VH-USB "Lady Southern Cross" (Part 3)

 

Link to Part 1 118W Sirius Times (pre-Smithy)
Link to Part 2 VH-USB On to the Australian Register
This is Part 3 VH-USB The Air Race and the Pacific Flight
Link to Part 4 G-ADUS On to the British Register







Type: Altair 8D Special
Msn: 152
Identities:

NR118W Sirius 8A Hutchinson
NC118W Sirius 8 Special Fleming
X118W Altair 8D Special Kingsford Smith
VH-USB Altair 8D Special Kingsford Smith
G-ADUS Altair 8D Special Kingsford Smith











History:

29SEP34 Smithy and P.G. Taylor departed Sydney in the Altair on their way to London to compete in the Centenary Air Race. Although Smithy was hoping to reach Darwin in one day, they were delayed by a dust storm at Cloncurry where they stayed overnight. Also passing through Cloncurry was the famous Fokker FVIIB-3m VH-USU "Southern Cross" which was being flown on a geological survey by Harry Purvis, who was also a skilled engineer. Smithy asked Harry Purvis to check the Altair's engine and during his examination he discovered that the cowling was cracking at many of the rivet holes. Consequently, it was decided that they must return to Sydney for repairs.
30SEP34 The Altair departed Cloncurry for Sydney but was again delayed overnight by a dust storm, this time at Roma. Newspaper reports stated that "he is taking the precaution of landing at nearly every aerodrome on the way for a few minutes to examine the cowling." It was also reported that the Altair was "compelled to loaf along at a mere 125 miles an hour."
01OCT34 The Altair departed for Archerfield (Brisbane). As the condition of the cowling had not deteriorated on the trip from Roma, Smithy decided to fly non-stop from Brisbane to Sydney. On arrival in Sydney, the damaged cowling was immediately removed and taken to the workshop of Messrs Holder and Stroud where it was used to make a former for the new cowling. Commenting on the cracks to the cowling, Wing Commander Wackett (aeronautical engineer and adviser to Smithy) was quoted in the press as saying: "This is obviously a case of fatigue. It did not happen in Queensland, but has been working up for some time. After all, the plane has done a good deal of work lately." The cowling was also found to have a large dent in the underside and this was attributed to a possible birdstrike. Some press reports stated that the replacement cowling was being made from steel but this is probably attributable to problems encountered with replacement attachment brackets which were ultimately fabricated from steel by Wackett and Tommy Pethybridge.
02OCT34 Newspaper reports stated that Smithy had decided to postpone his departure until the morning of Thursday 4th October owing to ongoing difficulties with the replacement cowling. Newspaper reports also stated: "The repairs effected to the plane were a triumph for Australian engineering. It was the biggest job ever undertaken by the firm, and the expedition with which the work was handled was a subject of favourable comment by the aviator."
03OCT34 Although Holder and Stroud had engaged additional staff and worked around the clock to repair the cowling, it became apparent that the work would not be completed in time for the Altair to reach England by the race deadline and Smithy sent the following telegram to the secretary of the Race Committee in Melbourne:

"Deeply regret, account delays and difficulties completing job, unable participate Centenary Air Race. Please accept this as formal withdrawal, coupled with sincerest good wishes for winner and safe carrying-out of most spectacular air race in history of aviation."

Although there was speculation that Smithy might be granted a dispensation from the October 14 race deadline, the reality of the task facing him, as reported in the press, was that he must:
  • Break the Australia to England record just to reach the starting line.
  • Supervise a four-day overhaul of the Altair prior to the race start.
  • Obtain final clearances.
  • Rehearse and organise his ground crews.
  • Procure petrol and oil supplies.
03OCT34 Smithy sent the following telegram to Civil Aviation in Melbourne:

