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Charles Kingsford Smith, Pioneer Aviator (1897-1935)

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith

Image: Sir Charles Kingsford Smith

Source: Museum Victoria

Charles Kingsford-Smith - 'Smithy' - was born in Queensland on 9 February 1897. At the age of thirteen he began studying mechanics and electrical engineering at Sydney Technical College and became a keen motorbike rider. At 18 he joined the AIF and landed at Gallipoli. He also served in Egypt and France. While in France he was one of 140 men selected to train for the Royal Flying Corps. It was a life-changing experience, and he excelled, winning a Military Cross for bravery in action. His days as a war pilot ended when he was shot in the foot and lost three toes.

Following the War Smithy started an air service in northern England with a fellow pilot. He then worked in America as a stunt pilot in Hollywood. It was dangerous work, and when another pilot was killed in 1921 he returned to Australia.

With Charles Ulm he flew around Australia in 11 days, and then set his sights upon being the first to fly across the Pacific Ocean. With borrowed and donated money he went to America, bought a Fokker plane and named it 'Southern Cross'. On 31 May 1928, he, co-pilot Ulm, navigator Harry Lyon and radio operator James Warner set off from San Francisco. They flew from Oakland, USA to Brisbane in record time. Three hundred thousand people greeted them when they flew into Sydney.

Smithy contined to break records. In 1930, at the age of 32, he flew 16,000 kilometres single-handedly from England to Australia. Two weeks later he married Mary Powell and later had a son, Charles. In 1933, after again breaking the record for solo flight from England to Australia, he was named the world's greatest pilot.

Kingsford-Smith continued to make record-breaking flights, and on the last of these lost his life. He left England on 6 November 1935 with Tommy Pethybridge on what was to be his last record-breaking attempt. The plane disappeared over the Bay of Bengal on 9 November and has never been found.

References:
Carlisle, L.J. Australian Commemorative Medals and Medalets from 1788, p.157
ABC web site http://www.abc.net.au/btn/australians/cksmith.htm

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