Southern Cross (aircraft)

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The Southern Cross landing in Brisbane in 1928.

Southern Cross is the name of the Fokker F.VIIb/3m trimotor monoplane which in 1928 was flown by Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew in the first ever trans-Pacific flight to Australia from the mainland United States, about 7,250 miles (11,670 km).


The Southern Cross began life as the Detroiter, a polar exploration aircraft of the Detroit News-Wilkins Arctic expedition.[1] The aircraft had crashed in Alaska in 1926, and was recovered and repaired by the Australian expedition leader, Hubert Wilkins. Wilkins, who had decided the Fokker was too large for his Arctic explorations, met with Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in San Francisco and arranged to sell them the aircraft, without engines or instruments.[2]

Having fitted the aircraft out with engines and the other required parts, Kingsford Smith made two attempts at the world endurance record, in an attempt to raise funds and interest for his trans-Pacific flight. However, after the New South Wales government withdrew its sponsorship of the flight,[3] it looked as if the money would run out and Kingsford Smith would have to sell the Southern Cross. The aircraft was bought by American aviator and philanthropist Allan Hancock, who then loaned it back to Kingsford Smith and Ulm.[4]

First edition cover of descriptive book of the flight
Stamp sheet, released in Australia in 1978 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first Trans-Pacific flight

Trans-Pacific flight[edit]

On 31 May 1928, the crew—Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, and Americans Harry Lyon (navigator) and James Warner (radio operator)[3]—took off from Oakland, California, United States. The Southern Cross first stopped for rest and refuelling in Hawaii before setting off for Fiji. This leg of the journey took 34 and a half hours of flight across open seas before gliding past the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, where a large and enthusiastic crowd saw the first aircraft to land in Fiji touch down at Albert Park.[5] The Southern Cross landed at Eagle Farm Airport in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, on 9 June,[6] [7] where a crowd of 25,000 people were waiting to greet the Southern Cross on its arrival at the airport.[8][9][10] The Southern Cross flew on to Sydney the following day (10 June).

Trans-Tasman flights[edit]

Kingsford Smith and Ulm also made the first nonstop Trans-Tasman flight in the Southern Cross – over the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand and back (c. 2,500 miles (4,000 km)) – beginning with the first crossing on 10/11 September 1928. Guy Menzies completed the first solo trans-Tasman flight in the Southern Cross Junior in 1931.


The Kingsford Smith Memorial near Brisbane Airport, housing the Southern Cross
The Southern Cross inside the Kingsford Smith Memorial

Shortly before Kingsford Smith's death in 1935, he donated the Southern Cross to the Commonwealth of Australia, for display in a museum.[11] The aircraft was brought out of retirement briefly in 1945 for the filming of the movie Smithy. The machine was refurbished in 1985 under the supervision of Jim Schofield, a senior aviation civil servant and air crash investigator. The Southern Cross is now preserved in a special glass hangar memorial on Airport Drive, near the international terminal at Brisbane Airport. There is also a full-sized flying reproduction of the Southern Cross in South Australia. This aircraft was built in the 1980s and is the largest known reproduction aircraft in the world.[12]

A personal tribute[edit]

Australian aviation enthusiast Austin Byrne was part of the large crowd at Sydney's Mascot Aerodrome in June 1928 to welcome the Southern Cross and its crew following their successful trans-Pacific flight. Witnessing this event inspired Byrne to make a scale model of the Southern Cross—scaled 1.27cm to every 30.48cm (a half inch to the foot) of the Southern Cross—and made mostly from brass finished in gold and silver plating. Kingsford Smith disappeared before Byrne had completed the model.

After Kingsford Smith's disappearance, Byrne continued to expand and enhance his tribute with paintings, photographs, documents, and art works he created, designed or commissioned. Between 1930 and his death in 1993, Byrne devoted his life to creating and touring his Southern Cross Memorial.[13]


Southern Cross cockpit photographed in 2009

The Southern Cross's original registration was "1985" – this number can be seen on the wings and tail of the aircraft in photos taken at the time of its first record-breaking flight. Kingsford Smith re-registered it in Australia as "G-AUSU" (4 July 1928 to 3 July 1929), and then "VH-USU" (5 April 1931 – ).[11] The "1985" marks and original colour scheme were restored when the plane went on public display.

The Southern Cross was named after the Southern Cross constellation, a popular symbol of the Southern Hemisphere in general and Australia in particular. Kingsford Smith continued the theme with his later aircraft Southern Cross Minor and Southern Cross Junior (both Avro Avians), Miss Southern Cross (Percival Gull), and Lady Southern Cross (Lockheed Altair). He also produced a car with the name, and gave the aircraft operated by his airline, Australian National Airways, similar names beginning with Southern.

In September 2010, the Old Gateway Motorway, which runs past the site of the original Eagle Farm Airport, was renamed Southern Cross Way.[14]


The Southern Cross at the RAAF base at Canberra in 1943.

External links[edit]