Tag Archives: Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith Kt MC AFC

8 November 1935

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)

On 8 November 1935: Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC, and co-pilot John Thompson Pethybridge disappeared while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair 8D Special, across the Andaman Sea from Allahabad, Indian Empire, to Singapore, Straits Settlements, a distance of approximately 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers). The aviators were attempting to break a speed record for flight from England to Australia.

On 1 May 1937, about eighteen months after the disappearance, two Burmese fisherman found a landing gear assembly floating in the Andaman Sea near Kokunye Kyun (Aye Island), off the west coast of Burma. Lockheed was able to confirm that it was from Lady Southern Cross. The unit is the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.

Landing gear assembly of Kingsford Smith’s Lady Southern Cross is in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum venue of the Museum of Applies Arts and Sciences. (MAAS Collection 94/64/1)

In 2009, searchers claimed to have located the wreck of the airplane near the island, but this has not been confirmed.

Lockheed 8-D Altair VH-USB, Lady Southern Cross, at Burbank, California, September 1935. (Unattributed)
Lockheed Altair 8D Special VH-USB, Lady Southern Cross, at Burbank, California, September 1935. The Altair is “. . . painted consolidated blue with silver wing and silver striping. . . .” (David Horn Collection No. 9099)

Kingsford Smith was a former Royal Air Force pilot and flight instructor. He had been a barnstormer, airline pilot, and gained world-wide fame for his trans-Pacific flights. From 31 May to 9 June 1928 he and Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon and James Warner had flown Southern Cross, a Fokker F.VIIB/3m, from Oakland, California to Brisbane, with stops at Hawaii and Fiji. In 1934, with Lady Southern Cross, he and Patrick Gordon Taylor flew from Australia to Hawaii and on to Oakland, California, arriving 4 November.

Charles Kingsford Smith’s Lady Southern Cross at Lockheed, Burbank, California. Note the navigator’s sighting lines on the elevators. (Code One Magazine/Lockheed Martin)

After the transpacific flight, Lady Southern Cross spent the next 11 months at Lockheed being repaired and overhauled. Kingsford Smith then flew it across the United States and had it transported to England aboard a ship.

Lady Southern Cross was a Lockheed Altair 8D Special, a single-engine monoplane with the fuselage, wings and tail surfaces built of spruce. The Altair had been modified from a 1930 Lockheed Sirius 8A Special, NR118W, c/n 152, which was an airplane with fixed landing gear. Lockheed designed a new wing which included retractable landing gear, operated by a hand crank from the cockpit. The Sirius and Altair were single-place utility transports. Kingsford Smith’s Altair was further modified with two cockpits in tandem. Lady Southern Cross was painted Consolidated Blue (a dark blue color) with silver accents.

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC, with the Lady Southern Cross at Croydon, 17 October 1935. The airplane's registration has been changed to G-ADUS.
Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, Kt, MC, AFC, with the Lady Southern Cross at Croydon, 17 October 1935. The airplane’s registration has been changed to G-ADUS. (PHOTOSHOT)

Lady Southern Cross, designated a Lockheed Altair 8D Special, had a length of 27 feet, 10 inches (8.484 meters) with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¼ inches (13.037 meters) and height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The modified airplane had an empty weight of 3,675 pounds (1,667 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 6,700 pounds (3,039 kilograms).

The airplane’s standard Pratt & Whitney Wasp C1 engine was replaced at Kingsford Smith’s request with a more-powerful Pratt & Whitney Wasp SE, serial number 5222. The Wasp SE was an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) single-row 9-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It was rated at 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters). The SE was a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine which turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch metal propeller with a diameter of 9 feet, 0 inches (2.743 meters). The Wasp SE was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter and weighed 750 pounds (340.2 kilograms).

An Altair 8D  had a cruising speed of 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour) at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters). Contemporary news reports stated that Kingsford Smith had reached speeds of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) while testing VH-USB.

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC, At Lympne Airport, Kent, England, 6 November 1935. This may be the last photograph ever taken of "Smithy". (International News Photos)
Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, Kt, MC, AFC, at Lympne Airport, Kent, England, 6 November 1935. This may be the last photograph ever taken of “Smithy.” (International News Photos)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–11 October 1933

Kingsford Smith’s Percival Gull, G-ACJV. after taking off from Lympne, 4 October 1933.
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C. (Monash University Library)

After a positioning flight from Heston on 3 October 1933, at 5:28 a.m. British Summer Time (B.S.T.), on Wednesday, 4 October, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C., took off from Lympne Aerodrome, Kent en route Wyndham, Western Australia. He had said that he wanted to arrive there as soon as possible, but breaking a record was not his stated purpose. Kingsford Smith’s airplane was a Percival D.2 Gull IV, which he had named Miss Southern Cross.

