Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

An Airman Remembers (1964)

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An epic flight education content clip 1

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This clip recounts the story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his aeroplane the Southern Cross. It includes archival footage of the record-breaking 1928 trip across the Pacific with Smithy and his colleague Charles Ulm, and their arrival in Honolulu.

Curator’s notes

An ABC announcer is used throughout the film to narrate over the remarkable archival footage of the earliest days of Australian aviation although, at other moments of the documentary, the laconic Sir Gordon Taylor GC(George Cross) MC(Military Cross) talks to camera to tell in his own words some of those remarkable journeys in which he too was a pioneer. The style is simplicity itself, but the effectiveness of the script and editing makes the story compelling. Sir Gordon Taylor is telling the story of a man with whom he flew on many occasions.

The feature film Smithy (1946), from which much of this material was taken, was directed by Ken G Hall, one of Australia’s leading filmmakers of the time. Smithy was made to commemorate the life of an Australian hero and one of the world’s great aviation pioneers, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith and his aeroplane the Southern Cross. The early scenes from the 1930s introduce Kingsford Smith – in an air commodore’s uniform, holding his baby and at the controls of various aeroplanes, including the Southern Cross. The following scenes, filmed in 1927–28, show the plane being modified to fly across the Pacific. The final sequence shows the four-man crew and the first leg of their record-setting flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. Orchestral music and fanfare accompany the commentary.

Educational value points

  • The clip celebrates Charles Kingsford Smith (1897–1935), a great hero of Australian aviation and the first to fly across the Pacific, in 1928. A decorated pilot in the First World War (1914–18), Kingsford Smith was also the first to fly non-stop across Australia, in 1928, and the first to make a successful flight from London to New York across the North Atlantic Ocean, in 1930. In his famous aircraft the Southern Cross he became the first pilot to fly around the world, in 1930.
  • Kingsford Smith and his partner Charles Ulm (1898–1934) conceived the Pacific flight as a way to kick-start their stalled aviation careers. They hoped to win the financial rewards – £5,000 in this case – offered by the Australian Government for first flights connecting Australia with Europe and the USA. With two Americans, Harry Lyon as navigator and James Warner as radio operator, they took off from California on 31 May 1928 and reached Brisbane on 9 June.
  • The Pacific flight consisted of three legs – Oakland, California to Hawaii, Hawaii to Fiji and Fiji to Brisbane – and while the first leg was easier than the other two, it was far from the ‘plain sailing’ that the narrator describes. The leg took 27 h and 28 min and for most of the time the aircraft was without its directional radio beam. With Lyon navigating by dead reckoning, they found the airfield at Honolulu and landed to the enthusiastic reception seen in the clip.
  • The Southern Cross, as modified by Kingsford Smith and Ulm, was a Dutch Fokker F.VIIb-3m monoplane fitted with three Wright Whirlwind engines. With a wingspan of 21.8 m, a length of 15.0 m and a height of 3.9 m, in 1928 it was thought to be ‘enormous, capable of anything’, as the narrator describes. It had a cruising speed of 150 km per h. Fully loaded with its crew of four, the plane weighed 6,840 kg, of which 291 kg was crew, 3,541 kg benzene and 109 kg oil.
  • The Southern Cross had been acquired in 1927 from Australian polar explorer George Hubert Wilkins (1888–1958) and historical footage in the clip indicates that its body was modified according to specifications that Kingsford Smith designed for the Pacific flight. Linen was glued to the wooden wing spars and fuselage longerons to create the wings and the desired shape of the fuselage, which was then possibly covered with three-ply.
  • As revealed by the actuality film footage, the attempt on the Pacific was news even before the Southern Cross took off, and when it landed in Brisbane, Kingsford Smith was already a celebrity. Broadcasts from the cockpit had been relayed to radio stations throughout Australia during the flight. His continuing heroic status is reflected in the narrator’s comment that ‘Smithy flew up and down and round the world as easily as you and I cross the street’.

Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith is in an air commodore’s uniform, and then seen holding his baby.
Narrator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith – Smithy.

Footage of Kingsford Smith and his aeroplane, the Southern Cross.
Narrator Smithy flew up and down and round the world as easily as you and I walk across the street. Sometimes he flew with a crew, sometimes alone.

Scenes showing the aeroplane being prepared for flight.
Narrator In 1928 Smithy decided to conquer the Pacific – to fly from America to Australia for the first time. He managed to get hold of an old Fokker which had already been flown across the pole by another Australian, Hubert Wilkins. Got it, rebuilt it, added another engine. With his own hands, he helped to make that aeroplane, the original Southern Cross – the old bus. Finally, when they wheeled it out, it seemed enormous, capable of anything and indeed it was.

Their route is indicated on a map, followed by shots of the plane in flight.
Narrator So they set off, Smithy with his inevitable friend and partner Charles Ulm and two Americans, Warner and Lyons.

Scenes at air traffic control and then the plane landing. The aviators alight from the plane and are greeted by the press and garlanded by Hawaiian locals.
Narrator It was plain sailing to Honolulu – fine and easy, almost a boyish adventure.

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This clip is available for download for the limited purpose of criticism and review in an educational context. You must obtain permission from editorial@aso.gov.au for all other purposes for use of this material.

Terms & Conditions

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described here and elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions. ALL rights are reserved.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before downloading this clip:

When you access ABC materials on australianscreen you agree that:

  1. You may download this clip to assist your information, criticism and review purposes in conjunction with viewing this website only;
  2. Downloading this clip for purposes other than criticism and review is Prohibited;
  3. Downloading for purposes other than non-commercial educational uses is Prohibited;
  4. Downloading this clip in association with any commercial purpose is Prohibited;

The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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