We’ve been travelling with a reporter from the Adelaide Register newspaper, on the nascent Australian Aerial Services airmail flight between Adelaide and Sydney – a direct distance of some 630 nautical miles.
(As a comparison, London to Paris is 184 nm, New York to Albany is 117 nm, and L.A. to San Francisco is 292 nm.)
The land along the route was slowly being occupied, irrigated and cultivated, with the Government parcelling out farmland to returned soldiers and their families. However it was still a vast, empty air route with small scattered towns that had few cars and even fewer sealed roads.
In Part Two our correspondent still hadn’t reached Sydney, after three days in the cabin of the De Havilland DH.50. With a 240hp Armstrong-Siddeley Puma roaring inches from the forward bulkhead, it’s no wonder he and his companions were looking forward to reaching the harbour city. And then he had to get home again…
If you missed Part One, you may prefer to start there.
A Trip In A Biplane (Part Three)
From the Adelaide Register, July 18th 1925
Nothing I can imagine can exceed the beauty presented from the air by Sydney and the contiguous coastline.
I have a distinct remembrance of a certain spring morning when, having crossed the Swiss Alps, I left Domo d’Ossola in a snowstorm on my way to Milan. Suddenly the sun blazed out revealing the Italian lakes – Como, Lugano, Maggiore – in all their marvellous beauty, and furnishing an entrancing view of the plains of Lombardy and the picturesque towns and villages scattered over them. I have seen many wonderful sights in my lifetime, but they must all take a back seat to Sydney as viewed from the air.
Fringed by the blue Pacific, the picturesque South Coast could be seen as far, I should say as Jervis Bay, while Broken Bay and Hawkesbury were clearly visible to the north. As we headed for the aerodrome, which is located at Mascot, near Botany, we afforded a magnificent view of the National Park, Port Hacking and the Hacking River, while Cronulla Beach stood out in all its beauty.
Having feasted our eyes on the beauty of Botany Bay, George’s River and other well-known landmarks in the vicinity, Capt. Briggs headed for Port Jackson and flew over the harbour, making a turn just over Circular Quay. The dozens of ferry boats, huge ocean liners, yachts and sailing craft of all description, made a never-to-be-forgotten picture, and the harbour, with its numberless bays and thousands of red-tiled villas running down to the water’s edge, presented a veritable fairy scene.
The Parramatta River, stretching away like a streak of silver in the distance, added to the beauty of the tout ensemble, and as one gazed on the exquisite vision one had to allow that Sydney people have every justification for being proud of their peerless harbour.
A beautiful landing was effected at 12.40 p.m. and 20 minutes later we were doing justice to a dainty lunch in a Sydney club, with appetites sharpened by a dash at nearly 100 miles an hour through the keen mountain air, at an altitude of about 4,000 feet.
While the weather had been bad, I had enjoyed it, as it had afforded me an opportunity of judging of the capacity of both pilot and machine under very exceptional circumstances.
On the back track
Having arrived in Sydney on Wednesday, my stay was curtailed by a day, but I managed to find time to look up a few friends before I left on the return journey on the following Saturday, May 30.
Pilot Briggs was again in charge, Capt. Newnham was my fellow passenger, and we got away at a quarter past 11 in perfect weather.
The scene was again a delightful one, a panorama that can only be viewed from the air.
On this occasion we had no difficulty in crossing the mountains, as the clouds were high and the visibility excellent.
We passed over Goulburn at 12.55 p.m. It is an extensive town, and covers a considerable area. The floods were in evidence on all sides. Cootamundra was reached at a quarter past 2 – exactly three hours from the time of our departure from the Mascot aerodrome.
We had experienced a strong head wind and had flown roughly 212 miles. After a light lunch we rose again and left ‘Coota’ at 5 minutes to 3, Narrandera being our next objective. At 10 minutes past 4 we came to earth on the racecourse, landed our mails, and started again for Hay.
The flying distance between Hay and Cootamundra is estimated at 200 miles, and we brought up the former town at a quarter to 6 o’clock. It was growing dusk, but Capt. Briggs made a splendid landing.
Shortly before reaching Hay we witnessed a wonderful sunset, the great orb sinking below the horizon like a ball of fire. It sank below the earth’s horizon fully 10 minutes before we lost sight of it.
The absence of bird life was again noticeable, though I might mention that we encountered a large wedge-tailed eagle when crossing the mountains, but it sheered off on our approach.
