Tag Archives: Wright J-5 Whirlwind

9 June 1928

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

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.

Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)
Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)

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).

The crew of Southern Cross at Eagle Farm, 9 June 1928. (Left to right) Captain Harry Lyon, navigator; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Charles Kingsford Smith, pilot; and James Warner, radio operator. (National Archives of Australia A1200, L36325)

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).

The very thick wing of the Fokker F.VIIb/3m can be seen in this photograph of Southern Cross. (State Library of Queensland)

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.

An estimated 25,000 people were waiting at Eagle Farm for Southern Cross’ arrival. (Sydney Morning Herald)

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.

Fokker F.VIIB/3m Southern Cross
Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NC1985, Southern Cross at the Kingsford Smith Memorial, Brisbane Airport. (FiggyBee via Wikipedia)
Crux, the Southern Cross.

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.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

24 April 1929

“Miss Elinor Smith, 17 years old, waving to the crowd of thousands, just after she landed here after establishing a new women’s flight endurance record, 26 hours, 21 minutes, 32 seconds, over four hours better than that of Mrs. McPhetridge of Los Angeles. The plucky girl flew a Ballanca cabin monoplane.” (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
Elinor Smith with the Bellanca (CTIE/Monash University)

24 April 1929: At Roosevelt Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, 17-year-old Elinor Smith set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration by staying aloft over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in a Bellanca CH Monoplane for 26 hours, 27 minutes. ¹ Miss Smith had very nearly doubled her own record, set just four months earlier. ²

During the flight the airplane’s elevator trim adjustment malfunctioned, forcing Smith to use both arms to hold the stick back to maintain level flight. She dropped a note in a weighted sack to advise those on the ground of the problem.

Elinor Smith with the Bellanca CH Monoplane. (Associated Press/The Los Angeles Times)

The Associated Press reported the event:


Elinor Smith Is Up Above 26 Hours; Victor Over Four. 

By Associated Press,

ROOSEVELT FIELD, N.Y., April 24.—Elinor Smith, 17-year-old flying flapper of Long Island, won a victory Wednesday in the four-sided battle being waged among two women from the eastern seaboard and two from the west for the women’s solo endurance record.

She brought her plane down at 2:2:16 p.m. after 26 hours 21 minutes and 32 seconds in the air, beating the record of 22 hours 3 minutes and 12 seconds established by Louise McPhetridge of California by  hours 18 minutes and 20 seconds.

Before Mrs. McPhetridge, Miss Bobbie Trout of California was the record holder. Miss Trout beat an earlier record of Miss Smith, who in turn on that earlier flight beat a record held by Viola Gentry, Long Island’s flying cashier.

Miss Smith’s record Wednesday was within 9 hours, 11 minutes and 49 seconds of the man’s solo endurance flight record of 35 hours, 33 minutes and 21 seconds, established at Roosevelt Field last month by Martin Jensen.

Beats Early Mark

Less than three minutes before, Miss Smith exceeded the first world endurance record ever established at this field. In 1921, Eddie Stinson of Detroit and Lloyd Bertaud, who was lost with the transatlantic plane Old Glory, established a record there of 26 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, which was 2 minutes and 57 seconds less than the record set single-handed Wednesday by Miss Smith.

About 8:30 a.m. a note was dropped from the plane in which the young flier was having trouble with the stabilizer and had both arms “wrapped around the stick.”

Sure of Victory

It was apparent, however, that she did not regard the trouble as serious for the note added: “Tough night but it won’t be long now.”

Miss Smith brought her plane, a cabin monoplane borrowed from G.M. Bellanca, airplane designer, down to a perfect landing.

“I think it’s wonderful that I broke the record. Now I want to get some sleep,” she said as she dodged the crowds and vanished homeward.

Miss Smith’s mother Wednesday night said plans had been made for Elinor to make a transatlantic flight this summer, probably to Rome. She said backers already had been obtained.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 25, 1929, Page 1, Column 4.

A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
A Bellanca CH-200 (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Bellanca CH Monoplane (also referred to as the CH-200) was a single-engine high-wing monoplane, designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca and built by the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, Newcastle, Delaware. It was operated by one pilot and could carry up to 5 passengers in an enclosed cabin.

The airplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4 inches (2.540 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,275 pounds (1,032 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,072 pounds (1,847 kilograms).

The Bellanca CH Monoplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind J-5 nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed propeller. 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 airplane’s maximum speed was 126 miles per hour (203 kilometers per hour) and its range was 800 miles (1,287 kilometers).

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward (Smith)

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City, 17 August 1911. She was the second of three children of Thomas Francis Ward, a vaudeville dancer and comedian, and Agnes A. Ward, a singer. In order to avoid being mistaken for another performer, Mr. Ward changed his name to Smith. Miss Ward also adopted the name and is better known as “Elinor Smith.”

Miss Smith took her first flight in an airplane at the age of six years. When she was ten she began flight training in her father’s Weaver Aircraft Co. Waco 9 biplane. Just before her seventeenth birthday she qualified for a pilot’s certificate. It was issued 14 August 1928 by the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.A., on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Certificate No. 6906 was signed by Orville Wright, Chairman of the N.A.A.

The National Aeronautic Association issued Aviator Pilot Certificate No. 6906 to Elinor Smith on 14 August 1928, just before her 17th birthday. The document was signed by Orville Wright.
Elinor Smith flying under the Manhattan Bridge, 21 October 1928.

Elinor Smith first came to the attention of the general public when, on 21 October 1928, she flew under four bridges on New York City’s East River.

In November 1928 Miss Smith was employed by the Irvin Air Chute Company as a pilot. She toured the United States, flying a Bellanca Pacemaker.

On 10 March 1930, Smith set an FAI world altitude for women of 8,357 meters (27,418 feet). ³ She flew a Bellanca Skyrocket, NC752W.

In May 1930, the Aeronautics Branch, U.S. Department of Commerce issued a Transport License to Miss Smith. She was the youngest pilot to receive that license up to that time.

A 1930 poll of licensed pilots in the United States selected Smith as the Best Woman Pilot in America. Her male counterpart was the legendary Jimmy Doolittle.

Elinor Smith set several U.S. national records for speed, altitude and duration. From 1930 to 1935, she was an expert commentator on aviation for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network.

On 22 July 1933, Patrick H. Sullivan II, an attorney and member of the New York State Assembly for the 11th District of New York County, married Elinor Smith in New York City. They would have four children. Following the birth of their first child, Patrick H. Sullivan III, Mrs. Sullivan gave up flying.

Elinor Smith was featured on the box of Wheaties breakfast cereal in 1934. (General Mills)

In 1934, Mrs. Sullivan became the first woman to be featured on the box of General Mills’ Wheaties breakfast cereal, “The Breakfast of Champions.” This has always been a high honor for sporting men and women.

After her husband died in 1956, Elinor Smith Sullivan resumed flying, and continued until she was 89 years old.

Mrs. Elinor Smith Sullivan died 19 March 2010 at Lytton Gardens Health Care Center, Palo Alto, California. She was aged 98 years, 7 months and 3 days.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12217. Duration: 26 hours, 27 minutes. 24 April 1929.

² FAI Record File Number 12216. Duration: 13 hours, 17 minutes, 45 seconds. 31 January 1929.

³ FAI Record File Number 12226. Altitude, Female: 8,357 meters (27,418 feet), 10 March 1930.

Elinor Smith and a National Aeronautic Association official check a barograph following an altitude record attempt, 10 March 1930. (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes