Early Australian Aviation
The Age of Flying Machines....
In 1851 Dr William Bland designed a 90 foot,
semi-rigid airship, to be powered by a steam engine capable of carrying
a payload of 1 ½ tons, inflated with hydrogen and named
"Atomic Ship" a model and drawings were displayed at the
Crystal Palace in London in 1852, and at the Paris Universal Exhibition
On 15 December 1856 M Pierre Maigre commenced inflating a hot air
balloon in front of crowd of 5-6,000 people, who had paid to watch
the flight, however after reaching full inflation and Maigre had sat on
the framework the balloon failed to rise due to a tangled rope which
then caused much of the hot air to be lost. The crowd surged past
the few police attending and jumped barriers, Maigre's hat was knocked
off, and fearing his head would be next, he ran from the site, witnesses
claimed up to 4,000 boys and youths pursued the unfortunate aeronaut,
who managed to hide in Government House, while the crowd set fire to the
balloon and created a bonfire from the tent and seats.
The first flight in Australia by balloon was in Victoria on 1 February
1858, the balloon was constructed by H Coxwell in Tottenham in the UK,
and imported by George Coppin, manager of Melbourne's Theatre Royal, it
was a 40 ft diameter balloon of varnished fabric with a capacity of
31,000 cu ft of gas. It was partly inflated by the Melbourne Gas Company
and then transfered by horse and cart to Cremourne Gardens near Richmond
where inflation was completed. A valve was leaking and there was only
sufficient lift for one person, William Dean who had previous experience
lifted off at 5.52pm and about 6.30pm descended somewhere near
Heidelberg. On 15 February 1858 at 6.48pm Dean ascended to an estimated
10,000 ft, and later decended onto the road between Collingwood and
Brunswick Stockade. On 25 March 1858 Dean and Brown made the first
ascent at night, lit fireworks beneath the passenger "car",
ascended to an estimated altitude of 10,000 ft, travelled 40 or 50 miles
in various directions as the wind shifted and finally decended in
Dean and Brown made their first flight in Sydney on 13 December 1858
taking off at 5pm watched by 7,000 people, heading north across the
Harbour and landing in Neutral Bay.
On 7 January 1871, Thomas Gale who had complete 50 flights in Europe,
lifted off from Victoria Park in Sydney at 4.20pm, in his balloon
"The Young Australian" , which was 72 feet high, and 112 feet
in circumference, and has a gas capacity of 32,000 cu ft. The balloon
carried Gale, two passengers and 120 lb of ballast in a northerly
direction entering clouds at about 13,000 ft, a precautionary landing
was made in Delange's Bay after about two hours flight.
On 12 January 1878 a Montgolfier hot air balloon was inflated at the
Domain in Sydney, attached to a winch with sufficient rope for over 1000
feet to allow two passengers to be carried aloft. After it had risen
several feet one of the would be passengers jumped out, causing the
balloon to rise more rapidly than the winch or ground handlers could
manage, the rope snapped with the unexpected velocity and the remaining
passenger James Stewart drifted north over Sydney Harbour until a wind
change returned him to the southern side of the harbour. The balloon
eventually descended into a tree in the grounds of Government House with
Stewart surviving the landing with a few scratches.
Henri L'Estrange inflated his balloon "Aurora" at the
Melbourne Agricultural showgrounds on 14 April 1879 and lifted off at
3.40pm, rising rapidly to an estimated 9,000 ft, where owing to a
miscalculation of gas expansion, the side of the balloon ruptured. a
silk parachute attached to the centre of the balloon opened, and despite
splits in several places slowed his decent while he jettisoned any
objects in the basket, and landed in a Fir tree at the rear of
Government House, this is the first record of survival by a parachute in
J.T. Williams had been conducting private parachuting trials and
undertook his first public demonstration on 8 December 1888,
utilising Harry Henden's balloon "The Gem" he ascended at 6pm
and reached a height of 4-5,000 ft before pulling the balloons release
valve and then jumping from the basket and decending via parachute,
while the balloon slowly deflated and landed in the Paramatta River
Many other balloon and parachute demonstrations occurred in the
remaining years of the 19th century including a well developed and
regular display by V P Taylor, who was known publicly by the stage name
of Captain Penfold, the "Australian Aeronaut".
