Tomorrow marks the 90th anniversary of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s first trans-Pacific flight from California to Brisbane in the Fokker Trimotor Southern Cross.
Kingsford Smith, along with crew members Australian Charles Ulm and American navigation and radio experts Harry Lyon and James Warner, took off from Oakland, California at 8.54 am on 31 May 1928.
The flight was planned in three stages. The first, from Oakland to Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, was 3870 kilometres and took 27 hours 25 minutes. The second stage took off from Barking Sands, Kauai as the runway at Wheeler was not long enough, and headed for Suva, Fiji, a distance of 5077 kilometres. This leg took 34 hours 30 minutes and was the most demanding. The aircraft flew through a massive lightning storm near the equator and had a suspected fuel leak, so the crew was concerned about fuel consumption for the entire leg. When they landed at Albert Park in Suva on 5 June 1928, they had completed what was then the longest flight across water.
The final leg of the journey was the shortest—2709 kilometres but was through some of their most treacherous conditions with constant storms hammering the aircraft and crossed the Australian coastline near Ballina before turning north and landing at Eagle Farm, Brisbane, at 10.50 am on 9 June 1928. This leg took 20 hours and the crew was greeted by a huge crowd of 26,000 giving them a hero’s welcome.
The Southern Cross had flown a total distance of 11,566 kilometres crossing the Pacific Ocean in 83 hours 38 minutes of flying time, a trip that takes around 13 hours today.
The aircraft is now on permanent display at Brisbane International Airport.