Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith was a legendary Australian aviation pioneer and the first man to fly between Australia and New Zealand. Born in Brisbane on February 9, 1897, Charles Edward Kingsford Smith was the son of William Charles Smith and his wife Catherine Mary, the daughter of a prominent Queensland politician.
In 1903 the Smith family moved to Canada but later returned to Australia, moving to Sydney in 1907. After moving back from Vancouver, Kingsford Smith was enrolled at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Sydney, and then Sydney Technical High School. Kingsford Smith became an engineering apprentice with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company after completing his studies.
Kingsford Smith enlisted in the Army
Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1915,” Smithy” enlisted in the Australian Army and served in Gallipoli as a motorcycle dispatch rider. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, where he earned his pilot‘s wings. In 1917, while flying with No. 23 Squadron, Smithy was shot down and awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry. Because he suffered injuries, including the amputation of two toes, Smithy was allowed to return to Australia and stay with his parents while he recovered.
Once fully recuperated, he returned to the war and served the remainder in England as a flying instructor. After the war, Smithy stayed in England and started a flying school with fellow Australian Cyril Maddocks. The pair purchased a surplus Airco DH.6 trainer and later a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 reconnaissance aircraft with which they offered joyrides to the public. Shortly afterward, Smithy went to the United States, where he worked as a barnstormer before returning to Australia in 1921.
In 1923 Kingsford Smith married Thelma Eileen Hope Corboy, but the pair got divorced five years later. He then married his second wife, Mary Powell, in December 1930. Shortly after getting married for the second time, Kingsford Smith joined the New Guard, a radical anti-communist and allegedly fascist-inspired organization.
In 1928 Smithy returned to the United States and purchased a Fokker F.VII/3m monoplane from renowned Australian polar explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins. On May 31, 1928, Smithy and a four-person crew set off from Oakland, California, attempting to be the first men to fly across the Pacific. The plan was to complete the flight in three stages:
The most demanding leg of the journey between Hawaii and Fiji took them 34 and a half hours flying through an electrical storm near the equator. When Kingsford Smith arrived in Brisbane, a crowd of 26,000 people welcomed him as a hero.
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Smithy became the first person to fly from Australia to New Zealand
Not content to rest on his laurels, Kingsford Smith next set out to become the first person to fly non-stop across Australia. With fellow Australian aviation pioneer Charles Ulm, Smithy’s next challenge was to fly across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. The reason for this trip was twofold. Firstly it had never been done before, and secondly, Smithy hoped the Australian Government would give him the contract to deliver mail between Australia and New Zealand.
On the evening of September 10, 1928, Smithy, accompanied by Ulm, navigator Harold Arthur Litchfield, and radio operator Thomas H. McWilliams set off from Richmond, near Sydney. For the 1,600-mile flight, Smithy planned to fly overnight before landing in Christchurch the following morning. After spending 14 hours and 25 minutes in the air, Smithy arrived in Christchurch, where around 30,000 people had turned out to greet him.
While attempting to break a speed record, Smithy disappeared
In November 1935, Smithy, along with co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge, decided to try and break the speed record for a flight from England to Australia. After taking off from Allahabad, India, en route to Singapore, the pair went missing over the Andaman Sea. Despite a lengthy search, neither the plane not their bodies were ever found.
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