On this day in history : 12th November 1919 – The first successful flight from England to Australia begins at Hounslow…. The converted Vickers Vimy bomber reached Darwin on the 10th of December 1919….

The winning Vickers Vimy, 1919 – Image credit : John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland – Public domain

It was in 1919 that the Australian government offered 10,000 Australian £s, as prize money, to the first Australian pilots in a British aircraft to fly from Britain to Australia…. Six entries were received…. The rules stipulated that the crews had to be Australian, the aircraft had to be made in the British Empire and the flight had to be done in no more than 30 days – arriving by midnight on the 31st of December 1920…. In addition departure had to be either from Heath Aerodrome, Hounslow near to London for land-planes or from RNAS Calshot for sea-planes….

Vickers entered a Vimy bomber, which had been designed for World War I but which had not seen active service…. It had twin Rolls Royce engines, a top speed of 177 kph – and an open cockpit…. It completed the 17,911 km (11,123 mile) journey in 28 days – at an average speed of 137 kph….

The aircraft was crewed by brothers pilot Ross and co-pilot Keith Smith, along with mechanics James Bennett and Wally Shiers…. They left Hounslow at 8.30am and flew via Lyon, Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Basra, Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Akyab, Rangoon, Singora, Singapore, Batavia, Surabaya and reaching Darwin at 4.10pm on the 10th of December…. The journey was not without its difficulties…. They became bogged-down in Surabaya – and a temporary airstrip had to be constructed from bamboo mats – and heavy rain forced several unscheduled stops….

Brothers Capt. Ross & Lieut. Keith Smith – Pilot and co-pilot – Image credit : State Library of South Australia via Flickr CC BY 2.0

The prize money was shared between the four crew and each of the two brothers received a knighthood…. The aircraft was presented to the Australian government and is now on display at Adelaide Airport….

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