2 July 1937: At approximately 10:00 a.m., local time, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Lae, Territory of New Guinea, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, enroute to Howland Island, 2,243 nautical miles (2,581 statute miles/4,154 kilometers) east-northeast across the South Pacific Ocean. The airplane was loaded with 1,100 gallons (4,164 liters) of gasoline, sufficient for 24 to 27 hours of flight.
28 June 1927: At 7:09 a.m., PDT, 1st Lieutenant Lester J. Maitland and 1st Lieutenant Albert F. Hegenberger, Air Service, United States Army, took off from Oakland Municipal Airport, California, aboard an Atlantic-Fokker C-2, serial number A.S. 26-202, Bird of Paradise. Their destination was Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 2,407 miles (3,874 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean.
The Air Service had been planning such a flight for many years. Specialized air navigation equipment had been developed, much of it by Lieutenant Hegenberger, and simulations and practice flights had been carried out.
Bird of Paradise was built by the Atlantic Aircraft Co., Teterboro, New Jersey, the American subsidiary of Fokker. Derived from the civil Fokker F.VIIa/3m, a three-engine high-wing passenger transport with fixed landing gear. It had been adopted by the Air Service as a military transport. A.S. 26-202 was modified with a larger wing, increased fuel capacity, and the installation of Hegenberger’s navigation equipment.
It was powered by three 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) air-cooled Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. They turned two-bladed Standard adjustable-pitch propellers through direct drive. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).
The C-2 was fueled with 1,134 gallons (4,293 liters) of gasoline and 40 gallons (151 liters) of oil.
Maitland and Hegenberger planned to fly a Great Circle route to Hawaii and to use radio beacons in California and Hawaii to guide them, in addition to celestial navigation. For most of the flight, however, they were not able to receive the radio signals and relied on ded reckoning.
After 25 hours, 50 minutes of flight, Bird of Paradise landed at Wheeler Field, 6:29 a.m., local time, 29 June 1927. It had completed the first Transpacific Flight.
For their achievement, both officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
9 June 1928: At 10:50 a.m., Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., and his crew completed the first trans-Pacific flight from the mainland United States of America to the Commonwealth of Australia. They landed their airplane, a Fokker F.VIIb/3m named Southern Cross, ¹ at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The airplane’s crew were Kingsford Smith, pilot; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Harry Lyon, navigator; and James Warren, radio operator. Their historic flight had begun at Oakland, California, on 31 May.
The first leg of the flight from Oakland Field, California, to Wheeler Field was 2,406 miles (3,873 kilometers). The elapsed time was 27 hours, 27 minutes. After resting in Hawaii, the crew took off on the second leg to Suva, Fiji, a distance of 3,167 miles (5,097 kilometers). Southern Cross landed at Albert Park. It was the very first airplane to land in Fiji. This was the longest leg and took 34 hours, 33 minutes. The final leg to Brisbane covered 1,733 miles (2,788 kilometers) and took 21 hours, 35 minutes. They landed at Eagle Farm Airport, just northeast of Brisbane, at 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. An estimated 25,000 people were there to see the arrival.
The Fokker F.VIIb/3m was designed and built as a commercial airliner. It was heavier and had a larger wing than the F.VIIa/3m. It was 14.6 meters (47.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of 21.7 meters (71.2 feet) and 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) high. The wing had an area of 67 square meters (721 square feet). Its empty weight was 3,050 kilograms (6,724 pounds) and the gross weight, 5,200 kilograms (11,464 pounds).
The F.VIIb/3m had a cruise speed of cruise 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour), and maximum speed of 190 kilometers per hour (118 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). It had a normal range of 1,240 kilometers (771 miles).
Southern Cross had been built by N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Amsterdam, Netherlands, for Hubert Wilkins who intended to use it for Arctic exploration. It was the first long-wing F.VII, c/n 4954, which would later be referred to as the F.VIIb. The airplane was crated and shipped to the United States, where it was reassembled by Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, Fokker’s American subsidiary in Teterboro, New Jersey. Wilkins’ expedition was sponsored by the Detroit News newspaper, and he named the new airplane Detroiter.
The airplane was damaged in a hard landing, and together with Wilkins’ single-engine F.VII, Alaskan, shipped to Boeing in Seattle, Washington, for repair. It is commonly believed that the two airplanes were used together to produce the rebuilt Southern Cross. While repairs were ongoing, Wilkins sold the Fokker to Kingsford Smith for $3,000. Kingsford Smith had the original Wright J-4 engines replaced with J-5 Whirlwinds, and the fuel capacity increased to 1,267 gallons (4,872 liters).
Southern Cross was powered by three air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines. These were direct-drive engines with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5 was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).
Southern Cross was registered to Charles E. Kingsford Smith, et al., 18 October 1927, by the United States Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch. It was assigned the registration mark NC1985. (The registration was cancelled 20 March 1930.)
The expense of completing the repairs to the airplane took most of Kingsford Smith’s money, so he sold the airplane to George Allan Hancock, owner of Rancho La Brea Oil Company—think, “La Brea Tar Pits”—the developer of the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles, and founder of Santa Maria Airport in Santa Barbara County, California. Hancock loaned Southern Cross back to Kingsford Smith for the Trans-Pacific flight.
Following its arrival in Australia, the Fokker was re-registered G-AUSU. When Australia began issuing its own aircraft registrations, this was changed to VH-USU.
After several other historic flights, Kingsford Smith donated Southern Cross to the government of Australia to be placed in a museum. It was stored for many years but is now on display at the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Brisbane Airport. ²
Kingsford Smith, formerly a captain with the Royal Air Force, was given the rank of Air Commodore, Royal Australian Air Force, and awarded the Air Force Cross. He was invested Knight Bachelor in 1932. Sir Charles continued his adventurous flights.
On 8 November 1935, while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair, from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, A.F.C., M.C., and his co-pilot, Tommy Pethybridge, disappeared over the Andaman Sea.
¹ Southern Cross refers to the constellation Crux, one of the most easily recognizable constellations in the southern hemisphere. The constellation is seen on the national flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.
² At the time of the Pacific crossing, the fuselage of Southern Cross was painted a light blue color, reportedly the same shade being used on U.S. Army Air Corps training aircraft at the time. It was later repainted in a darker blue, similar to the flag of Australia.
31 May 1928: At 8:48 a.m., Captain Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., late of the Royal Air Force, with his three companions, took off from Oakland Field on the San Francisco Bay, aboard Southern Cross, a Fokker F.VIIb/3m three-engine monoplane, U.S. civil registration NC1985. Their immediate destination was Wheeler Field, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, and from there, to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, via Suva, on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. The airplane’s crew was Kingsford Smith, pilot; Charles Ulm, co-pilot, Harry Lyon, navigator; and James Warren, radio operator.
Southern Cross had been salvaged after a crash in Alaska. It was rebuilt using the wings and fuselage of two different Fokkers—an F.VIIa and an F.VIIb—and was powered by three air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines, rated at 220 horsepower, each, at 2,000 r.p.m.
The expense of repairing the airplane took most of Kingsford Smith’s money, so he sold the airplane to Allan Hancock, owner of Rancho La Brea Oil Company, and founder of Santa Maria Airport and Allan Hancock College. Hancock loaned Southern Cross back to Kingsford Smith for the Trans-Pacific flight.
The first leg of the flight to Wheeler Field was 2,408 miles (3,875 kilometers). The elapsed time was 27 hours, 27 minutes.
After resting in Hawaii, the crew took off on the second leg to Suva, Fiji, a distance of 3,144 miles (5,060 kilometers). Southern Cross landed at Albert Park. It was the very first airplane to land at Fiji. This was the longest leg and took 34 hours, 33 minutes.
The final leg to Brisbane covered 1,795 miles (2,888 kilometers) and took 21 hours, 35 minutes. They landed at Eagle Farm Airport in Brisbane, at 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. 25,000 people were there to see their arrival. This was the first Trans-Pacific flight from the mainland United States to Australia.
Following its arrival in Australia, the Fokker was re-registered G-AUSU, and later changed to VH-USU. After several other historic flights, Kingsford Smith gave Southern Cross to the government of Australia to be placed in a museum. It was stored for many years but is now on display at the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Brisbane Airport.
