7 January 1931: Guy Lambton Menzies flew an Avro 616 Sports Avian IV-A named Southern Cross Junior, solo across the Tasman Sea from Mascot Aerodrome, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, to New Zealand.
Concerned that aviation authorities would prevent his flight, Menzies had said that his destination was Perth, Western Australia.
While en route, severe weather blew the Avian off course. Seeing an area that appeared to be level ground, he landed at the La Fontaine Swamp, Hari Hari, Westland, on New Zealand’s South Island. The airplane flipped over.
Guy Menzies was unhurt. His flight had taken 11 hours, 45 minutes.
According to Terry Mace’s website, A Fleeting Peace: Golden-Age Aviation in the British Empire (afleetingpeace.org), G-ABCF was repaired, but crashed again 21 April 1931 at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Another source states 12 April.) The Australian registration VH-UPT had been reserved for the airplane, but because of the crash, the registration was cancelled in June 1931.
The Avro 616 Sports Avian was a two-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane, produced by A.V. Roe from 1926 to 1928. 405 were built. Guy Menzies’ airplane was a specially constructed variant, the Avro 616 Sports Avian IV-A, serial number 467, which had been ordered by Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C., and named Southern Cross Junior. Sir Charles had flown the airplane from England to Australia in 1930. (He had previously flown across the Pacific in 1928 with a Fokker F.VIIb/3m three-engine monoplane named Southern Cross). The Avian was registered to Sir Charles, 20 June 1930, identified as G-ABCF.
The Avian was constructed of wood-braced plywood panels, forming a tapered box. The sides and bottom were flat and the upper deck arched. The wings were built of two wooden spars with wood ribs, covered in doped fabric. The standard airplane was designed so that the wings could be folded alongside the fuselage.
G-ABCF was 24 feet, 5 inches (7.442 meters) long. Its wing span had been extended from the standard Avian’s 28 feet to 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters). The overall height was 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings had a total area of 262.0 square feet (24.34 square meters), an increase of 18.0 square feet (1.67 square meters) over that of the standard Avian. The wings are slightly staggered. Both upper and lower wings had a chord of 4 feet, 9 inches (1.448 meters), with a vertical gap of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters).
It weighed 1,100 pounds (499 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 2,225 pounds (1,009 kilograms).
The Avian’s standard 105 horsepower A.D.C. Cirrus Hermes engine was replaced with an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 349.89-cubic-inch-displacement (5.734 liter) de Havilland Gipsy II inline 4-cylinder direct-drive engine, rated at 112.5 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., and122.5 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. The engine turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). The Gipsy II weighed 295 pounds (134 kilograms).
In addition to the standard 24 Imperial gallon (109 liter) fuel tank, a welded-aluminum tank with a capacity of 91 gallons (414 liters) was installed in the forward cockpit. The airplane carried 3.5 gallons (15.9 liters) of lubricating oil, with 2 gallons in the engine, and 1½ gallons in a reserve tank. The airplane was also equipped with a 2 gallon (9.1 liters) tank for drinking water.
The Sports Avian IV-A had a cruising speed of 92 miles per hour (148 kilometers per hour) with the engine turning 1,900 r.p.m., and maximum speed of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) at 2,100 r.p.m., at ground level, and 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), its service ceiling. It could climb to 10,000 feet in 41.5 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The range was calculated at 1,842 miles (2,964 kilometers) at 1,900 r.p.m.
Guy Lambton Menzies was born 20 August 1909 at Drummoyne (a suburb of Sydney), New South Wales, Australia. He was the the second of four children of Dr. Guy Dixon Menzies, a physician and founder of Seacombe Hospital, and Ida Mabel Lambton Menzies.
Shortly after his flight across the Tasman Sea, Menzies traveled to England where he joined the Royal Air Force. He was granted a short service commission as a Pilot Officer on probation, with effect 11 July 1931. He was confirmed in that rank one year later, 11 July 1932. Pilot Officer Menzies was promoted to Flying Officer 11 January 1933.
Menzies’ short term commission was soon to come to an end, which would have resulted in his being transferred to the Reserve. However, he was selected for appointment to a permanent commission as a Flying Officer in April 1936, and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, effective 1 April 1936. Flight Lieutenant Menzies was granted a permanent commission in that rank with effect from 11 July 1936. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, 1 December 1938.
On 1 November 1940, Squadron Leader Menzies, No. 228 Squadron, Coastal Command, was flying a Short Sunderland Mk.I four-engine flying boat, N9020, from RAF Kalafrana, Malta, patrolling near Sicily. The airplane was attacked by Italian Air Force Macchi C.200 Saettta fighters ¹ and “was observed falling onto the sea. There were no reported survivors.” ²
Squadron Leader Menzies’ younger brother, Flying Officer Ian Lambton Menzies, No. 24 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was also killed in an airplane crash, 18 April 1941, near Ravenswood, North Queensland, Australia. The airplane, a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Wirraway, A20-117, a development of North American Aviation’s NA-16 trainer, stalled during a steep turn.
Their mother, Mrs. Menzies, said,
“I have given my two sons to the Empire.”
—The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 1941.
¹ Internet sources identify the Regia Aeronautica fighter pilots who shot down N9020 as Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergent Maggiore Natalino Stabile of 88° Squadriglia, VI Gruppo.
² The members of Menzies’ crew: Flying Officer Stuart Maxwell Farries, 40098; Sergeant Elias Dawes, 568257; Sergeant Frederick Harris, 563782; Sergeant Edward Louis Setterfield, 543241; Sergeant George Arthur Stamp, 580074; Leading Aircraftman Leslie Charles Major Hale, 522295; Leading Aircraftman Ronald Fletcher, 535135; and Leading Aircraftman Benjamin Edwin Nicholas, 526309.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopesby