The Silver Centenary is a biplane which was built in Beverley, Western Australia between 1929 and 1930 by a local named Selby Ford. Plans for the plane, which was named in honour of Western Australia's 1929 centenary, were drawn to scale on the floor of the Beverley powerhouse which Ford owned. The aircraft made its inaugural flight on 1 July 1930 and was flown for the next 18 months, but after Ford proved unable to provide the authorities with blue prints and technical specifications, it was mothballed in 1933.
For the next thirty years, the aircraft hung from the roof of the Beverley powerhouse. After Ford's death from a car accident in 1963, the people of Beverley created an aviation museum with the Silver Centenary as the featured piece.
In 2006, Ford's grandson Rod Edwards retrieved the plane from the museum to enable restoration, which caused much concern to the people of Beverley. As part of the restoration, Mr Edwards decided to obtain airworthy certification for the plane, and in August 2007 the Silver Centenary received its airworthy certificate 77 years after it was originally built.
Original plans for the Silver Centenary were sketched in chalk on the floor of the Beverley powerhouse in 1928, and from these plans templates were made. With the help of the local butcher Tom Shackle, the frame was crafted out of spruce and maple timber. Tom's sister Elsie sewed all the fabric for the aircraft. As the plane took shape resembling that of a Tiger Moth, Ford undertook an Australia wide search for an engine. During the Western Australian Centenary Air Race in 1929 a competitor crashed in Baandee 120 km from Beverley, and Ford purchased the undamaged engine for £170. This purchase was mentioned in a Sydney Newspaper which brought the project to the attention of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who sent WA aviation inspector Jim Collopy to inspect the work:
|“||Ford and Shackles have had no aircraft experience, and their knowledge of aerodynamics and aircraft design is very limited, and taking this into account they have made a very good effort. The building of the machine was so far advanced that a detailed inspection of every component and assembly was practically impossible, as there was not a single sketch, drawing or diagram to assist one in the inspection of assemblies already built up.||”|
|— Jim Collopy, Civil Aviation Authority|
Collopy indicated that Ford would need to register the plane and suggested strengthening of the undercarriage. Ford made the modifications and painted the first part of the aircraft registration on the plane. In June 1930 Ford notified the CAA that the plane was ready for its maiden flight. Piloted by Captain C.H. Nesbitt of Western Air Services, the flight took place on 1 July 1930. The plane was towed from the powerhouse along the main street of Beverley to Benson's paddock, and most of the town turned out to watch, although the shire council voiced its disapproval at Ford for taking such a risk.
Arriving at Benson's paddock Nesbitt climbed aboard and started the engine. Originally intending just to taxi around the field, Nesbitt was in the air within few seconds. After flying for 25 minutes Nesbitt landed, later remarking that it felt so right he decided to "give it the gun". Nesbitt then made series of 10-minute joyflights, first with Ford, then Shackles, followed by Ford's sisters Rita and then Elsie.
On 4 July Ford with Nesbitt at the controls flew to Northam to meet up with and escort Amy Johnson and de Havilland to Perth. Receiving the news that Johnson had been delayed in Kalgoorlie, Ford and Nesbitt flew onto Maylands Airport where West Australian airways made hangar space available for the Silver Centenary. When Johnson arrived she inspected the Silver Centenary and expressed disappointment that bad weather prevented her from flying the plane. On 14 July the Silver Centenary returned to Beverley, with the shire council congratulating Ford and offering to assist with any further events.
Captain Nesbitt died on 4 October 1930 while flying a Puss Moth to Beverley, where he had intended to demonstrate the Silver Centenary at the Beverley show grounds. The Silver Centenary wasn't flown again until April 1931. During these flights the pilot became concerned about the lack of a complete registration number and contacted the CAA. It was revealed that the Silver Centenary was designated as an experimental and had been restricted to flying only within 5 km of Beverley. Ford was unaware of the restriction until that time and then applied for permission to return the plane to Beverley, which occurred in September 1931.
Ford applied to have the aircraft licensed but without blue prints, stress charts and other design documents the CAA refused to grant an airworthy certificate. In December 1931, permission was granted for the plane to be flown to Narrogin for an air show conditional that it didn't carry any passengers during the flight and that it wasn't flown during the show. The return flight to Beverley on 6 December 1931 would become Silver Centenary's last flight for almost 76 years. The log books for the Silver Centenary show that it flew for a total of 9 hours 40 minutes across 21 flights, though many of its flights were not recorded. In 1932, permission was sought to use the plane for mining exploration in the goldfields around Kalgoorlie; this was declined. In 1933 Ford returned the plane to the powerhouse, where it hung from the roof until after his death in 1963.
In 1962, the Western Australian Museum expressed an interest in buying the Silver Centenary, but with Ford's death in a motor vehicle accident in 1963, the people of Beverley started the Selby Ford Memorial Fund, the purpose of which was to keep the plane in Beverley as a tribute to Ford. In January 1964, the Silver Centenary was lowered from the roof of the powerhouse and a wall was removed enabling the aircraft to be moved. After being cleaned up, the Silver Centenary was put into storage again until completion of the Beverley Aviation Museum in 1967, where it became the feature piece.
In 2006 Rod Edwards, the grandson of Ford and current owner of the Silver Centenary, decided to restore the aircraft. As part of the restoration he undertook the requirement to obtain an airworthy certificate. Since the plane has become an icon of the shire, Edwards' plans caused concern amongst the locals. Shire councilor Belinda Foster said "The town wasn't very happy about it going...its on the shire's crest,"
- The Silver Centenary flies again by Jonathan Beal ABC News (Australia)
- Sliver Centenary Airways Museum
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