Kingsford Smith was invested Knight Bachelor in 1932. He continued his adventurous flights. On 8 November 1935, while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair, from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, Sir Charles and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge disappeared over the Andaman Sea.
30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Miller, a 37-year-old flight instructor from Santa Monica, California, became the first woman to complete a solo Trans-Pacific flight. She was also the first pilot to make a Trans-Pacific flight without a navigator.
Betty Miller was delivering a twin-engine Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, N4315Y, from the United States to its owner in Australia, Fred Margison. An auxiliary fuel tank was placed in the passenger compartment.
Mrs. Miller began her flight from Oakland, California, at 6:35 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. The first leg was approximately 2,400 miles (3,682 kilometers) to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, flown in 17 hours, 3 minutes. She was delayed there for 4 days while a radio was repaired.
The next stop was Canton Island, a small island in the Phoenix Islands, just south of the Equator and approximately half-way between Hawaii and Fiji. The elapsed time for this 1,700-mile (2,736 kilkometers) flight was 13 hours, 6 minutes. From Canton to Fiji was 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers). The elapsed time was 8 hours, 27 minutes. On the fourth leg, intended to be the final stage, she was forced to divert to Noumea, New Caledonia, because of severe weather.
With delays for rest and waiting for good weather, Miller’s flight took nearly two weeks. She took off from Nadi Airport, Viti Levu, Fiji, at 4:47 a.m., local, and finally arrived at Eagle Farm Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, at 10:20 p.m., Australian Eastern Standard Time, after crossing 7,400 miles (11,909 kilometers) of ocean, in a total of 51 hours, 38 minutes in the air.
Contemporary newspapers called Miller “the flying housewife,” which demeaned her actual qualifications. At the time of her Trans-Pacific flight, she was a commercial pilot and flight instructor, rated in single- and multi-engine airplanes and helicopters. She owned and operated a flight school and charter company based at Santa Monica Airport on the Southern California coast. In fourteen years as a pilot, Betty Miller had logged more than 6,500 hours of flight time.
President John F. Kennedy awarded Mrs. Miller the Federal Aviation Administration Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. On 14 September 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Harmon International Trophy. (Also receiving the Harmon at the ceremony were Astronaut Gordon Cooper and test pilot Fitzhugh Fulton.)
Two years later, Mrs. Miller flew across the Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, in another first, the photograph of Betty Miller arriving at Brisbane was the very first to be transmitted by a new wire-photo process.
Betty Jean Verret was born 6 April 1926 at Venice, California. She was the second of three daughters of Earday Verret, a street car conductor, and Bertha DeLay Verret. She graduated from Venice High School in 1942.
Miss Verret was employed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as an Aircraft Communicator. While working at Wendover, Utah, she met Chuck Miller. They married and lived in Santa Monica, California, where they operated a flight school.
Mrs. Miller was a member of the Ninety-Nines, the Whirly-Girls, and was chair of the FAA Women’s Advisory Committee.
Betty Jean Verret Miller died 21 February 2018 at Bountiful, Utah, at the age of 91 years.
The airplane flown by Betty Miller was a Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, serial number 23-2039, manufactured in December 1961 by the Piper Aircraft Corporation at Vero Beach, Florida. It was assigned U.S. registration N4315Y and was painted white and “El Paso Brown” (a dark metallic brown color). In January 1962 the new Apache was delivered to Brown Flying Services, San Antonio, Texas.¹
The Piper PA-23-160 Apache H was a 4-place, twin-engine light airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 2,230 pounds (1,011.5 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 3,800 pounds (1,723.7 kilograms).
The Apache H was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-B2B horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The O-320-B2B is a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine, rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The O-320-B2B is 2 feet, 5.56 inches (0.751 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.24 inches (0.819 meters) wide and 1 foot, 10.99 inches (0.584 meters) high. It weighs 278 pounds (126.1 kilograms). The engines turned two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers.
The PA-23-160 had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 159 knots (183 miles per hour/295 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).
N4315Y was re-registered VH-IMB, 22 May 1963, after its arrival in Australia. The airplane remains operational.
¹ Thanks to Roger Peperell, Company Historian, Piper Aircraft, Inc., for researching the history of Betty Miller’s Apache.