The ‘plane left Hay the following morning (Sunday) at 7.40 a.m. and reached Mildura, a distance of 167 miles, at 25 minutes past 10. We encountered a strong head wind all the way. Capt. Sutcliffe was again in charge, but we had another mechanic, Mr F.H. Smith of Magill who saw a good deal of air work in Egypt during the war, where he spent four years.
We flew at a low altitude over Mildura, whose extensive cultivated blocks looked very beautiful from our cabin.
We started on our last section at 10.50 a.m. and crossed the South Australian border, close to the Murray, at 5 minutes past 12. The extent of the cultivated land from this point onward came as a surprise. Swan Reach was passed at 1.20 p.m. and, as we encountered a belt of black clouds, a shower or two, and the visibility was bad, Capt. Sutcliffe approached Adelaide from the north-east, and the Woodville aerodrome was reached at 2.25 p.m. Sydney time.
I had been absent from Adelaide exactly a week, and the experience had been a delightful one.
Flying with safety
On my return trip from Sydney I spent a very instructive and pleasant evening in Hay with Lieut. Y.L. Roberts, aeronautical superintendent of the Australian Aerial Services, Limited.
He is thoroughly up to date on all matters connected with flying, and possesses a fund of information which I found most interesting.
At Hay, where the company has its workshops, all running repairs are done, and the machine and pilots are changed over, and it is from Hay, in the near future, that the various services will radiate.
Flying in the southern portion of Australia, in his opinion, will shortly develop into a big commercial undertaking, exactly as it is doing in Queensland and Western Australia.
In the former State, for almost three years now, the service has flown 100 percent of all scheduled trips; its ‘planes have covered 300,000 miles without accident, and during last April 154 passengers were carried by air – a record for Australia.
The various aerial routes have been carefully mapped out by the Commonwealth Aerial Department, and at regular distances emergency landing places have been prepared, so that if a forced landing is ever rendered necessary the pilot will know where he can descend without fear of damage to his ‘plane.
These landing places are distinguished by a large white cross, which can be seen from a great distance. None but experienced pilots are engaged. Reference has already been made to Capt. Newnham and his work as a pilot on the continental expresses.
Capt. Sutcliffe was a member of the Air Force in England from 1917 to 1922, and for a considerable portion of that time was engaged in taking daily aeronautical flights for the Weather Department of the Air Force.
Prior to securing his present position he was piloting machines in Queensland.
Mr Hudson, the mechanic, before coming to Australia, was engaged on aeroplane construction with the Avro Aeroplane Company, the Sopwith Company, and the Gosport Aircraft Company. The latter concern specialises in seaplanes.
During the past 12 months, the ’planes of the Australian Aerial Services, Limited, have flown 120,000 miles without the slightest injury to any person, and the machines have run to schedule, except perhaps in half a dozen cases where flying might have been attended with a certain amount of risk and the policy of the company is ‘Take no risk whatsoever’.
The De Havilland machines used by the company are recognised as the safest in the world, and three modern passenger carrying aeroplanes, of 400 h.p., equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, have been ordered from England, and will be landed within the next six months.
These machines will carry six passengers in addition to the mails and crew, and will be fitted with armchairs, lavatories, and other essential and luxurious travelling appliances.
What looks like an actual guarantee of safety was recently cabled from England, it being mentioned that Mr Handley-Page had patented an invention that absolutely prevents a machine from crashing.
Lieut. Roberts says that as far as he can understand it, the idea is to have slots in the wings which allow of a machine sinking vertically to the ground so slowly as to prevent any damage being wrought either to the machine or the pilot. He understands that most rigid tests were made, and that the invention never failed to do all that was claimed for it.
Fokker, the famous Dutch aeroplane manufacturer, also invented as appliance that achieves a similar result, but it is unlikely his machine will be used by the British. Henry Ford is stated to have secured the rights for America so that probably Fokker aeroplanes, in the near future, will be as cheap as Ford motor cars.
Extending the service
In five or six weeks’ time Lieut. Roberts’s company will open out with new routes, and the flying distances between Adelaide and Sydney will be shortened. This will be effected by cutting out the trip over the Great Dividing Range, the terminus in New South Wales being Cootamundra.