In January 1901 the Balloon Section of the Royal Engineers of the
British Army displayed the first military balloon in Australia as part
of Federation celebrations at the Sydney Agricultural Grounds.
While balloons and parachutes were refined and publicly demonstrated in
Australia and around the world by the turn of the century, and man's
first powered flight was only 3 years away, experimentation and research
in relation to lift and flying surfaces had
been underway for almost twenty years by Lawrence Hargrave. Later to be hailed as the Father of Australian Aviation,
Hargrave was carrying out
experiments with box kites and developing curved flight surfaces and
various compressed air and rotary engines. He presented his first
aeronautical paper "The Trochoided Plane" to the Royal Society
on 6 August 1884, in December 1885 he exhibited a 7 ft span Ornithopter
that flew 120 ft before hitting a fence, and reported in December 1887
that an improved model had flown 270 ft horizontally.
During 1888-89 he turned his attention to propulsion methods using
rubber bands and then conceived the idea of a rotary engine, producing a
prototype, and a second model that could produce 457 rpm, this work was
later used by the French to develop the Gnome Rotary aircraft engine. Hargrave
believed in the free flow and sharing of scientific information and
studies, he did not patent any of his ideas, and freely corresponded with
other would-be aviators overseas including the Brazilian, Santos Dumont,
who was to gain fame in France as a pioneer aviator.
On 12 November 1894 at Stanwell Park near Sydney, Hargrave used four
boxkites to lift himself 16 feet off the ground in a 21 mile per
hour wind, and from 1897 confined his experiments to lifting powers of
curved and natural surfaces. Although never to experience powered flight, Hargrave was the first Australian aviator to achieve
tethered heavier-than-air flight.
While Hargrave did
not develop a viable flying machine, his work was recognised
internationally by others. Octave Chanute, a contemporary of the Wright
Brothers, in his authoritative book “Progress in Flying Machines”
written in 1894, stated that “if there is to be one man more than other
who deserves to succeed in flying through the air, that man is Lawrence
Hargrave of Sydney, Australia.”
Although not acknowledged by the Wright Brothers as having any influence
on their work, it is known they were heavily influenced by Chanute's own
glider work, and Hargrave’s work is evident to see in the "
box-like" structures and rotary engines, used by many of the pioneering
aircraft, developed in the USA, U.K. and Europe, including Chanute's own gliders.
Despite Hargrave's pioneering work all those years prior to the successful flight
of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, U.S.A.,
in 1903, it was the better part of a decade past before Australians took to the
air in a similar fashion.
George Taylor aided Hargrave in his later experiments and went on to develop a biplane glider in
which he carried out a number of controlled flights over a distance of
two hundred and fifty metres at Narrabeen Beach in Sydney on 5
and should be remembered as the first Australian aviator to achieve
untethered heavier-than-air flight, his wife was the first woman to make
a flight on that same day. It is unfortunate that his
intentions to power his glider with a motor were abandoned.
In 1909, an Aerial League was
formed in N.S.W., Queensland and Victoria. This body offered ₤5,000 for
an Australian-made flying machine and the Australian government, mindful
of the military possibilities of such a machine, undertook to provide
the ₤5,000, stipulating that the machine, in addition to being made in
Australia, had to be able to take off and land safely without special
launching apparatus, carry two people, have a speed of not less than 20
miles per hour and carry enough fuel to remain in action for not less
than 5 hours. Despite entries/designs being received from France,
England, the U.S.A., Switzerland and Russia, plus entries from all parts
of Australia, the government declared them unsuitable and decided to
investigate aircraft that were being developed overseas.
