My Flights

Sir,Charles Kingsford Smith February 1 1936

My Flights

Sir,Charles Kingsford Smith February 1 1936

My Flights



WHEN NEWS of the London to Melbourne air race was first flashed around the world I decided to enter. I selected a Lockheed Altair made in Burbank, California, because it was the fastest air transport of its size and weight at the time.

I brought one to Australia, only to learn that authorities would not permit it to land. It seems that the United States had not signed a code of international air regulations of 1920. Australia had, and by some method or other this made American aircraft unairworthy in my own country, although they made world records in the U.S.A.

Of course it was just one of these infernal matters of "red tape,” but there lay my beautiful new speed ship on the dock and it could not enter its new home. By a bit of wangling around and the leniency of the authorities, I was given a temporary permit gtxxl for entry of my ship as an experimental craft. The period was for three months only.

I had to work fast. I laid my plans very carefully, estimating so many days to London, so many days to rest and overhaul the plane, then the start in the race. I started as per plan, and 2,(XX) miles from Sydney my engine cowling cracked. That was Fate messing in the best laid plans of mice and men.

I could not fly the Timor Sea with a cowling that might split and tear off. taking the propeller or a wing with it. So I went back to Sydney at reduced speed, the only place where proper repair equipment was available. I allowed one day to make a new cowling. It took five.

By then my plans were all off. I could not make London in time to liave proper rest and overhaul. SÍ) I gave up the idea of entering the race. Seven flying trips between Australia and England had taught me caution on that route unless I was properly prepared.

Keenly disappointed at losing my chance to show the worth of my “experimental" plane, I was dismayed when I realized that my three months of grace was up and I must get my “unairworthy” craft out of the country. Besides, the usual unpleasant minority of the public had suggested that I was afraid to fly in the race, and it hurt enough to make me decide to "show ’em” I wasn’t a coward.

I would be the first man to make the round trip. That seemed an achievement that might prove profitable. Remember, the aviation business in Australia went to pot in the depression, and I had to think of selling the ship in America or earning enough to justify keeping it. So I laid more plans, which included asking Bill Taylor to do my navigating, a decision wise in the extreme.

Another Pacific Jump

SO WE went into reverse on the Pacific jump and in October, 1931, said gcxxl-by to Brisbane on a Saturday, expecting to keep a dinner date with an old friend, P. G. B. Morriss, in Ix>s Angeles, California, on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The time of my departure was fixed by the full moon, an important factor in crossing the Pacific Ocean wastes. As we winged our way from Brisbane a strong head wind developed, and shortly came my old travelling companion, the tropical rain.

For five breathless minutes one cylinder of our single motor cut out from the effects of the deluge, and the radio was seriously affected. Bill Taylor and I nearly had heart failure, but both caught on again. We arrived at Suva without further mishap except constant rain squalls, and landed, to be held at the airjxxt for two days while rain pelted down.

We moved over to Naselai Beach for refuelling and takeoff. Our eyes were centred on Fanning Island, over 2,(XX) miles out from Suva, as a possible emergency landing place, but our hearts were set on going right through to Honolulu, 3,195 miles away.

From Suva I wirelessed Morriss, “Delay dinner date until

Thursday. Taking off in a few minutes.” More optimistic plans, as you will see. With full petrol tanks we roared down the hard beach at Naselai on Tuesday. Suddenly the plane veered sharply and headed toward the rolling surf.

Kicking at the rudder and fighting the controls, I managed to swerve back into a straight track and brought her to a stop. But not until we had smashed into the surf, necessitating a delay for damage inspection. It was another of those mishaps that might have been prevented but for impatience.

A strong cross wind was blowing on the beach. As we rolled along, the wind blew the tail up on the beach and the nose headed for a briny bath. Spray flew in every direction, but with good luck the motor did not die and I was able to taxi back out of the surf. We finally got away from Naselai eight days after landing in Suva.

It was a strange pleasure to be flying a ship that idled along at 165 miles an hour as against the old Southern Cross’s sixty-five to ninety-five. And to be able to climb to an altitude of ]0,(XX) feet swiftly and easily. However, that climbing ability did us little good that night.

All day long we had zoomed along marvellously. Bill hit Phoenix Islands on the nose, and we then radioed Fanning Island that we would not take advantage of their hospitality, so confident were we of continued good fortune. Early in the evening the storm king took control of matters.

I could see it coming and began to climb. At 14,000 feet it was obvious that the ceiling of the storm was 20.000 feet or more. We went into it at 14,000 feet. Then followed an hour that capped every previous battle with the gods of the upper airs.

