90 years ago this month, Charles Kingsford-Smith made history

June 1928, huge crowds gathered in Brisbane to greet the crew of the Southern Cross as they completed the first trans-Pacific flight, an 83-hour epic completed in three stages.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on June 11, 1928

Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm and their two American comrades, Lieut. H. Lyon (navigator) and James Warner (radio expert), completed their historic flight from San Francisco to Brisbane at 10.13 this morning, when the Southern Cross, looking spick and span, landed gracefully at Bugle Farm aerodrome.

The final hop from Naselai Beach, Fiji, to Brisbane occupied 21 hours 18 minutes.

 

Thousands of people gathered at the aerodrome. Many of them appearing on the scene long before daylight, and the aviators wore given a tumultuous reception. It was a perfect winter morning.

By means of a temporary station at the hangar, 4QG broadcasting station kept in close touch with the aviators. At 8.40 a.m. a radio message came through: “Batteries low. We have not been listening for 30 minutes.”

At 8.45 six escorting planes flew out to see if they could locate the Southern Cross. At 9.45 Capt. L. Brain, manager of Qantas, who was first to take the air, returned to Eagle Farm with a message that he had flown over Moreton Bay at a height of 7000 feet, and after careful scouting had failed to find her. A later message from the ‘plane, however, reassured the gathering. This announced that the Southern Cross had got off her course, and was flying north with all speed to Brisbane from Ballina (N.S.W.). over which she first passed.

There was a buzz of excitement at ten minutes past 10, when 4QG received a message that the big ‘plane was flying over Burleigh Heads. A few minutes later it could be seen coming nearer and nearer, flying at a terrific speed from the south In a perfectly cloudless though somewhat hazy sky, till its blue body and silver wings were clearly discernible, glistening In the glorious morning sunlight.

 

As the Southern Cross flew over the hangar the buzz of its mighty engines could be heard well above the other ‘planes.

Cheering crowd

The crowd cheered lustily, and simultaneously the sirens of 5000 motor vehicles shrieked a weird welcome. The cheering and tooting swelled into, a deafening crescendo as the monoplane twice circled gracefully over the aerodrome flying so low that the words Southern Cross on the blue background, could be clearly seen. Still flying low, the great ‘plane, preparatory to landing, almost touched the trees in the distance, making their top branches tremble as in a storm, Then, turning, she swooped gracefully to the ground, and taxied to the enclosure, while the escorting ‘planes curtsied in salute.

It was a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten sight. The crowd went wild. The frail harriers wore knocked over in the mad rush to greet the aviators. It was an anxious moment for the police as the propellers were still revolving. Mounted troopers galloped to the scene, and with the help of a large body of foot constables the rushing stream of humanity was stemmed in the nick of time.

Around the sides of flimsy pine barricades the excited crowd surged and jostled, cheering wildly as the smiling face of Kingsford Smith appeared above the cockpit

The landing

Immediately an landing the ‘plane taxied smoothly to the enclosed barricade. Around the sides of flimsy pine barricades the excited crowd surged and jostled, cheering wildly as the smiling face of Kingsford Smith appeared above the cockpit, one hand guiding the great ‘plane to a standstill while with the other he waved a cheery greeting to the crowd.

Before the ‘plane had stopped, the crowd, in in blithe disregard of the whirling propellers, closed in on the machine in a wild rush to gain a closer glimpse of the aviators as they prepared to climb out of the machine.

Kingsford Smith was first to climb out of the machine, and he acknowledged the cheers of the crowd with a smile and a shout: “Hello, Aussies.”

He was followed by Ulm and both demanded cigarettes and inhaled them with luxurious enjoyment.

The navigator Lyons, who is the wag of the party remarked: “Waal, Jim, we’ve travelled 7000 miles to get a drink.” His fellow-American, Warner, who flashed out Morse messages during the memorable flight, was last to descend, and when he leaned against the side of the Southern Cross to get his land legs his battered hat was askew, and he smiled, embarrassed by the warmth of the crowd’s welcome. He and Lyon, who were both clad In blue berge suits, were quietly and unostentatiously withdrawing behind the two figures of Kingsford Smith and Ulm, conspicuous for their heavy airmen’s uniform and helmets when the crowd pounced on them, and with a cheer hoisted them shoulder high, crying: “Good old Yank.”

Other members of the party were also being enthroned on willing shoulders, the men carrying Warner took him over to the barrier until he looked over the sea of faces, and shouted:

“Have a look at him; he’s the boy that worked the keys.”

Kingsford Smith and his companions were welcomed by the Governor (Sir John Goodwin), the Premier (Mr. McCormack), the Vice-Mayor of Brisbane (Alderman Watson), and officials of the Queensland Aero Club. Mrs. H. Steer placed garlands of roses round the airman’s necks.

1 Comment

  1. I have often wondered what happened to Lyon’s navigation on that last leg, Fiji to Brisbane. How come they found the coast of Australia near Ballina – approximately 100 miles, 160 km, south of their intended destination, Brisbane! If they had been that slack on either of the two previous legs they would have perished, lost at sea and probably never found.

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