Passengers for Adelaide will leave Sydney by the 10.50 p.m. mail train, which reaches Cootamundra at 6.30 a.m. They will, of course, sleep on the train.
Having breakfasted at Cootamundra, they will leave for Adelaide by aeroplane at 7.30 a.m, stopping as at present, at Narrandera, Hay, and Mildura. Adelaide is timed to be reached about 4 p.m.
On the return journey Adelaide will be left at 7.30 a.m., and Cootamundra reached about 5.15 p.m. Dinner will then be partaken of, and passengers will catch a train that is provided with sleeping cars, and which leaves at 7 p.m. This train is scheduled to reach Sydney the following morning at 6.30 a.m.
It may be mentioned that the aerodrome at ‘Coota’ fronts the railway station.
The new timetable does not appear to be appreciated by many Sydney people, since it will eliminate the superb view of the harbour from the air, but it will be a great convenience to business people, and will be less of a strain on the pilots.
The Commonwealth Aerial Department, which owns all the aerodromes and controls the emergency landing places, has been busy mapping out routes between Melbourne and Hay and Mildura and Broken Hill, so that it will shortly be possible for a passenger form the latter town to make the journey to any of the three capital cities, as well as to important Riverina towns, within a period of 24 hours.
When the new timetables come into operation passengers going to broken Hill will leave Melbourne at 4.30 p.m., reach Mildura at half-past 8 o’clock the following morning, breakfast, and reach Broken Hill about noon.
Planes will leave the Hill at 7.30 a.m. junctioning with the Adelaide-Sydney machine at Mildura, and if passengers desire to proceed to Melbourne they will be able to catch the express train which will leave shortly after their arrival.
‘Planes will also fly between Hay and Melbourne and vice versa. At the start there will be bi-weekly services between Melbourne and Broken Hill, and a similar service between Hay and Melbourne. The one journey a week service will be maintained between Adelaide and Sydney as at present.
The new arrangement as regards ‘planes stopping at and leaving Cootamundra will effect a saving of five hours in the time between Adelaide and Sydney, as compared with the present timetable.
In view of the marked success that has attended the air mail services in Australia, the Postmaster-General is anxious to see an extension of the movement. Speaking on the subject a few days ago, the Director of Postal Services (Mr Brown) indicated that it was the Postmaster-General’s desire to organise air mail services between all the States in such a way as to permit of business men in the eastern States by sending replies to letters from England by the first boat to leave Australia after the arrival of the English mail.
An air mail service between Sydney and Fremantle, for example, would allow of letters being posted some days later than at present in Sydney in order to catch the outgoing English mail at Fremantle.
Mr Brown further mentioned that the Queensland and Northern Territory air service was carrying 12,000 letters a year, and during the past three months greater use had been made of it than ever.
The distance between Adelaide and Sydney by air is approximately 700 miles, and it will shortly be possible to cover it in less than 24 hours, with the maximum of comfort and the utmost safety.
That the passenger service will grow enormously in volume in the near future is an absolute certainty, for no one who has made the journey by air under the present conditions will in future be satisfied to travel any other way if he can afford it.
Personally, I cannot speak too highly of the courtesy extended to me by everyone connected with the company. Commencing with Mr E.C. Buttfield, who has charge of this department for Messrs. M.G. Anderson and Co., the Adelaide agents for the company, I received every assistance while en route from the flying corps, while my stay in Sydney was made extremely pleasant by Mr A.E. Rudder, or Rudders, Limited, the company’s representatives in the harbour city, and his genial lieutenant Mr C.O.D. Smith, who furnished me with all the information I required.
The Australian Aerial Services, Limited, have evidently taken Addison’s famous lines as their motto, ‘Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more – we’ll deserve it.’
While you were away, there has been a Second World War, aircraft have become more streamlined and much faster, we have a new form of propulsion in the jet turbine, and air travel has become commonplace.
What’s more, from a few bags of mail, aircraft now carry 62 million tons of freight worth over $6 trillion USD per year. And in 2017 alone, the world’s airlines boarded over 4 billion passengers.*
It has been a remarkable 90 years!
In Part Four of this series, we need to trace the history of Australian Aerial Services, Limited; its ambitious parent Larkin Aircraft Supply Co. (LASCO); and the one man who stood behind it all – Australian WW1 fighter ace Herbert Joseph ‘Jimmy’ Larkin.
(*Data from IATA Economics / World Air Transport Statistics 2018)