yes, but it's not the same as it was when it flew the Pacific
in 1928. All aeroplanes undergo changes and modifications during
their service lives but few aeroplanes worked as hard as the
Southern Cross during her comparitively short nine years
The aeroplane was built in Holland in 1926 as a Fokker F.VII-3m
(retrospectively redesignated F.VIIb-3m by Fokker in 1928) with
the Constructor's Number of 4954. The aircraft was then dismantled
and shipped to the United States where it was reassembled by
the Fokker subsidiary company Atlantic Aircraft Corporation
and delivered to the Australian explorer Hubert Wilkins (Sir
Hubert from June 1928) for an expedition to the North Pole.
Wilkins also acquired a single-engined Fokker F.VIIa and both
aircraft were shipped to Alaska for the polar expedition. Wilkins
named the F.VIIb-3m Detroiter and the F.VIIa Alaskan.
The expedition was abandoned when, in separate accidents, the
undercarriage of the F.VIIb-3m was damaged and the F.VIIa broke
its wing. A composite of the F.VIIa fuselage and F.VIIb-3m wing
was test flown but its performance was found to be unsatisfactory.
This gave rise in later years to the mistaken belief that the
Southern Cross was a hybrid aircraft. This theory is
disproved by the existence of the fuselage of the F.VIIa Alaskan
in the museum of the State Historical Society in Bismarck, North
Dakota. Both aircraft were shipped to Boeing in Seattle for
repairs but the broken wing of the F.VIIa was abandoned in Alaska.
During the repairs at Boeing in October 1927, the fuselage of
the F.VIIb-3m was refitted with its original wing.
After the aircraft was sold to Kingsford Smith, Anderson and
Ulm, it was delivered to the Douglas Aircraft Company at Santa
Monica for modifications which included the fitment of additional
fuel tanks. The original Fokker rudder with a curved trailing
edge was modified with a squared off trailing edge to provide
more rudder area. At this time the fuselage was painted light
blue such as was then being used on U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft.
On 31 October 1927, the aircraft was issued with the Identification
Number 1985 which was not a formal U.S. registration because
the aeroplane was by definition "Unlicensed". At this
time the aircraft was fitted with two-bladed Micarta propellers
with blades composed of fabric impregnated with phenolic resin
and cured under high temperature and pressure.
On 4 July 1928, after the Pacific flight, the Identification
Number 1985 gave way to the formal registration G-AUSU as Australian
civil aircraft were then identified with the British nationality
marking G and the registration beginning with AU. With the adoption
of Australia's own nationality marking VH in 1931, the Southern
Cross became VH-USU.
These changes of identity were just the beginning. Many modifications
took place after the aircraft arrived in Australia and these
are just a few of them:
propellers were replaced with wooden propellers.
engine was replaced.
Hamilton Standard metal propeller was fitted to the centre
wedge-shaped engine nacelles were replaced by conical units.
was converted to an airliner with the addition of a passenger
door on the left hand side and a baggage door on the right
windows were extended over the full length of the cabin.
exhaust pipes went through several design changes.
generators were removed.
was broken and repaired twice.
was completely overhauled by Fokker in Holland.
So she's not quite as compromised as Grandfather's Axe
(which is all original except for two new heads and three new
handles) but she's not the way she was when she flew the Pacific.
Surprisingly though, two of her three Wright Whirlwinds are
the same engines that carried her across the Pacific. The control
wheels are the same controls that came under the hands of Sir
Charles Kingsford Smith. The struts from the fuselage to the
engines are the same struts that came under the feet of Sir
Gordon Taylor while he transferred oil between engines in flight,
earning a George Medal in the process.
When the aeroplane was overhauled in 1958 prior to going on
display, it was probably thought reasonable and appropriate
to present the aircraft as it was for the Pacific flight in
1928. With the hindsight of 63 years it might have been more
appropriate to restore the aeroplane as it was and not as something
that it wasn't. There is an old saying that "you can't
go back" and indeed this is often so when it comes to museum
restorations. An attempt to turn back the clock often results
in the destruction of part of the exhibit that is historic in
its own right.
Today the aeroplane carries the identity 1985 which is meaningless
to most observers, even those familiar with methods of identifying
aircraft. Usually they will attempt to equate it to a year which
is equally meaningless. We now know that 1985 wasn't even a
proper American registration. It was merely a means of identifying
an aeroplane that was by definition "unlicensed".
For the Pacific flight, the Southern Cross was painted a lighter
shade of blue whereas it is now painted Royal Blue which is
actually more appropriate to its time in Australia as VH-USU.
The wind-driven generators on the sides of the fuselage are
actually non-functional replicas. The extra doors and windows
are still there but covered by a layer of fabric.
When it comes time for the next restoration, it is hoped that
those who are charged with the custodianship of this national
treasure will consider restoring the aeroplane to the form in
which it was known to thousands of Australians and New Zealanders
who flew with Smithy when the Southern Cross was better
known as VH-USU.
* Australian colloquialism
for real or genuine.
Edward P., 1927-2001 The Life and Times of Sir Charles Kingsford
Smith: An Illustrated Chronology, self published, 1996.
Commercial Aircraft, published by Fokker, 1994.
Rogers and E.C. Howes, Vintage Aeroplanes No. 11 The Southern
Cross, Aircraft, Australia, June 1958
Cookson, The Historic Civil Aircraft Register of Australia
(Pre War) G-AUAA to VH-UZZ, AustAirData, 1996
Jackson, Southern Cross, Air Pictorial, U.K., April 1966.
Molson, Curator, National Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Canada. Letter
to Air Pictorial magazine refuting the hybrid theory expressed
in Source: 4.
J778, VH-USU PART 2, Series number: J778.
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