Harry Houdini, the celebrated
‘escapologist’, was to visit Australia on a theatrical tour, so the
Australian Aerial League undertook to invite him to bring his Voisin biplane with
him, mindful of the publicity such a flight would generate in their
attempts to promote aviation. Before his arrival, several aircraft were
imported to Australia from Europe and America, the close proximity of
their initial flights or attempts at same, combined with sometimes
dubious newspaper reports, have clouded the issue.
Other confusion or dispute arises from what constitutes a successful flight, and a number of the early attempts at flight were to consist of brief "hops" in a straight line, with little control, often ending in a crash, and often at such low heights that the aircraft is considered to be flying in "ground affect", rather than in true flight from "wing lift" alone.
In addition there are many events that have few witnesses, or inconsistant testimony from, and between witnesses, as compared to the pilot's own claims, and in some ways we must rely on the opinions and observations of the day by reliable independant witnesses, journalists and photographers, and the Australian Aerial League.
The first recorded attempt at powered flight in Australia occured in December 1909 by Colin Defries, virtually at the same time of the first manned glider flights by Taylor.
Mr L.A. Anderson of Melbourne had imported A Wright Flyer and Bleriot from Europe which returned to Sydney with Colin Defries with the intention of providing public displays. On the 4th of December
1909 Defries attempted to fly the imported Wright Flyer "Stella" at Sydney’s Victoria Park racecourse but hit sleepers in the grass, damaging a wheel. On
the 9th December 1909 Defries was reported by newspapers to have succeeded in flying 115 yards in a straight line at a height of 3 to 15 feet.
A second attempt was made on the 18th of December where a flight in a straight line of about 300 yards or a quater of a mile was reported at a height of 2 to 15 feet however this flight ended in a crash when the pilot lost his hat and turned to catch it, causing the aircraft to land heavily and ground loop.
There are also suggestions that Defries attempted to fly the Bleriot on the 18th of December also ending in a crash?, and reports from others such as Taylor and the Australian Aerial League who described both outcomes only as "hops" or unsuccessful attempts.
For a trained pilot, Defries accomplishments in Australia were quite disappointing, he took no further part in proceedings in Australia and quickly returned to the UK. The local newspaper and eye witness reports of his flights in Australia were significantly different to the claims he made on his return to the UK and published in the 9 January 1910 Flight magazine, including of a flight on the 9th of December 1909 that "rose to a height of about 35 feet, and covered about a mile in 1 & 1/4 minutes", he also claimed to have flown on the 10th of December 1909 with a passenger C.S. Magennis, however this flight is not recorded by local newpapers or historians at all.
Flight magazine reported on Houdini's flights in its 30 April 1910 edition, after receiving letters from Houdini which includes a claim as the first to fly in Australia -
"Houdini had made twelve short flights of varying duration, and he
claims to be the first flyer in Australia. He says the reports with
regard to Mr. Defries' flights on a Wright flyer were very much
exaggerated, and he never did anything more than a long hop.
Since then Mr. Defries' machine has been tried by Mr. R. Banks,
who came down suddenly from a height of 20 feet and smashed the
The Victoria Park racecourse is at its longest, only 440 yards or 1/4 of a mile, and these claims made by Defries on his return to the UK, and conflicts between the newspaper reports in Sydney and the reports by Taylor on behalf of the Australian Aerial League was the start of the apparant ongoing claim and counter claims that has clouded "who was the first to fly in Australia" for over a century.
By this time world aviation had moved on from the bunny hops of Kittyhawk in 1903, by 1909 Bleriot's were crossing the English Channel and Wright Model A's had set new altitude records of 1600 ft, and many then, and even today, do not consider Defries exhibited control, or sustained flight.
However it seems clear that Defries did lift the aircraft off, and briefly travel in a straight line, and he is therefore able to claim his was the first powered flight in Australia.
