SYDNEY might have the Kingsford Smith International Airport, but Brisbane’s International Airport has the great aviator’s famous plane, the Southern Cross.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, or Smithy as he was known, was born in the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton in February 1897 and became globally famous for his pioneering international flights, most of them in the Southern Cross.
He became a pilot in 1917, having already served at Gallipoli with the Australian Army, and by 1921 had his commercial pilot’s licence to become one of the nation’s first airline pilots.
In 1928, he bought a Fokker monoplane in the US, and called it Southern Cross after the constellation to show his Australian heritage.
Soon after, on May 31, 1928, with a four-man crew, he took off from Oakland California for Hawaii, a flight of 2870kms which took 27 hours and 25 minutes. From there it was on to Suva in Fiji, another 5077kms which took 34 hours and 30 minutes and then the final 2709kms to Brisbane where they landed on June 9, after 20 hours. A huge crowd met them at the Eagle Farm airport, which had opened in 1925.
The little Southern Cross also made the first return crossing to New Zealand. He was given a hero’s welcome in Christchurch and the New Zealand Air Force gave the Southern Cross an overhaul before they flew back to Sydney.
It took off again on March 31, 1929, this time for England. In June 1930, after his “old bus” had been overhauled in Holland, he crossed from Ireland to Newfoundland and this time was given a hero’s welcome in New York.
Smithy called his later planes Southern Cross Minor, Southern Cross Junior, Miss Southern Cross and Lady Southern Cross but it is the original heroic monoplane that now sits in a glass hangar on Airport Drive, about 15kms from the CBD. (South Australia has a full-sized reproduction that was built in the 1980s).
The “1985” on its wings and tail is its original registration number. Although Smith had had it re-registered, the original number and colour scheme was restored when it went on display.
While on a flight from India to Singapore in an attempt to break the England-Australia speed record, the Lady Southern Cross disappeared over the Andaman Sea near Myanmar, in 1935. Smithy’s body was never recovered.
When the Gateway Motorway route changed in 2010, the new section which runs past the original Eagle Farm Airport was renamed Southern Cross Way.