Good Morning—Last week we talked about Pan Am and how they overshadowed the accomplishments of Aeromarine in the Caribbean and this week I want to talk about a group of Aviators who conquered the Pacific one year after Lindbergh conquered the Atlantic and eight years before Pan Am made it’s first flight with the China Clipper. It is true that Pan Am was the first to provide scheduled service across the Pacific, I have the video of the inaugural flight of the China Clipper at the end of this blog, but Charles E. Kingsford-Smith, and his crew, were the first to conquer the Pacific.
Come with me now as we go back and relive that event in words and videos.
Following the dramatic 1927 flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, four men in a three-engine airplane called the “Southern Cross” conquered the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. They flew from Oakland in California to Sydney via Hawaii, Fiji and Brisbane. The flight was the brainchild of Australians, Charles Kingsford-Smith, a former WWI pilot, and Charles Ulm who became involved in promoting aviation after the War.
Charles Ulm was able to convince Californian businessman G. Allan Hancock to pay for the airplane and finance the flight. Kingsford-Smith, 31 years old at the time, was to be the pilot and 30-year-old Ulm the co-pilot. They hired two Americans to join the crew, 41-year-old navigator Harry Lyon and 36-year-old radioman James Warner. Lyon was a graduate of the US Naval Academy and had skippered merchant marine ships before the War. Warner had spent 16 years in the Navy.
The “Southern Cross”, or the “Old Bus” as it was affectionately known, weighed 6840 kg. This included 4 crew at 291 kg, 3541 kg of benzene and 109 kg of oil. The airplane had a wingspan of 23 meters; it was almost 15 meters long and stood 3.9 meters high. It had a cruising speed of 150 kph.
For communication there were three transmission sets to send radio signals and two to receive them and four compasses to navigate. The crew was also well prepared for an emergency. If the aircraft had to ditch at sea Kingsford-Smith would dump what fuel was left in the wings and use them as rafts. There were distress signals, water and enough food to last a week on board the airplane.
More than a thousand people turned out to watch the “Southern Cross” take off on its first leg from Oakland to Hawaii just before 9.00 am on Thursday May 31 1928. However, the start did not go off without incident. The take-off had to be aborted as Ulm accidentally shut down one engine when his clothing caught in a switch. Field personnel restarted the engine and the Southern Cross took off for Hawaii.
About 480 km into the flight the “Southern Cross” lost its directional radio beam, so for the next 3,300 km navigator Lyon was flying by dead reckoning. The aircraft also flew into heavy cloud but Lyon’s experience as a merchant marine, and familiarity with the islands, assisted them in locating the airfield. The flight from Oakland to Hawaii had taken 27 hours and 28 minutes.
After resting in Hawaii the real test was to come. If they were to complete the next leg to Fiji it would be the longest flight ever made across open water.
After passing the Equator, the “Southern Cross” ran into strong headwinds and severe storms that blew it off course. The stormy weather continued throughout the day and one of the engines began to run rough. The weather finally improved and the crew managed to regain their bearings. They were able to land on a cricket field in Suva. The flight was just short of 35 hours.
The crew left Fiji for Brisbane believing the next leg would be easy. However, they faced some of the worst flying conditions of the entire trip. Ferocious storms tossed their aircraft violently. At times they had to fly just above the waves and Kingsford-Smith admitted there were some very anxious moments. Again they were blown off course. They downplayed their problems on the radio because they did not want to alarm their friends waiting in Brisbane where they landed on Saturday June 9.
After an enthusiastic welcome, the “Southern Cross” crew continued on to Sydney the following day. They flew along the coast on the final leg to Sydney where escort pilots met the crew. After the airplane landed Kingsford-Smith was greeted in an emotional embrace by his parents. Lyon and Warner stayed back to allow the two Australians to reap the applause they justly deserved until the crowd called for them to come forward. Kingsford-Smith paid tribute to the skill, operation and pluck of his American comrades. The four conquerors of the Pacific were paraded into the city where local dignitaries met them.
US President Calvin Coolidge wired a message to Kingsford-Smith saying “Hearty congratulations to you and your companions on a successful flight from Oakland to Australia. Your brilliant, and courageous, pioneering has advanced the cause of aviation and strengthened bonds between your commonwealth and our country.”
Hancock wired Kingsford-Smith saying that he did not need to pay back the money he had put up to finance the trip and that he was giving the “Southern Cross” to Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm.
Charles Kingsford-Smith was knighted for his services to aviation in the Commonwealth of Australia. He died in 1935 when his plane crashed into the sea off the Burma coast during an attempt to break the England to Australia speed record. Ulm died in 1934 when his plane crashed in the Pacific while attempting to retrace his 1928 flight from Oakland to Australia. Harry Lyon returned to the United States and died in Paris Hill Maine at the age of 78 on 31 May 1963 – 35 years to the day the “Southern Cross” left Oakland for Hawaii. James Warner returned to the United States and died in California aged 79.
Take some time to view the videos below and then take some time off with family, and friends, and enjoy the weekend. Take care, fly safe/be safe, and join me next week when we talk about the flight to…………………….
October 25, 2013
To balance out the presentation I have also included the video of Captain Mucick on the inaugural flight of the China Clipper…………Enjoy.