By March 1910, Houdini had his
aircraft at Diggers Rest, outside Melbourne, along with Ralph Banks, an
American, who had brought the repaired Wright Flyer previously used by Defries down from Sydney. Banks was
determined to beat Houdini into the air and attempted a flight on 1st March, only to have a sharp gust of wind cause his aircraft to dive into
the ground after take off, smashing it completely, Banks escaped with
Houdini’s other competitor was a
Bleriot monoplane, which had been purchased by an Adelaide businessman
who had visited Europe and England in the hope of finding an aircraft
capable of being demonstrated and sold in Australia. While he was in
England, the French flier, Louis Bleriot had flown from France to Dover
in England, creating a storm of controversy about the vulnerability of
England to an Armada of flying machines and gained himself, and his
aircraft, a great measure of excellent publicity. Mr. Jones, the
Adelaide businessman concerned, recognised the achievement of Bleriot
and his aircraft and paid ₤1,000 in advance, for a Bleriot type XI
monoplane, number 37, powered by a 24hp Anzini rotary engine. This aircraft, an
advanced type for the time, employed primary flight controls, which
would be recognisable today. A control column was used with a series of
levers and cranks to “warp” or alter the shape of the wing, in order
that the amount of lift developed by the wing to be increased or
decreased, a rudder bar operated by the pilot’s feet, allowed the
aircraft to veer right or left, and a forward or rearward movement of
control column would cause the nose rise or fall in flight.
The Bleriot arrived in South
Australia and Mr. Jones engaged an engineer, Bill Wittber, to assemble
and rig the aircraft. Bill’s ability as an engineer and his interest in
aviation, wetted by such magazines as “Flight”, made him an excellent
choice for the job. Assisted by Fred Custance, the machine was
assembled and displayed in John Martin’s store in Rundle Street,
Adelaide. From there it moved to Bolivar, a country town outside
Adelaide, where the first attempts at flying it were to be made. At
this point, none of those involved had ever flown an aircraft! The
Bleriot manual was consulted carefully and on 13th March, the
aircraft was run around the paddock with Wittber at the controls. The
machine struck a tussock, lurched into the air and after about 15
metres, landed. Whilst it was only a short distance and Wittber never
claimed it as a flight, it was landed without damage. On the morning of
17th March, 1910, Custance is believed to have taxied the
aircraft around the same paddock several times. It is claimed that he
later was able to make a successful take-off and achieved a short
flight circling the paddock, however that flight was un-witnessed, and claimed to have occured at 5am in the morning, prior to sunrise. Another attempt in front of witnesses resulted in the aircraft apparently
stalling and crashing causing extensive damage to the propellor,
undercarriage and wheels. Subsequently, it was returned to Adelaide for
repairs and was later destroyed by fire while in storage that winter.
Years later Bill Wittber's version of events and a dedication on a plaque only acknowledges one flight by Custance on the 17th of March, resulting in a crash, and correspondance from Jones adds further concern including a claim by Jones that it was he, not Custance, who was the first to fly in Australia on that day in Bolivar..
Unfortunately some confusion and dispute therefore exists in respect of these claims, and the reliability and independance of witnesses, but
they are certainly deserving of being recognised as some of the first attempted powered flights to take place in Australia. It seems clear flight in a straight line briefly was achieved by both Wittber and Custance, however of no greater outcome than the earlier flights by Defries in December 1909..
While little publicity attended
the efforts in South Australia, those of Harry Houdini at Diggers Rest
received wide reporting. Houdini had a full understanding of the value
of publicity and there were a number of would-be aviators, including
Banks and a young Harry Hawker, present at Diggers Rest for his initial flights and his efforts
were widely reported in the newspapers of the day.
Following the advice of his
mechanic, a Mr. Brassac, Houdini waited until the 18th March,
when weather conditions were perfect and taxied the aircraft to test the
engine and controls. Then he opened the throttle, the engine roared and
the aircraft surged toward a clump of trees and then soared skyward and
stayed aloft for a minute. He landed safely and went on to fly on two or
more occasions that day and on the 21st March flew for seven
minutes. Undoubtedly, Houdini had mastered the ability to pilot an
aircraft in controlled powered flight and sustained flight, and would go on to give further
demonstrations at Rose Hill in Sydney. Houdini’s Voisin aircraft
resembled an enlarged powered version of the box kites, which Hargrave
had experimented with some fifteen years earlier.
