a total of 7,316 miles. The Fokker F-VIIB was tested on the flight by stormy weather and broken navigational equipment, and several times, Smithy reported, the aircraft came close to going down. But the crew of four made it, and Kingsford-Smith’s past indiscretions were all forgotten as he became Australia’s greatest hero (of the day, at least). During the next five years, Smithy conducted a number of pioneering flights, including a record-setting solo flight from London to Australia in 1930, and a Brisbane-to-San Francisco crossing of the Pacific (a more difficult flight than flying the same route westward) in 1934.

Smithy and his co-pilot, Tom Pethybridge, beside the Lockheed Altair Lady Southern Cross in which they disappeared off the Burma coast in 1935

When Smithy set out from Lympne in Kent in November 1935 with his co-pilot, Tommy Pethybridge, to attempt to break the 71-hour England-Melbourne record (set the previous year by Charles Scott and Tom Campbell Black) he was ill. It was to have been his last record bid. It became his last flight. The Lockheed Altair Lady Southern Cross, pausing to refuel only at Athens and Baghdad, made a swift flight to India. At dusk on 7 November Smithy and Pethybridge took off from Allahabad to fly non-stop through the night to Singapore. They were seen to pass over Calcutta, Akyab and Rangoon – which they over flew at 1.30 am.

Smithy and his co-pilot, Tom Pethybridge, beside the Lockheed Altair Lady Southern Cross in which they disappeared off the Burma coast in 1935.
Sometime around 2.50 that morning, 8 November, another Australian pilot, Jimmy Melrose, who was heading south from Rangoon in a much slower Percival Gull, was excited to see the Altair overtake him over the Andaman Sea. On arrival in Singapore later that day Melrose was surprised to learn that the Lady Southern Cross had not arrived.

Despite a huge search of the entire Rangoon-Singapore route by squadrons of RAF aircraft no trace of the Altair was found for 18 months. In May 1937 its starboard undercarriage leg, with still inflated tyre, 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 starboard undercarriage leg of the Lady Southern Cross found in 1937 on an island 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. However, if Melrose had genuinely seen the Altair overtake him - they were the only two aircraft in Burma airspace that night - then Smithy would have crashed at least 100 miles south of Aye, and the wheel have drifted north.