I had jousted with these knights of the ripping rains enough times before to know what to expect. But it is always the unexpected that happens. A modern flying improvement that had been of inestimable value was almost our undoing.

As the rain beat at the fuselage and motor and wings, I

reached forward to turn on the powerful landing lights on each wing to see how heavily it was pouring down. It was a combination of comfort and disturbance to see the two great beams reaching out into the blinding mass of rain.

I noticed that the air-speed indicator was out of order, and credited a victory to the rain for stopping up the tube. Grimly I hoped that was the most advantage those pranksome wet ones would take of us when—

We went into a spin !

A Close Call

"PLYING BLIND and without warning suddenly starting into a spin is an experience calculated to contract the stoutest heart. Most modern aircraft will come out of a spin nicely if the controls are properly handled.

Around and around and around, many times we spun. I did everything one could do. and just as we had given up hope, and with the altimeter reading 6,000 feet, I got her out of the spin.

In reaching for the light switch I must have inadvertently hit the switch controlling the wing flaps. These flaps in the low position could reduce the air speed of the Lady Southern Cross to ninety-five miles per hour at full throttle. They actually act as an air brake. I might have continued level flight at the reduced speed with them down if I had known they were down, by making the proper compensations.

But I did not know it. Not until I saw the switch “on” and turned it “off” was I able to bring the ship up to cruising speed. The mile and a half drop we made could easily have been fatal had we not been flying at the high altitude. Ten minutes later the storm was left behind.

The moon was visible now, and we sailed like a ship over Oman’s sea with its fabled banks of pearls. After dawn we saw Hawaii ahead. Two and a half hours of gas remained

Charles Kingsford Smith

in our tanks as we landed at Wheeler Field, and the spare petrol tank on which 1 was sitting was not needed after all.

Bill Taylor was right on his course again. I could not help but comment in Honolulu that he had brought us to our destination; all I did was follow his directions.

Luck stood with us in Honolulu. Unfavorable weather conditions again forced a delay, and while working on the plane a mechanic noticed a tiny oil leak in the tank supplying the engine. Vibration might have expanded this into a serious leak once we were out over the ocean. Although my engine can do many wonderful things, it cannot run without oil. The leak was so small that only the most minute inspection would have noticed it, and I owe enduring thanks to the simple mechanic whose sharp eye saw it first.

We had brought along a set of tools with which to drop off the engine in case we were forced down, and a small still capable of turning about a cupful of sea water into drinkable stuff every hour. So after a four-day delay in Honolulu we said “Cheerio” and dug out into the blue with promise of a strong tail wind and clear weather.

Dangerous Sleep

THE LAST HOP from Honolulu to Oakland was a breeze.

We had the prevailing westerly wind which we had fought over the Atlantic on our tail almost all the way, sometimes giving us as much as a forty-mile-an-hour push. I had to throttle back the motor from a normal cruising speed of 200 miles an hour to 145 miles.

It was so quiet and still that we had a hard time keeping awake. Once I took a bead on a star. I looked at it so long that it got to be the size of the sun. Then, all of a sudden, my head snapped back and I woke up. 1 had pulled back on the controls so far that I had almost stalled the ship. We had 10,000 feet altitude, so my little interlude had no unfortunate aftermath.

For several hours during the night the radio stations in California that had been picking up our messages perfectly, failed to receive any. As we had no receiver we could not know this. I am sure our apparatus was functioning perfectly. It was just another mystery of the air waves.

The rain had its last little sporting fling at us for fifteen minutes during the night. Then my only thought was to cut down my speed so we would not make the California coast too early.

As it was, we came into Oakland airport two hours before we were expected. We missed the Golden Gate by less than a mile after a flight of 2,400 miles. Had I let the plane cruise at its normal speed we could have made the trip in eleven hours instead of the fifteen hours of loafing along that we took. The actual flying time from Brisbane to Oakland was fifty-two hours as against eighty-nine hours consumed in the first Pacific flight.

Having made the Pacific trek both ways, I cannot refrain from commenting upon the future of commercial flying in tiiis area of the world. Everyone is now familiar with the exploits of the Sikorsky built “Clipper” ship of the Pan-American Air Lines which has been shuttling back and forth between Oakland, Honolulu and Wake Island.

With such massive four-motored equipment the storm hazards are minimized, and our two flights showed that navigation is no longer a problem. This is even more true on the new type transport ships, for they have constant two-way communication as well as direction-finding equipment, and soon will probably have beam radio signals to follow as a true course.