Houdini invited Hargrave to attend and watch the Voisin in flight, but Hargrave declined, saying he had invented these boxkite aircraft many years earlier.
Houdini's flight at Diggers Rest was witnessed by onlookers, media and representatives of the Aerial League of Australia and was certified by that body as the first successful powered flight in Australia, despite the earlier known, witnessed and other attempts described above.
Powered by a 60-hp
ENV engine the Voisin was a type that amassed considerable flying hours
in Europe, and while, perhaps, not as advanced as the Bleriot monoplane,
was certainly capable of sustained flight in the hands of an experienced
The Voisin brothers in Frace had created the worlds first commercial aircraft factory with more than 70 examples of their early 1907 design being built, and many being used by famous pilots for historic first flights. The Voisins acknowledged the influence on their work of Australia's own Lawrence Hargraves, and originally described their aircraft as simply "Hargraves" because of their boxkite like structures used for both the main wing and tail. Despite lacking a rolling control through either ailerons or wing warping, the Voisin design was used by many famous pioneers and used for the historic first flights in a number of countries including Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Russia and Mexico.
Houdini's flight on the 18th of March in his Voisin was witnessed by enthusiasts, newspaper reporters and representatives of the Australian Aerial League, and was certified and acknowledged as the first controlled powered flight in Australia.
However debate still rages through to today as to whom the first to fly in Australia?, Defries in NSW on 9th of December NSW?, Banks in Victoria on 1st of March 1910?,Wittber in SA on 13th of March 1910?, Custance in SA on 17th of March 1910? or Houdini in Victoria on 18th of March 1910?
Definitions as to what constitutes a flight, of which version of a story is true, and which are embellishments are unfortunately
argued on parochial state lines, causing some honest efforts to be minimised, and apparant inconsistancies in events to be ignored when it suits.
It seems today clear Defries made the first attempt at Powered Flight in Australia in NSW on 9th December 1909, and although only flying briefly in a straight line, made the first powered flight on the same day based on public witnessed reports, therefore being able to be considered the first powered flight.
It also seems clear that Houdini made the first successful, controlled and sustained Powered Flight in Australia in Victoria on 18th March 1910. His efforts on that day consisted of a substantial flight of significant height and length, demonstrating all axis of control, completing turns, and the first circuit in Australia, and therefore able to be considered the first successful, controlled and sustained powered flight.
Rather than arguing over who was first, today's generations should be focusing on celebrating and remembering the efforts of all of these pioneers.
However all of these flights had been made in aircraft built commercially overseas, of types well proven to fly successfully in the hands of others, and two most successful flights todate were undertaken by overseas pilots with overseas flying training and experience, and there was no reason why these flights should not have been successful, and why some of these efforts were not well regarded then, or now.
Despite the arrival in 1909 of these overseas aircraft, and various attempted or successful flights in various locations through early 1910 there was an even more impressive effort being developed by two local Australian brothers without any access to commercially built aircraft or formal flying experience or training.
The Duigan brothers undertook their development privately on a family property in Victoria, and across 1909 undertook tethered tests with a home built glider loosely based on a Wright glider form. John Duigan, a trained engineer based his developments on the writings and calculations of the UK scientest Hiram Maxim, and photographs sent from overseas.
Following his glider tests he commenced design and construction of a powered aircraft, loosely based on a Farman form becoming the 1910 Duigan pusher biplane being locally designed by John Duigan, and constructed by John and his brother Reg. This aircraft, constructed of Australian components
including a motor designed and built in Melbourne, was subjected to
rigorous testing by Duigan before any attempt at flight. His first
short flight of 24 feet was achieved on 16 July 1910 at the family property "Spring
Plains", Mia Mia (between Kyneton and Heathcote, Victoria), was the first flight of an Australian designed and built aircraft.
