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Jim’s Australiana Spot – 2UE - June 26, 2016


After World War I, there were 100s of trained Aussie pilots in the UK looking for work. Billy Hughes wanted to develop air links to Australia and set up a 'race' from UK TO Australia in 28 days with a £10 000 prize. Hundreds of Australians attempted to enter the race and the Royal Aero Club was recruited as arbiters and organizers. The rules were strict in order to avoid the Government being criticized for putting lives in danger.

The aircraft entered had to be airworthy. This meant in effect that only an aircraft entered by a manufacturer was acceptable. Most would-be entrants could not afford new machines.  Each crew had to have a navigator, which eliminated the entry put up by Charles Kingsford-Smith, and solo entries were forbidden by the regulations, so Lieutenant Bert Hinkler's entry in a Sopwith Dove was also eliminated.

Ross Smith knew somebody who really could navigate and share flying the machine - his own brother, Keith, an RFC and RAF flying instructor.

Altogether six Australian crews, five of them backed by the cream of the British aircraft industry - Sopwith, Vickers, Blackburn, Alliance and Martinsyde - took part in the race. The sixth crew, Lieutenants Ray Parer and John McIntosh, after months of setbacks and failed schemes, were backed by Scots whisky magnate Peter Dawson and had entered a war surplus De Havilland DH.9 which they named ‘PD’ in his honour.

There was also an unofficial ‘seventh’ entry. French flyer, Etienne Poulet and his mechanic, Jean Benoist, flying a tiny Caudron Bi-plane, set off from Paris on October 14, 1919. Not being Australian, they were ineligible for the cash prize, but they were determined to win the race, and the glory, for France. They led the race for over half the distance.

.The Smith brothers' flew up to ten hours each day for 27 days, then Shiers and Bennett would work on the Rolls-Royce engines while Ross and Keith refueled, straining petrol through a chamois leather filter.

Of the seven entrants only two would reach Australia, two crashed fatally: the Alliance Endeavour, flown by Douglas and Ross, just after taking off from Hounslow, and the Martinsyde, flown by fighter ace Cedric Howell and George Fraser, when it ditched off Corfu in the Adriatic Sea after a navigation error during the night.  The Blackburn Kangaroo of Captain Sir Hubert Wilkins was forced to turn back to Crete with engine trouble and crashed on landing, while George Matthews and Tom Kay in the Sopwith Wallaby so nearly made it but crashed in a banana plantation in Bali. Etienne Poulet in his tiny Caudron G4 biplane just kept plugging away and led the field as far as Rangoon before he too was eliminated with engine trouble.

The astonishingly determined Parer and McIntosh in their single-engined DH.9 eventually arriving in Darwin eight months after leaving London. Their flight was the first to Australia in a single-engined plane.

The biggest problem for the competitors was that there were no landing grounds between India and Darwin. There wasn't even a landing ground at Darwin. The Dutch constructed rudimentary airstrips during1919, but elsewhere most ‘airfields’ consisted of race courses at Rangoon and Singapore or clearings in the jungle with a stockpile of fuel.

The Vickers Vimy, her tanks were almost empty touched down on the specially built Fanny Bay airstrip near Darwin on December 10 1919. ‘We almost fell into Darwin,’ Wally Shiers recalled. The journey had taken 27 days 20 hours.

Waiting to greet them were a customs officer and quarantine official and Ross Smith’s old friend from the 1st Squadron Australian Flying Corps, Hudson Fysh, who had built the airfield at Darwin and surveyed the air route from Darwin to Brisbane, in case anyone got that far. It was this survey that convinced Fysh that air travel was the answer to Australia’s vast distances and led directly to the formation of Qantas.
Brigadier Borton called the flight ‘the most magnificent pioneer undertaking of the age’ and British Prime Minister Lloyd George telegrammed: ‘Your flight shows how the inventions of war can advance the progress of peace.’


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
 And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
 Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
 Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
 You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
 High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
 I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
 My eager craft through footless halls of air.
 Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
 I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
 Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
 And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
 Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He came to the U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 he enlisted in the RCAF and was graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941. In August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed High Flight and sent a copy to his parents. On December 11, 1941 he collided with another plane crashed and died - he was19 years of age.

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