I do not favor the use of dirigibles for the Pacific as I believe their initial cost is too great, their upkeep too heavy, and their pay load too small. Although Eckner brought his “Graf” from Japan, I do not believe he could do it on a regular schedule, due to economic problems.

Seadromes are too costly. The German system of mother ships is good in calm weather, but what if you run into a storm and cannot land near the mother ship?

The day is coming when the Australian business man will

step into a quadri-motored flying boat with the same nonchalance that he climbs aboard a steamship today. In eighty hours time or less he will get out in California, fly across the United States in ten hours and the Atlantic in fifteen more. All in all, he will spend in travel a bit more than five days to do what now takes him twentyfive days by boat and train.

A Bad Accident

T FLEW the Southern Cross for the last time just before leaving Australia at the beginning of this trip. (The tragic trip which ended fatally—Editor). The Commonwealth of Australia purchased her from me to place in the museum at Canberra. There she will stand, a mute testimonial to the pioneering of Pacific, Atlantic and Tasman

Pacific, Sea flights, an England-Australia record, a trans-Australia record, and delivery of Australia’s first air mail.

The Southern Cross is more than just a historic airplane to me. When I call her "dear old faithful” it is more than mere sentiment, for she has been a living thing. No Arab could think more of his thoroughbred horse, no sailor regard his ship with deeper affection.

I have flown her over 400,(XX) miles and spent 150 days and twenty nights at her controls, and she never really let me down. Even on the flight that was almost her last, when we were halfway across the Tasman Sea and the starlxiard propeller was smashed she seemed to say, “It wasn’t me, boss; it was that new bit of cowling.”

That flight had all Australia sitting at its radios and buying extra editions of the newspapers for hours. It was another example of the little things that make the big difference in well-planned flights. The occasion was the flying of a special load of air mail to New Zealand in celebration of the King’s Jubilee.

Thirty-four thousand letters, including one addressed to His Majesty the King from the Governor-General, had been gathered into twenty-one bags, and several hundred pounds of miscellaneous freight were included in the load we were to fly. Altogether we had a load of about 1,000 pounds in addition to my radio man, John W. Stannage, navigator and co-pilot P. G. Taylor, and myself. A radio phone was included in the equipment, and Stannage started broadcasting over it as we left the airport at midnight. In an introspective moment just before the start I could not help but explain, “Here am I, apparently sane and sensible. And I’m going out over the ocean again in the middle of the night. Well, I’m surprised at myself, aren’t you, Bill?”

In his radio phone comments Stannage made mention of our fine progress and credited the new streamline exhaust pipe for our gain in cruising speed. A few hours later he might have been cursing that pipe had he not been so busily engaged with Bill Taylor in saving our lives.

Stannage’s last radio phone broadcast was received at 6 a.m. At 7 a.m., when we were 600 miles out from Richmond airport, I noticed a crack appearing on the new exhaust pipe. We watched it with apprehensive eyes. It ran along the surface snake-like. Then finally a section of the pipe broke off.

With the impact of a shrapnel fragment it hit the star-

board propeller, a wooden one, and snapped a third of one blade off. Instantly the engine began to shake madly and the terrific vibration set up by the unbalanced blade might have shaken the engine from the wing.

Increasing Danger

I SNAPPED off the engine switch, banked the plane and started back for land. No two engines could support the tremendous load we were carrying for the rest of the wav to New Zealand. Stannage immediately went into action with his wireless. For 9x/¿ hours he broadcast terse messages at frequent intervals. In all the history of wireless operators, there has been recorded probably no greater epic.

Out of the ether, into the receiving sets of Australia came the first flash: “Prop gone on starboard motor. Please

inform all stations stand by. May not be able to hold height.”

One thing John did not know until later was that the same piece of exhaust pipe caroming from the profiler hit the vanes of the wind-driven generator that supplied electric current for his broadcasting set. Had that also gone out of commission we might never have pulled through. As it was, they were bent badly but not broken.

As soon as I had shut off the motor I hooked the plane up into a stall. The vibration was terrific and it seemed as though the whole plane would fall to pieces. But the stall stopped that. Then I gave full throttle to the remaining two engines, and began to consider ways and means of getting home safely.

It was imperative that we lighten our load at once. We could not maintain our 3,000-Ibot altitude on only two engines. In a few minutes we had lost 2,000 feet, partly through lack of power and partly because I went down there to take advantage of the sustaining qualities of the thicker air at that level.