Interestingly there is no evidence that the Duigan brothers were aware of, or attended Diggers Rest in March 1910 to inspect the aircraft, or the flying attempts of Banks or Houdini?, and no reference to Duigan's work or intentions in the press of the day? However of all the prewar pioneers, the Duigan brothers work and achievements is the most documented and perhaps the significant in its accomplishments.
Born in Terang Victoria in 1882, John Duigan had studied Electrical and Motor Engineering at Finsbury College in London and returned to Australia by 1908. The powered aircraft had been developed from experience learned by the brothers in building and testing a tethered glider at "Spring Plains" in 1908-09, a design similar to a 'Wright' layout. His powered aircraft design was however significantly different to his glider and more of similar layout to the French 'Farman' biplane. Duigan prepared his own plans and specifications, and in a large shed on the family property, constructed the frame of the plane from red pine and mountain ash.
The aircraft was some 10 metres in length, with a
wingspan of seven metres, was powered by a four-cylinder air cooled engine built
by Tillaroo Motors to Duigan’s design. The Duigan pusher biplane went through a number of modifications to improve its performance including conversion of its engine to water cooling and a larger cylinder bore. A longer flight of about 100
yards was achieved on 30 September 1910 and again even further at 196
yards on 7 October 1910. It was of
Australian design and construction as required by the government and,
but for a misunderstanding by Duigan of the requirements of the
Government & Aerial League competition, may well have qualified for the
₤5,000 on offer.
In January 1911, Duigan demonstrated his plane to newspaper reporters at "Spring Plains", and the following April he made several public flights before a crowd of 1000 at the Bendigo Racecourse.
John Duigan in 1912 travelled to England, to obtain his pilots licence, and commissioned a tractor biplane from A.V. Roe to his own specifications, known as the Avro-Duigan Biplane which he later sold. He returned to Australia and in 1913 built a second tractor biplane with his brother at Ivanhoe Victoria, using the ENV engine from the 1912 tractor biplane, and later joined the AFC and flew in combat in France.
Duigan’s achievement is all the more remarkable for the fact that he had never seen or flown an aircraft previously and had little technical information with which to work. His first design was based on little more than a postcard of the Wright Flyer, and a copy of papers from Sir Hiram Maxim of the UK. With the exception of the engine and propeller, each component was made by Duigan and his brother in a rudimentary workshop on the farm, the aircraft made many flights
and is now under the care of the Museum of Victoria.
More aircraft were imported into
Australia in 1910 hoping to attract Government contracts, Gaston
Cugnet was sent from France by Bleriot for the possibility of
establishing a permanent aviation business in Australia, and undertook
his first flight, for a duration of 7 minutes and reaching a height of
200 feet, at Altona in Victoria on 15 November 1910, and attempted a
further flight at the MCG on 3 December 1910, but the aircraft was badly
damaged when windy conditions caused it to crash into the adjoining
New Zealander J. J. Hammond, employed by the British and Colonial
Aeroplane Co.(Bristol), accompanied two Bristol Box Kites to Australia,
giving demonstration flights in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, and
offering the Box Kite aircraft for sale from the factory at ₤1000
and 50HP Gnome engines for ₤50. He made his first Victorian flight
at Altona Bay on 18 February 1911 for 31 minutes and up to a height of
On 20 February 1911 He flew
the first cross country flight between towns in Australia from Altona
Bay to Geelong in Victoria, covering 40 miles in 55 minutes, returning the next
day. On 28 February at Altona Bay, Victoria, he undertook the first powered
passenger flight in Australia, taking his mechanic Coles on a 7½ minute flight, and then took Mrs Hammond on a 12½ minute flight, the first woman
passenger flight in Australia. On 2 March 1911, again at
Altona Bay, Hammond took J.Bailleau as the first paying
passenger in powered flight in Australia covering 12 miles at 700 feet,
while on 26 March 1911 Hammond flew with his assistants L.F.
