Round Australia in 22 Days: 1924 Style
by Roger Meyer
The first flight around Australia was in a seaplane, and was achieved by RAAF officers Goble and McIntyre in a Fairey IIID. The trip began at Point Cook, Victoria, on 6 April 1924 and concluded 44 days later. The duo covered 8,450 miles in 93 hours flying time.
The purpose of this story, however, is to relate a flight which occurred just weeks later; the first round-Australia trip in a landplane. This remarkable flight was achieved by three Civil Aviation Branch (CAB) officers while on official business.
The flight was made for practical reasons. The first was to survey aerodromes and aerial routes, particularly to link Darwin to Perth, and Darwin to Melbourne. The second main objective was to test the efficiency of the De Havilland DH-50 aircraft on long distance cross-country flights. The contractors of three mail and passenger services, Western Australian Airways Ltd., Q.A.N.T.A.S., and Larkin Aircraft Supply Co Ltd had all ordered the DH50. Another purpose of the flight, then, was to give practical demonstrations of the aircraft to contractors staff both at terminal and intermediate aerodromes.
The crew comprised three members of the CAB. Lt Col H.C. Brinsmead OBE, MC and Controller of Civil Aviation was leader of the expedition. Captain E.J. Jones MC, DFC the Superintendent of Flying Operations and Personnel piloted the aircraft, while Mr R.H. Buchanan, an assistant Superintendent of Engineering, was the mechanic. Click here to see a photo of the crew. Their aircraft was the CABs new DH50, registered G-AUAB, and powered by a 230 h.p. Puma engine. The aircraft provided cabin accommodation for four passengers, but the pilot remained in his traditional cockpit exposed to the elements.
|The CAB's DH50 G-AUAB. Click here to see a larger version of this photo.|
Mr Buchanan, a Scotsman, worked in the Charleville railway workshops for six years before enlisting in the AIF. His engineering ability was recognised during wartime service with the Australian Flying Corps, and the Civil Aviation Branch later secured his services. He ensured the maintenance of safety standards by Australian aircraft operators in that early pioneering era.
The start of the tour from Point Cook on the morning of 7 August 1924 was anything but a quiet affair. Mrs Brinsmead accompanied the Controller, while the pilot motored down from Melbourne with Mrs Jones, his parents and a brother. The engineer arrived solo, the Buchanans being residents of Charleville, Queensland. Mr D.S. Aarons and Mr W.H. Judd represented the Vacuum Oil Company, which was responsible for the fuelling arrangements. From the CAB came Captain F.W. Follett, Aircraft Inspector O.J. Howard and Captain S.H. Crawford, the Chief Clerk. The preliminaries were brief while kit and spares were being stowed aboard in small collapsible picnic hampers. Felix, a particularly hideous toy cat, was lashed to the main strut where he remained for the next 22 days.
Hurried farewells, Inspector Howard swung the prop. and at precisely 10.30 am the DH-50 left the ground and quickly disappeared in the direction of NSW, escorted by six RAAF machines which returned to the drome a few minutes later.
The trip was undertaken in three stages; Melbourne to Darwin, Darwin to Perth and Perth to Melbourne. On average, they travelled 250 miles each day with only one rest day during the entire trip of 22 days.
Aircraft magazine relates a typical day, 12 August, when the intrepid travellers covered 435 miles from Cloncurry, via Brunette Downs, to Camooweal.
was left at 7.55 am, the machine, heavily loaded, climbing to 3,800
ft in eight minutes at 1,200 r.p.m. For the first two hours the route
lay over mountainous country, opening out into vast stretches of Mitchell
grass. After passing Malbon, McGregor Junction and Dutchess, a course
was steered for Mount Isa, and the party looked back on the last railway
line they would see that side of Katherine.
Into the air again at 1.50pm and soon they passed over Barclay Tableland, Avon Downs, Armchair Bore and finally Brunette Downs, where a landing was made at 4.10. Here the party was welcomed by a carload of jackeroos from the homestead.
Work on the aircraft and engine occupied the next three hours. A visit was then paid to the homestead on the station owned by Mr D. Cotton, father of Major Sidney Cotton, R.A.F., who was the inventor of the "Sidcott" flying suit.
That evening thirteen sat down to an excellent dinner presided over by the station manager (Mr Coleman) and his wife. "The best dinner since leaving Melbourne!" remarked Colonel Brinsmead, with an air of appreciative reminiscence."
On another occasion they were the first air travellers to visit Wyndham, which Colonel Brinsmead described as "the most perfect aerodrome in Australia a flat claypan, perhaps nine miles long by three miles wide, and the surface so smooth that it might have been a parade ground for years."
The entire trip was quite without serious incident. In his diary Colonel Brinsmead recorded his appreciation of the crew. "Both Captain Jones and Inspector Buchanan have worked like Trojans and need restraining rather than driving. The one has not made a single bad landing and has never left the line [course], although some of the grounds have been filthy. The other is a wonder with an aero-engine and is as keen as mustard to get on with the job."
On conclusion of the flight the Air Council in London sent a cable to Colonel Brinsmead congratulating him "on your fine flight which will help air transport very considerably."