"In spite terrific endeavours impossible complete job in time participate race stop Deeply regret wasted trouble and appreciate departmental efforts to facilitate my previous plans stop Will appreciate few weeks extension time machine allowed Australia until decision made as to disposal of same."
04OCT34 The District Superintendent of Civil Aviation sent the following message to the Controller of Civil Aviation:
"Reference VH USB Customs Branch Sydney advises that Kingsford Smith should apply that branch for permission retain machine this country after 16th October. Customs Branch will probably ask views of this branch re airworthiness certificate."
05OCT34 Civil Aviation, Melbourne sent the following telegram to Smithy:
"Very much regret hear you unable participate air race and appreciate your thanks departmental efforts stop Question extension time machine allowed Australia should be taken up direct with Customs."
05OCT34 It was announced in a Sydney newspaper that Smithy was planning to fly the Altair across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the United States where he planned to sell it in order to repay his backers. The flight was also intended as a face-saving exercise, although advice from the Australian authorities that the Altair's special category CofA would be revoked was another factor. For this flight, additional long range tanks were designed and installed by the noted Australian aeronautical engineer Lawrence Wackett (later Sir Lawrence).
Analysis of the Fuel Tanks
Quotes from P.G. Taylor's book
09OCT34 The Controller of Civil Aviation sent the following message to the District Superintendent, Mascot:
"Signal immediately available details extra tankage weights etc. proposed for Pacific flight USB."
The reply from DSCA was sent on 10th October 1934 and can be viewed here.
19OCT34 Smithy and P.G. Taylor departed Sydney for Archerfield, Brisbane from where their trans-Pacific flight was to commence. After arrival at Archerfield it emerged that the planned long range power setting (1700rpm) was producing excessive fuel consumption. Under these circumstances the Altair would not have the range for the Fiji to Honolulu leg. Departure for Fiji was postponed pending further testing.
20OCT34 A test flight from Archerfield over Moreton Bay revealed that a power setting of 1600rpm produced the desired range.
21OCT34 The Altair departed Archerfield, Brisbane for Suva, Fiji flown by Smithy with P.G. Taylor as navigator and co-pilot. Aircraft landed at Albert Park in Suva.
24OCT34 The Altair was ferried from Albert Park to Naselai Beach where a longer takeoff run was available.
24OCT34 Takeoff from Naselai Beach was aborted when a crosswind forced the aircraft into the water. The aeroplane was recovered to higher ground without damage to await improved conditions.
29OCT34 The aircraft finally departed Naselai Beach for Hawaii. While cruising at 15,000 feet in heavy rain and turbulence, the Altair entered a spin from which it was not recovered until 6,000 feet. While still struggling to maintain altitude at full throttle, Smithy discovered what had caused the sudden loss of control. To assess the strength of the rain, which it was feared might be eroding the leading edge of the wooden wing, Smithy had been periodically turning on the landing lights and in so doing he had apparently inadvertently moved the switch for lowering the flaps. (See 20DEC34 - Lockheed Repair Order #217). The Altair subsequently became the first foreign registered aircraft to land in Hawaii.
30OCT34 During a short flight from Wheeler Field, it emerged that there was a leak in the fuel system. Indeed, the Altair had to be refuelled before it could taxy in after landing! Although the leak was traced to the twenty gallon tank under the pilot's seat, it was decided to bypass the tank as it would not be required for the comparatively short hop to the mainland. However, a subsequent investigation by USAAC engineers also disclosed a crack in the oil tank. In lifting the fuselage from the wing to gain access, it was furthermore discovered that the main fuel tank had been chafing on a bolt head which had worn part of the tank paper thin. Repairs were completed to the highest standards by the USAAC engineers at no cost. This drew much praise from Smithy and Taylor.
03NOV34 Departed from Wheeler Field, Hawaii.
04NOV34 Arrived Oakland, California at 0740 local time. Later the same day, Smithy and Taylor flew the Altair to the Lockheed factory at Burbank.
14NOV34 A Lockheed IDC from Carl B. Squier to the Factory stated:
"Please run a thorough inspection on this ship, with special emphasis on the landing gear, cowling, tank installation, etc. Two new tires are coming from Mines Field on the Electra. Please see that these are installed on the above ship. Place the two tires removed, and all other personal belongings of Sir Charles, tagged in his name, in the stock room."
20DEC34 Lockheed Repair Order #217specified:
  • Have motor given a 20 hour check.
  • Check cowling ring and legs - holes elongated.
  • Drain both right and left gas tanks and check for amount of gas in each side.
  • Change flap control switch from front to rear of electric panel.
The last item is particularly significant, because it will be remembered that the inadvertent lowering of the flaps almost had disastrous consequences during the Pacific flight.
02JAN35 Lockheed Repair Order #228 specified:
  • Check landing gear wobble.
  • Remove wing to fuselage fairings and ascertain if possible cause of oil tank leak.
07JAN35 A Lockheed IDC from Carl B. Squier (and initialled by Von Hake) to the Factory specified:
"Please prepare and have Mr. Headle fly this ship to Union Air Terminal for dead storage."