McDonald and Coles both as passengers to demonstrate the weight carrying
performance of the Box Kite and gave many demonstration flights thereafter in Melbourne and
Several other would-be aviators
built "Flying Machines" over this early period without notable success. Perhaps among the most
significant were those designs and engines developed by Leslie (L.J.R.) Jones of Glebe NSW with his experimental four cylinder petrol engine of 1907, airframe design developed over 1908 and 1909, steam turbine of 1910 and a number of early attempts at flight, until success in 1911 with a three cylinder steam powered engine of his own design. He eventually built and tested three different aircraft designs and abandoned his fourth design when he enlisted for military service in October 1916.
Joined in his work by his brother William, his efforts in 1907 and 1908 may well be considered Australia's first aircraft and engine designs to be fully constructed, although those early designs were not the basis of his eventual later successful flights, in a steam powered aircraft. Jones served in the AFC during WW1 and continued work in aircraft design for the following 20 years with a total of 7 designs including the 1933 "Centenary Racer", unlike most of his contemporaries he remained in aviation until after WW2, becoming a licenced Aircraft Engineer (Licence No. 30), and later a lecturer in Aeronautical Engineering at Sydney University.
Laurie Marshall, a Butcher of Melbourne Victoria, built a monoplane in Fairfield in 1911 and originally powered by a locally built petrol engine from Mr Aubry Locke
of Armidale. It was tested unsuccessfully later that year in Northcote, and later made his first successful hop on the 18th of February 1912, however it ended in another crash.
On the 14 of April 1912, following installation of an imported J.A.P. V4 engine, three successful flights were achieved, the best achieving a height of 30 feet and covering 500 yards, this was nearly 2 years after Duigans' successful flights in 1910. In those intervening years 12 other locally built aircraft had been commenced to compete for the Government competition, with just 4 others succeeding to be flown or attempted to fly.
P.Woodward - Botany Bay 19 /11/1910 - 8 minute flight crashing into the bay
LJR Jones - 20/02/1911 - crashed on takeoff- first successful fight 4/06/1911 (second design, with steam engine)
J Duigan 17/02/1912 - tractor biplane flown at Ivanhoe, later crashed at Diggers Rest (second design, with ENV)
LJR Jones - 3/03/1912 - lightweight monoplane tested at Emu Plains (third design, with petrol engine)
L. Marshall - 14/04/1912 - monoplane flown successfully at Northcote
Lt Arthur Longmore of the Royal Navy, born at St Leonards, NSW, became
the first Australian to formally learn to fly, gaining licence No. 72 on
25 April 1911.
It had become obvious by this time that considerable skill was required
to pilot these early aircraft and as a result, in May 1911, mechanic friends Harry Busteed, Harry Kauper and Harry Hawker,
known as "the three Harrys", all went to England to study aviation and learn to fly.
Kauper later became works manager for
Sopwiths, in charge of 3800 employees turning out 45 planes a week. An
inventive genius, he is best known for the patented Sopwith-Kauper
interrupter gear which synchronized the firing of a machine-gun through
a rotating aeroplane propeller. First used in April 1916, 3950 were
fitted to Sopwith planes during the war.
Harry Busteed of Melbourne, Victoria became the second Australian to
obtain a licence receiving No. 94 on 13 June 1911, while Eric Harrison
of Castlemaine, Victoria became the third Australian to obtain a licence
receiving No. 131 on 1 September 1911, all achieved in England.
