Vickers Vimy | State Library of New South Wales

Vickers Vimy

On 12 November 1919, Ross and Keith Smith, with mechanics Wally Shier and Jim Bennett, set out from Hounslow, near London, for Australia in a Vickers Vimy. Arriving 28 days later in Darwin, NT, they claimed the £10,000 prize offered by the Commonwealth Government for the first Australians to fly from England to Australia in less than 30 days.

Originally designed as a World War I bomber, the Vickers Vimy Mk IV never saw active service. Powered by twin Rolls Royce engines, the open cockpit Vimy had a top speed of 177 kph, carried 2,300 litres of fuel and had a cruising range of 1,600 kilometres. It completed the 17,910 kilometre journey from UK to Australia in 28 days at an average speed of 137 kph.

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The Smith brothers' flight was not without problems. The plane got bogged to the axles in Surabaya, but far worse awaited them in Australia. The trip from Darwin to Sydney took almost twice as long as the flight to Australia. The Vimy was forced down at Cobbs Creek, NT, with a split propeller. In 52 degree heat, the mechanics toiled for three days to make repairs, gluing wood splinters into the shattered end and reshaping it using glass from a broken bottle. They made another unscheduled landing near Charleville, Qld, when their out-of-balance port engine exploded at 900 metres altitude. This repair alone took 50 days.

On 14 February 1920, the Vickers Vimy flew across NSW from Narromine to Sydney. When the plane was spotted over Katoomba, a message was wired to the GPO in Sydney, where a flag was raised on the Martin Place tower to signal the Vimy's imminent arrival. Spectators flocked to the city and Mascot airfield to see the plane, which landed at 11.12am.

"Almost before it had come to a stop, the Vickers-Vimy was a towering island in a great surging sea of humanity...", wrote the Sunday Times 15 Feb 1920.