On the first day, “Smitty” flew to Brindisi, Italy, arriving at 4:30 p.m. He departed for Baghdad, Kingdom of Iraq, at 3:30 a.m., the following morning after a 1,600 mile (2,575 kilometer) non-stop flight.

Departing Baghdad at 4:00 a.m. local (2:00 a.m. B.S.T.), 6 October, Kingsford Smith intended to fly on to Karachi in the Bombay Presidency, but feeling unwell, he landed at Gwadar, on the coast of the Gulf of Oman. He rested over night and departed early the next morning, finally arriving at Karachi at about 10:00 a.m., 7 October.

Five hours later, Kingsford Smith took off for Calcutta, British India, and arrived there at 1:40 p.m. on 8 October. He refueled and after about 30 minutes was airborne once again, flying to Akyab, British Burma. He remained there overnight, but departed at dawn the following morning, 9 October.

From Akyab, on 10 October Smitty flew to Alor Star, Kingdom of Siam. He landed at 5:15 p.m., local time. Once again airborne at dawn the following day, Kingsford Smith’s next destination was Sourabya, Java, in the Dutch East Indies. He landed at 6:23 p.m., local time.

The final leg of the journey began at 4:55 a.m., local, 11 October. Flying across the Timor Sea, Charles Kingsford Smith landed at Wyndham, Western Australia, at 5:12 p.m., local (9:12 a.m., G.M.T.).

The total elapsed time, from Lympne to Wyndham, was 7 days, 4 hours, 44 minutes. (The previous record for a solo flight was 8 days, 20 hours, 47 minutes, set by Charles William Anderson Scott in 1932.)

Charles Kingsford Smith’s Percival D.2 Gull IV, s/n D39, G-ACJV, Melbourne, 1933. (Neil Follett Collection via Geoff Goodall’s Aviation History)

Miss Southern Cross was Percival D.2 Gull Four, serial number D39, built by George Parnell & Co., at Yate Aerodrome, Gloucestershire, for the Percival Aircraft Co. It was a single-engine, three-place light airplane with fixed landing gear. Charles Kingsford Smith had the two passenger seats removed to provide space for an auxiliary fuel tank, increasing the airplane’s total fuel capacity to 120 gallons ( liters). The Percival Gull was 24 feet, 8 inches (7.518 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inches (10.973 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,170 pounds (531 kilograms), and gross weight of 2,050 pounds (930 kilograms).

In 1933, the advertised price of a Percival Cull, “fully equipped, including compass,” was £1,275.

The Gull’s fuselage was constructed of spruce stringers and struts, covered with a three-ply skin. The wings were designed to be able to fold back alongside the fuselage. The resulting width of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters) required considerably less storage space.

The Percival D.2 Gull IV was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 373.71-cubic-inch-displacement (6,124 cubic centimeters) de Havilland Gipsy Major I, an inverted, inline four-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It produced 120 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m and 130 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. The engine weighed 306 pounds (138.8 kilograms). The engine turned a two-bladed adjustable pitch Fairey metal propeller.

The D.2 Gull IV had a cruise speed of 125 miles per hour (201 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 145 miles per hour (233 kilometers per hour). The standard airplane had a range of 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers). With Smitty’s auxiliary fuel tank installed, it had an estimated range of 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) in still air.

On arrival in Australia, Miss Southern Cross was re-registered VH-CKS. This letter combination was out of the normal sequence, but was authorized for Charles Kingsford Smith.

Over the next 11 months, VH-CKS was operated for charter flights and demonstrations. It was damaged several times, but repaired and returned to service. On the night of 28 November 1934, flown by Oliver Blythe (“Pat”) Hall, a pilot employed by Kingsford Smith Air Service Ltd., crashed while descending through clouds at Square Rock, near Yerranderie, New South Wales. Hall was injured, but survived. A passenger, L. Hinks, died of injuries several hours later. Miss Southern Cross was destroyed.

Percival D.2 Gull IV D39, G-ACJV, Miss Southern Cross, November 1933. (Kevin O’Reilly Collection via Geoff Goodall’s Aviation History)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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