John Duigan also went to England in 1912 and on 27 April 1912 he
became the fourth Australian in England to be awarded a pilot’s certificate
No. 211 issued
by the Royal Aero Club, and later on 17 September 1912 while still in
England, Harry Hawker was awarded pilot's certificate
One of Hammonds' Box Kites was sold to a
Sydney dentist, William E. Hart, in September 1911 and after ground
instruction by McDonald, Hart achieved his first solo flight on 2nd
November 1911. Between 9 and 16 November 1911 Hart was tested
under the supervision of the Aerial League of Australia and was issued
with An Aerial League Certificate, and later received Royal Aero Club
Licence No. 199 dated 26 March 1912 based on that November 1911 testing
by the Aerial League. Thus Hart became the first person to be issued a
licence in Australia, and the fourth Australian to qualify for a licence
Hart established Australia's first Aviation School on 3 January 1912 in
Penrith NSW, and later was granted permission to operate on the Ham
Common, in Richmond NSW (the site of the present RAAF Base). In April
1912 American "Wizard" Stone challenged Hart to an race and on 29 June 1912 the
first Air Race in Australia was held from the Surrey Football Ground
near Botany to Parramatta Park NSW with Stone flying his Metz Bleriot
and Hart flying his Boxkite and winning the race by covering the
distance in 23 minutes and 53 seconds while Stone lost his way and
landed at Lakemba NSW.
On 4 September 1912 Hart was
seriously injured when test flying a two seat monoplane he had built to
the design of F E Sandford at Richmond, and Hart announced his retirement
from aviation and his intention to resume his profession of Dentistry. This
location was later used as a flying school by the French aviator,
Monsieur Maurice Guillaux, among whose notable achievements was a 1914
flight between Melbourne and Sydney in his Bleriot carrying about 25kg
of mail – some 1785 people paying one shilling (10 cents) to send a
postcard by Australia’s first airmail. This 1000 kilometre flight in 9
hours and 35 minutes established a record for the longest airmail flight
in the world at that time – it was also the longest flight that had been
made in the Southern Hemisphere.
Other Australian's to travel to England over this period and gain
pilot's licences were; Charles Lindsay-Campbell of Queensland (No.
220, 4 June 1912), Sydney Pickles of NSW (No. 263, 30 July 1912), Dr
David Stodart of Victoria (No. 321, 15 October 1912), Vincent Taylor
"Capt Penfold" (No. 376, 17 December 1912) Edwin Prosser (No. 526,
18 June 1913) and Andrew Badgery of NSW (No. 717, 22 December 1913)
The military board began moves
to establish a Flying Corps and placed an order for two British Aircraft
Factory BE2s and two Deperdussin monoplanes for the fledgling corps.
Ultimately the Central Flying School was established at Point Cook,
Victoria, its first flight took place on 1 March 1914, and the first pilot’s course was completed in November 1914
consisting of Williams, White, Mertz and Manwell..
On 13 January 1914, Moorabbin born Harry Hawker, and mechanic Harry
Kauper returned to Australia from the UK where Hawker was chief test
pilot for the Sopwith Company, and bought with them a two seat Sopwith
Tabloid. The aircraft was taken to the CLC Motor Company in
Elsternwick where it was assembled and tested before Hawker took off
from New Street on 27 January and after a 20 minute flight landed in the
grounds of Government House to visit the Governor General. On 7 February
Hawker provided paying passenger flights and flying displays at
Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne, with between 25-30,000 spectators,
while on 11 February 1914 the first member of Cabinet to make a flight
was Senator E Millen, Minister for Defence, Lt Harrison was also taken
for a flight.
On 8 April 1914 Maurice Guillaux from France arrived in Sydney with his
Beriot, on 20 April he flew for 26 minutes duration to test his
aircraft, and made the first "loop the loop" in Australia. At
Victoria Park on 2 May 1914 he flew a display for an estimated 60,000
spectators, and on 16 July 1914 he departed Flemington in Victoria
carrying 1785 letters and arrived in Sydney on 18 July to complete
Australia's first aerial mail between capital cities.
On his return to England in June 1914, Hawker developed a method
of recovering from a tail-spin which became standard training practice.
In June he also completed a record twelve loops in succession in a
With the clouds of war gathering in the latter part of 1914, the days of
civil aviation and experimentation were numbered. Soon after the
outbreak of war, civil flying was seriously restricted, with only a few
exceptions. It was military flying and the training of pilots with
consequent evolving of aircraft for wartime purposes, which led the
development of aviation over the next five years.