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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
a four-day overhaul of the Altair prior to the race start.
- Obtain final
and organise his ground crews.
- Procure petrol
and oil supplies.
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."
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."
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."
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
Controller of Civil Aviation sent the following message to the District
"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
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.
test flight from Archerfield over Moreton Bay revealed that a power
setting of 1600rpm produced the desired range.
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.
Altair was ferried from Albert Park to Naselai Beach where a longer
takeoff run was available.
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.
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.
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
from Wheeler Field, Hawaii.
Oakland, California at 0740 local time. Later the same day, Smithy
and Taylor flew the Altair to the Lockheed factory at Burbank.
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."
Repair Order #217specified:|
The last item is
particularly significant, because it will be remembered that the inadvertent
lowering of the flaps almost had disastrous consequences during the
- 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.
Repair Order #228 specified:|
- Check landing
- Remove wing
to fuselage fairings and ascertain if possible cause of oil tank
Lockheed IDC from Carl B. Squier (and initialled by Von Hake) to the
"Please prepare and have Mr. Headle fly this ship to Union Air Terminal
for dead storage."
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".
Australian Certificate of Registration and Certificate of Airworthiness
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."
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."
Lockheed IDC signed by Carl B. Squier stated:|
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.
- 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.
(It is assumed that the term "snaked over" refers to towing with ropes
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
"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."
Lockheed IDC specified:|
"The entire top side of Altair wing is to be covered with Aurora Fabric.
Use pinked tape at splices in fabric."
letter from John Stannage to A/Controller Civil Aviation read (in
"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
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."
telegram from "Kingsmith" (presumably Stannage) to Civil Aviation
"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
Lockheed IDC signed by Carl B. Squier specified:|
- Repair tachometer
- Make up curtain
for inside of cockpit top for front cockpit.
undated and barely legible hand-written Repair Order stated:|
'Cut 2" off seat tank front cockpit.'
or about this date, the Altair was damaged while Smithy was making
a difficult cross-wind landing at the Lockheed factory.
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
Lockheed IDC signed by Ronald P. King stated:|
Repair as follows where necessary:
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.
airplane, inspect and check parts.
- Replace spar
blocking and caps as required.
- Patch wing
nose, recover bottom of left wing, rebuild wheel wells, install
- Paint patches
on wing, touch up as needed.
- Repair flap,
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
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:
Manifold pressure gauge now installed in ship.
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.
flew the Altair from Burbank, Los Angeles to Chicago en route to New
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