The retirement of the Southern Cross got off to a false start on 8 July 1930, less than two years after the epic trans-Pacific flight, when Smithy flew the aeroplane from Oakland to Santa Maria, California to return the Southern Cross to Captain G. Allan Hancock, the generous benefactor who had funded the acquisition of the aeroplane for the Pacific flight. In those two years, Smithy had flown the Southern Cross around the world, finishing up at Oakland from where the first Pacific flight had begun. The San Pedro News Pilot of 8 July 1930 reported that the aircraft was to become "a permanent gift to the Hancock Foundation School of Aeronautics."


San Pedro News Pilot
8 July 1930

The Los Angeles Daily News of the same date reported that "a crowd of more than 10,000 persons cheered as the Southern Cross swooped from the skies for an easy landing after a flight from Oakland." This publication reported the recipient institution as the "Hancock Institute of Aeronautics".

The King City Rustler of 11 July 1930 reported that the aircraft landed at Santa Maria at 12.15pm on Tuesday 8 July. Smithy gave a short talk to the assembled spectators, claiming that he was the only aviator to land in Southern California with such a heavy load. He went on to explain that the heavy load was his debt of $16,000 owed to Captain Hancock for funding the purchase of the Southern Cross. After the speeches, the aircraft was "wheeled into a shed ... never to take the air again but to remain upon exhibit at the Hancock Foundation of College Aeronautics" adding yet another variation of the name of the new custodian. Some newspapers reported that the Southern Cross had a black fuselage and silver wings and Smithy was variously reported as a Wing Commander, Lieutenant Colonel, Major and Captain.

Although all the contemporary press reports suggested that the Southern Cross was destined for retirement in a museum, Ted Wixted described the transaction between Smithy and Captain Hancock as a more gentlemanly arrangement; "Conscious that Hancock was the source of his triumphs, he quite properly offered the Southern Cross back to him. In his turn Captain Hancock graciously acknowledged the gesture, and insisted that the aircraft should remain the property of Kingsford Smith. Honour was satisfied."

By the end of 1930 there had been a change of plans. The Lompoc Review of 16 December 1930 reported; "Hancock to Return Southern Cross to People of Sydney." It was also revealed that a deal to preserve the Southern Cross at the Smithsonian Institution had fallen through. The Southern Cross would be flown from Santa Maria to San Francisco on Sunday 21 December to be "knocked down" for shipping to Australia. It is not recorded who piloted the aircraft but clearly it could not have been Smithy. On 10 December he was in Melbourne getting married to Mary Powell!

On 10 January 1931, the San Pedro News Pilot reported that the S.S. Golden Bear had sailed from San Francisco on this day with the Southern Cross on board. The ship would load additional cargo at San Pedro before sailing for Sydney, Australia on Thursday 15 January.

The San Francisco Examiner reported the departure of the Southern Cross in most elegant fashion as recorded in Smithy's biography (Source: 2):

It will take 26 days to cover what those roaring Whirlwind motors accomplished in 88 hours. There will be no gallant conquest of the darkness now; no tempestuous storm to encounter, no lashing gales and no cheering throngs -— just a crowded place in the hold of a crawling tramp steamer. The dauntless path-finder that kings and presidents acclaimed -— now a lonely old crate -— follows its master home.

Thus was set in train a sequence of events that suggest that while the Southern Cross was universally loved, nobody wanted to be responsible for it.


Lompoc Review
16 December 1930
San Pedro News Pilot
10 January 1931


Contrary to contemporary press reports, the Southern Cross was not immediately destined for another museum in Australia. Indeed, as recorded in his biography, Smithy was "very glad to have the old bus back at Mascot." After the aircraft arrived in Sydney it was reassembled and test flown by Smithy on 3 April 1931 and immediately put to work on the search for ANA's Avro Ten VH-UMF Southern Cloud which had gone missing on 21 March. Sadly the aircraft was not to be found in Smithy's lifetime. The Southern Cross was to take the place of her lost sister as an airliner in the A.N.A. fleet.

Later in April, the Southern Cross was again pressed into service to rescue the England-Australia mail from an Imperial Airways aircraft that had crashed at Koepang. Indeed it was anything but retirement for the Southern Cross which was put to work barnstorming, by providing thousands of Australians with their first flight with no less a pilot than their idol Smithy. The aircraft also operated two airmail services across the Tasman with further barnstorming in New Zealand.

In September and October of 1934, the Southern Cross was tasked on an arduous geophysical survey of northern Australia flown by Pat Hall and Harry Purvis.

In May 1935, the Southern Cross was called upon to operate one more trans-Tasman airmail flight to celebrate the Jubilee of King George V. While well out over the Tasman Sea, part of the exhaust manifold of the centre engine carried away, smashing the propeller of the starboard engine which had to be shut down. The aircraft managed to return to Sydney but only because of Smithy's superior flying skills and his empathy with his 'Old Bus' and because of the bravery of P.G. Taylor who transferred oil between engines in flight.

With other plans pressing on his mind, Smithy probably concluded that his 'Old Bus' had done enough and it was finally time for her to retire for good.


One can almost sense the exhaustion in the cockpit as the Southern Cross limps across the fence at Mascot on 16 May 1935 after the aborted Jubilee Mail flight. The starboard engine is shut down and the tip of the propeller is splintered. Picture: Civil Aviation Historical Society - Len Dobbin Collection


This rare item is part of the last commercial payload carried by the Southern Cross. Although the mail was reluctantly jettisoned to save the aircraft and its crew, one mail bag containing this flown cover was overlooked. This cover is signed by John Stannage, the radio operator on the flight. It carries the additional inscription; "Saved on Jubilee Flight 1935".Source: Phil Vabre Collection


Special thanks to Mick Raftery for researching this page and
to Phil Vabre for supplying the above images.


Wixted, Edward P., 1927-2001 The Life and Times of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith: An Illustrated Chronology, self published, 1996.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, My Flying Life, Andrew Melrose Ltd., 1937.



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