Two things were flashing through my mind. How could we save the mails? What would we do if we hit the water? In answer to the latter I put the little hand axe. hack saw and ordinary saw we carried as demolition gear near at

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Above: Kitty Carlisle and Groucho Marx in the laugh hit, "A Night at the Opera".

Continued from page 19-starts on page 18

hand. I started to visualize how I would start sawing off the wing to float free of the dead weight of the engines and loaded fuselage, how we would kick in the wing fabric and sit on a spar until help came. The wooden spans ol the Fokker wing were better than steel in such a dilemma.

All the time, one thought was paramount. 1 would not jettison the mails unless it was the only hope to get us back to land safely. At 7.54 John sent this message: ‘‘Smithysays will try to hang on to mails, but if the post office says dump it we would be veryglad to. Other two motors, may not be able to hang on much longer. We will stagger on like this for awhile.”

At 8.26 a.m. v-e were advised by the authorities to use our discretion regarding the mail, and not to hesitate to dump it in the case of life or death. That was a relief, but we determined to dump everything else tha: was loose first. Out went 100 gallons of petrol, the miscellaneous freight and our personal belongings. It made but little difference. The strain on the motors was beginning to tell. Stannage said in his 8.55 a.m message: “Horrid knocking noise in the cenire motor. Give me the Inquisition any day to this. We are all listening to each turn of the remaining two motors.”

A nasty head wind was not adding anything to the brave struggle our engines were making. I had an idea that if we might sawoff the broken propeller, it would cut away that much resistance and aid our progress. To do so seemed impossible, however.

At about 9.30 a.m. the port motor began to spit. It acted as if it might quit at any moment, and a few moments later Stannage flashed. “Going down I think—wait,” to follow it w'ith, “No. She’s right. Picked up again.”

By now we were down to 500 feet, and the port motor was showing definite overheating due to lack of oil. The strain had doubled its oil consumption. W’hen the last oil in its crankcase burned away, the pistons would “freeze” and we w'ould have only the nose motor left.

Seesaw With Death

DOWN went the pressure gauge on the port engine. Down settled the old bus toward the circling saucer of the sea. I could not leave the controls for more than a moment. Stannage and Taylor looked at each other. Some desperate measure must lie taken.

John looked out of the w'indow on the starboard side, and stuck his head into a hurricane blast from the headwind and the stream of air from the nose propeller. He tried to climb out, but could not force himself against the smothering rush of air. As he turned around he saw Bill Taylor calmly taking off his shoes.

He peered out the window, too, and then forced his way through. His hand on the window ledge was drained of blood in the intensity of his grip, and his feet on the oildrenched spar slithered until his toes got a grip. With the invention that comes of necessity, Stannage grabbed a vacuum flask and shattered the glass inner container with a blow, shaking the fragments clear.

Wrapping a rag about the metal container, he handed it to Taylor. With both arms

extended, Taylor was just able to reach the engine mount of the failed motor. He groped and missed, groped again and held on. Then he let go with the hand at the cabin window and took hold of Stannage’s improvised container.

He pulled himself over to the engine very gingerly and managed to pull the drain pipe out of the oil sump. Then he allowed about a quart of oil to drain into the flask, put back the drain pipe, held on to the engine mount and extended the flask to John, repeating this until about a gallon of oil was salvaged.

Meanwhile John had secured a little suitcase that had not yet been flung away. John poured the oil into the suitcase. Taylor took hold of the window, pulled himself back along the spar and climbed into the cabin.

Then they reversed the procedure, oil in suitcase back in flask, flask to port motor, oil into crankcase of port motor.

To understand what Taylor went through on the six round trips he made while performing this heroic act, consider his position. With the ]x>rt motor losing revolutions, we were sinking sometimes as low as twenty feet over the water. That was discouraging enough.

But when Taylor stepped into the blast of air from the nose motor he was facing a propeller slip-stream plus a headwind that must have built up the pressure against his body equal to ninety or 100 miles per hour. If you have ever attempted to stand up against a storm wind of forty miles per hour, you can appreciate what a difficult task resisting this pressure was. particularly with no firm foothold.

Slipping along those oily spars between the two engines, his feet and hands alone could not hold him. So he braced his shoulders and neck against the leading edge of the wing. In the instant that he stood there with arms outstretched from cabin to motor mount, almost on tiptoe and his head as far back as he could bend it over the wing edge, he was a man crucified in the air.

Then he would resume his devil’s seesaw with death.

Each time Taylor entered the cabin to pass from one engine to another, I would have to change seats in the cockpit to enable him to get at the opposite window. This meant that during my change the plane would be uncontrolled. Our good luck extended to the point that the ship literally flew itself during this interchange and did not go into a fatal dive.