28JAN35 Smithy returned to Sydney on the S.S. Monterey, having left the Altair in the care of Lockheed at Burbank in the U.S. During an interview at Honolulu, Smithy revealed that he had obtained the Australian agency for Lockheed aircraft which he intended to manufacture under licence in Australia. From the sale of his business, Smithy was able to repay his debtors including the promoter of the Centenary Air Race, Sir Macpherson Robertson, who had donated 5,000 to Smithy to enable him to acquire a suitable aeroplane for the race. (Although Sir Macpherson Robertson claimed that his contribution had been intended as a donation, Smithy apparently felt compelled to repay the 5,000.) Thus Smithy took full title to the "Lady Southern Cross".
20JUN35 The Australian Certificate of Registration and Certificate of Airworthiness were cancelled.
28JUN35 John Stannage (Smithy's representative in Sydney) wrote to A/Controller of Civil Aviation:
"Sir Charles has asked me to thank you for your letter ref. C.C.A. 3362 of June 20th. I have enclosed herewith Certificate of Registration and Certificate of Airworthiness as required. Sir Charles has already taken steps to ensure that the U.S. Bureau of Commerce will be able to issue a Certificate of Airworthiness for export of the "Altair" to the United Kingdom. The machine will be shipped to England, and it is hoped that under the reciprocal agreement it will not be difficult to have the certificate validated by the British Air Ministry. As the machine will quite conceivably be back in Australia by the end of October next, would it be possible for the registration letters VH-USB, to be retained for use when a new Certificate of Airworthiness is issued in Australia."
05JUL35 The A/Controller of Civil Aviation replied to Stannage:
"I have to advise you that a registration marking once allotted to an aircraft is never re-allotted to another machine, and therefore the marking VH-USB will be retained for the Altair."
15JUL35 A Lockheed IDC signed by Carl B. Squier stated:
  • Request Pratt & Whitney's engineer to thoroughly overhaul the motor, paying particular attention to the condition thereof, and also to give some special attention to the altitude control on the carburetor, with which this customer has had considerable trouble owing to its super sensitivity and its inclination therefore to adjust itself to an incorrect mixture while in flight.
  • Remove the extra wing tanks which were installed in Australia, but leave the seat tank in and fit a comfortable back to the latter.
  • Check all tanks for leakage. This customer believes the oil tank has spring a leak in Honolulu.
  • Change the landing gear leg on the starboard side, or else ascertain why present leg (which was strained in Australia) is causing the starboard side of undercarriage to shimmy violently when making a tail high takeoff with a heavy load.
  • Pay particular attention to rebuilt engine cowling and minutely inspect for cracks or loose rivets. This customer believes that the steel brackets which he fitted in Australia are more satisfactory than our dural ones, and would recommend that they be left.
  • If possible, render wheel brakes more effective, as this has been a constant source of trouble.
  • The electric gauges for gas in the cockpit are not very effective and it is possible this customer would like them checked for accuracy.
  • The hydraulic gear for the undercarriage was leaking thru the top valve and may need re-seating.
  • General and pretty thorough checkover with particular attention to all cable controls and others.
This airplane will not be flown from Union Air Terminal, but should be snaked over by the same method as it was delivered to Union Air. Constant trouble has been encountered with all of the gas tanks and oil tank in this particular airplane. When the wing is removed from the fuselage and all tanks are out, thoroughly inspect and repair, using extreme caution during their re-installation.
(It is assumed that the term "snaked over" refers to towing with ropes or cables).
05AUG35 A Lockheed IDC signed by Carl B. Squier to Lockheed's Accounting and Shipping Departments stated:
With reference to the boat shipment of this airplane from New York to London, we are in receipt of the following from Fenchurch Export Corp.:
"Referring again to your letter of July 15th, in connection with the proposed shipment from New York to London of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's Lockheed Altair airplane, we have been quoted a lump price of $1300.00, New York to London, barge shipside, plus $250.00 which will be the cost for placing the plane on a New York barge at the airport and towing to shipside. The plane will be shipped in a similar manner as when shipped from Los Angeles to Sydney last summer, that is, without disassembling (set up and carried on deck); shipment to be made to London by freight steamer sailing about September 1st. This is a very good rate, particularly so when we inform you that the passenger liners all quoted a lump price of $2000.00 plus the $250.00 for barging. We are sending Sir Charles a copy of this letter and shall await your further advices with interest."
14AUG35 A Lockheed IDC specified:
"The entire top side of Altair wing is to be covered with Aurora Fabric. Use pinked tape at splices in fabric."
16AUG35 A letter from John Stannage to A/Controller Civil Aviation read (in part):
"The following is the extract from the cable which I received from Sir Charles in Los Angeles today, and is more or less self explanatory:
'Altair fuselage not convertible to Orion stop Impossible obtain export licence for present Altair stop Could fly machine to Australia then Lockheeds will ship complete Orion fuselage to replace existing fuselage and would issue statement to effect that if our conversion in Australia faithfully follows their detailed instructions machine would be standard approved Orion also all parts final complete assembled aeroplane will have Department of Commerce approval tags.'
