Absolutely 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 in service.

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:

  • Micarta propellers were replaced with wooden propellers.

  • Centre engine was replaced.

  • Three-bladed Hamilton Standard metal propeller was fitted to the centre engine.

  • Original wedge-shaped engine nacelles were replaced by conical units.

  • Aircraft was converted to an airliner with the addition of a passenger door on the left hand side and a baggage door on the right hand side.

  • Cabin windows were extended over the full length of the cabin.

  • Engine exhaust pipes went through several design changes.

  • Wind-driven generators were removed.

  • Wing was broken and repaired twice.

  • Aircraft 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.

 

SOURCES
1
Wixted, Edward P., 1927-2001 The Life and Times of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith: An Illustrated Chronology, self published, 1996.
2
Fokker Commercial Aircraft, published by Fokker, 1994.
3
F.D. Rogers and E.C. Howes, Vintage Aeroplanes No. 11 The Southern Cross, Aircraft, Australia, June 1958
4
Bert Cookson, The Historic Civil Aircraft Register of Australia (Pre War) G-AUAA to VH-UZZ, AustAirData, 1996
5
A.J. Jackson, Southern Cross, Air Pictorial, U.K., April 1966.
6
K.M. Molson, Curator, National Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Canada. Letter to Air Pictorial magazine refuting the hybrid theory expressed in Source: 4.
7
NAA: J778, VH-USU PART 2, Series number: J778.

 

 

 


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