The small quantity of oil that Taylor was able to transfer in his laborious trips would keep the jxirt motor functioning for about forty minutes. The round trip took him almost that long to make, about fifteen minutes out and in to each motor. So he was constantly busy.

Probably he lost more oil than he secured, as the wind would whip it out of both the flask and suitcase. The whole exterior and interior of the plane and all three of us were coated with oil.

Almost in the Sea

MEANTIME Stannage was having every bit as busy a morning as Taylor. He would assist Bill out, handle the suitcase in the interval, and dash back to his radio to send out messages of our progress. Several times his aerial dragged in the water and he could not send or receive.

Once he started to send a message, “We are going down” and got no farther because he had to run and get the flask of oil Bill was bringing back. Naturally those on shore thought it was the end, and were relieved when a few moments later he continued“. . . to take a sight.”

What a time they must have had in the press rooms of the newspapers ! I could see curt editors ordering our obituaries prepared. Mine had previously been written

five times. I was told, so it needed only a little bringing up to date.

Each time Bill would go out to the port motor I would have to cut its revolutions way down, as he had to stand directly back of it and could not have withstood its full blast as he held on with one hand and i jXDured oil with the other. This meant nosing I the ship upward into a near stall to hold as ! much of our altitude as was |X)ssible. But it I meant also losing flying speed and settling ! rapidly.

The moment Bill had his oil in, he would make a frantic grab for the cockpit window and yell at the top of his voice. I would immediately give the motor more fuel and level off to pick up speed. Then the mad performance would continue.

Around noon Stannage sent a series of messages that showed our plight, as the failure of the port motor seemed apparent. They read: “Port motor only last quarter of an hour. Please stand by tor exact position. Going, going, going.”

"She is going fast.”

"Wait a sec. Going down any minute.”

"We are going in any minute now. I lope Sussex find us.”

“Afraid in the sea. Centre motor going now.”

It was then that Taylor swung into action.

On shore, rescue parties were being organized. The Faith in Australia, the plane that was to have accompanied us on our flight, was loaded down with life preservers and sent out to meet us. Various steamships were notified of our ¡Dosition as the radio reports came in.

So, through the weary day, our little partnership fought on and on in the greatest of all our battles against the misfortunes ! of the air. In the last seconds before the I port motor came back under Bill Taylor’s ! drastic ministrations we shed our flying i suits, thinking that it would make the inevitable swim a little easier.

At 3.30 p.m. land appeared. What land or where it was, we did not care. It began to look as though we might make it after all. and John sent out an optimistic announcement to that effect. Soon we were surrounded by rescue and ¡Dress planes.

Tlie old bus was flying so slowly now that they could not keep alongside us. And they flew so close in their eagerness to see us and make sure we were all well, that they com-

plicated my already severe task of keeping the ship in the air.

Without the starboard motor in action, I was forced to keep opposite rudder on constantly (Dr the thrust from the port motor would have swung us around in a circle that might have become a spin. So long and so hard was my pressure on the rudder bar to maintain straight flight that, when we landed, my left leg was quaking like an aspen and it kept on for hours later.

We landed at Mascot airdrome 16 hours and 35 minutes after our auspicious take-off. We flew 1,200 miles, 600 of them on three motors and 600 on one and a half.

My crippled veteran of the skyways of the world came down into the wind as gently as a bird. Such was the impress of ease that none standing by except we three could realize the awful struggle that had been waged for hours to keep it from a last plunge into the sea.

Old Faithful

I CANNOT forget a customs officer who approached us to fill out forms and go through the formalities of an ordinary landing. His matter of factness amused me until he grew insistent—then a doctor friend of mine drove him away.

When my mother was informed that we were safe at home again, she said quite calmly: "I was never really afraid for him. I know how careful Charles is. I can only think how terribly disappointed he must be. By this time he might have been in New Zealand, and now this has got to be gone through again.”

But this is one time that mother is not always right. There will be no more flights over the Tasman Sea until we have the right and proper equipment for it.

Bill Taylor told it all when he said in a statement after the flight: "If we had had a modern multi-motored flying boat yesterday. we could have continued on to New Zealand with missing motors in complete safety and only with reduced speed. We should not have needed to dump cargo, mail (Dr fuel.”

Some day I hope to have the honor of flying the first inter-island transjDort on a regular bi-weekly run. When I do my crew will be those two intrepid souls who, with the unswerving faithfulness of the good old bus, brought us all safely home.

The End