From my recent visit to the Lockheed factory and my present knowledge of the situation I gather that the Altair "Lady Southern Cross" cannot obtain a Department of Commerce licence because of the extra tanks in the machine, and because of the 14-1 supercharger. Further, as you know, Sir Charles intends to remove the tanks and replace the 14-1 supercharger with the standard 12-1 upon his arrival in Australia. He had hoped to be able to convert the present fuselage so as to make the machine into an Orion. I can quite understand that the American Department of Commerce cannot see their way clear to grant a Certificate of Airworthiness to a fuselage which is to be converted into a totally different type. However if a brand new fuselage is fitted to the machine, of an approved type with the Department of Commerce approval tags attached, this would make the machine eligible for a British Certificate of Airworthiness, under the reciprocal agreement now existing between England and the U.S.A. Whether this could be, in this exceptional case, issued in Australia is a matter for your decision. I should be greatly obliged if you could give me a definite ruling by telegram as early as possible so that I can forward the information on to Sir Charles."
19AUG35 A telegram from Civil Aviation to John Stannage read:
"Reference your letter sixteenth Kingsford Smiths Lockheed must comply Customs proclamation to permit importation Australia see my letter twentieth June therefore essential obtain American Certificate Airworthiness for Export United Kingdom before machine leaves America stop Importation complete Orion fuselage without validated Certificate Airworthiness considered infringement Customs requirement stop Suggest fitment Orion fuselage and any other modifications required be done in America and proper American Certificate obtained for aircraft as Orion model stop This certificate with necessary inspection record and weight schedule should ensure validation by Air Ministry and subsequent importation Australia stop Machine could not be registered England for Australian flight unless accompanied proper airworthiness documents."
22AUG35 A telegram from "Kingsmith" (presumably Stannage) to Civil Aviation read:
"Could you reissue Altairs special Australian Certificate of Airworthiness recently returned to you for cancellation stop By airmail this would reach Kingsmith England enable him fly Altair to Australia October he is committed make nationally important goodwill flight Japan January and can dispose of machine there stop This would make Altair temporary visitor Australia."
23AUG35 A Lockheed IDC signed by Carl B. Squier specified:
  • Repair tachometer adapter.
  • Make up curtain for inside of cockpit top for front cockpit.
AUG35 An undated and barely legible hand-written Repair Order stated:
'Cut 2" off seat tank front cockpit.'
23AUG35 On or about this date, the Altair was damaged while Smithy was making a difficult cross-wind landing at the Lockheed factory.
26AUG35 A telegram from Civil Aviation to Kingsmith read:
"American Certificate Airworthiness validated by ICAN country must be obtained before Lockheed can secure entry Australia or reissue Australian registration stop In any case reissue Australian airworthiness cannot be expected if machine cannot pass requirements for issue American certificate stop My letter 20th June explained fully reasons for cancelling Australian certificate and procedure necessary to secure re-entry Australia."
27AUG35 A Lockheed IDC signed by Ronald P. King stated:
Repair as follows where necessary:
  • Disassemble airplane, inspect and check parts.
  • Replace spar blocking and caps as required.
  • Patch wing nose, recover bottom of left wing, rebuild wheel wells, install tank covers.
  • Paint patches on wing, touch up as needed.
  • Repair flap, and install.
  • Straighten landing fairings, and install.
  • Repair and install all landing gear parts and landing gear.
  • Install landing light lens, new pitot tube, new landing gear cables; repair and install rear hoist cylinder; do necessary wiring and plumbing, make other repairs and adjustments as required.
  • Have propeller checked and straightened.
  • Have altimeter repaired.
Sir Charles advises that Goodrich will furnish him, without charge, tires and tubes. If this is true, we should endeavour to get same free of charge. If his mechanic is on hand, I believe he can attend to the details.
28AUG35 A Lockheed IDC signed by Ronald P. King stated:
  • Install one air scoop assembly #36540.
  • Install two hot air muffs on present collector ring.
  • Install two hot air inlets to muffs.
  • Install cold air inlet tube to air scoop.
  • Install carburetor air temperature bulb and gauge.
  • Install outside air temperature gauge on wing trailing edge.
  • Install extra manifold pressure gauge in rear instrument board.
  • Send the following instruments down to Pacific Scientific for calibration:
    Both altimeters.
    Manifold pressure gauge now installed in ship.
29AUG35 The final Lockheed document supplied is an IDC signed by Harvey Christen (Production and Planning) which stated:
OX 394-19 Replace electrical conduit and wiring in wing wherever damaged.
OX 394-20 Install master switch in wing fairing.
15SEP35 Smithy flew the Altair from Burbank, Los Angeles to Chicago en route to New York.
17SEP35 Smithy flew the Altair from Chicago to New York where it was loaded on the M.V. Dalhem bound for London where Smithy hoped to have the Altair's U.S. CofA validated by the U.K. authorities and thus rendered acceptable in Australia.

 

Link to Part 1 118W Sirius Times (pre-Smithy)
Link to Part 2 VH-USB On to the Australian Register
This is Part 3 VH-USB The Air Race and the Pacific Flight
Link to Part 4 G-ADUS On to the British Register

NOTES AND ABBREVIATIONS
CCA Controller of Civil Aviation (Captain E.C. Johnston during this period)
CofA Certificate of Airworthiness
CofR Certificate of Registration
DSCA District Superintendent of Civil Aviation
ICAN International Commission on Aerial Navigation
IDC Inter-Departmental Communication (Lockheed memo)
KINGSMITH Telegraphic address for Kingsford Smith Air Service Ltd., Mascot
NACA National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (USA)
Smithy Although his full title is Air Commodore Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Kt, M.C., A.F.C., the popular name bestowed upon him by the Australian people is widely used throughout these pages, not only for brevity, but also with affection. Note that Kingsford Smith should not be hyphenated, although this variation does appear in some direct quotations appearing on these pages.

 

Issue Date Remarks
11 14DEC02
Added much new material extracted from Lockheed archives by Birch Matthews and from the National Archives of Australia by Trevor Boughton.

 

REFERENCES

  • "Pacific Flight"
    P.G. Taylor (Angus and Robertson 1935)

  • "The Search for the Lady Southern Cross"
    E.P. (Ted) Wixted (Published privately 1991)

  • "The Life and Times of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith"
    E.P. (Ted) Wixted (Published privately 1996)

  • "The Civil Aircraft Registers of Great Britain 1919-1985"
    John Appleton (TAHS 1986)

  • "The Historic Civil Aircraft Register of Australia (Pre War) G-AUAA to VH-UZZ"
    Bert Cookson (AustAirData 1996)

  • "Revolution in the Sky "
    Richard Sanders Allen (The Stephen Greene Press 1967)

  • "Lockheed Aircraft since 1913"
    Rene J. Francillon (Putnam 1987)

  • "The Lady Southern Cross"
    Monty Tyrrell (Aviation Historical Society of Australia Journal October 1965)

  • "Aviation Heritage - The Centenary Air Race" Vol 24 No 1 & 2
    (Aviation Historical Society of Australia 1985)

  • Lockheed Archives
    via Birch Matthews

  • National Archives of Australia Series: MP 113/1 Item: VH/USB
    via Trevor Boughton


 

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