"Smithy" and the Southern Cross

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Australian aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm completed the first trans-Pacific flight in 1928. With Americans Harry Lyon and James Warner as navigator and wireless operator, they flew from Oakland, California to Sydney in the Fokker trimotor Southern Cross.

The flight was particularly dangerous and local Californian betting had odds of eleven to one against their even reaching Hawaii, as ten fliers had perished the previous year attempting just the first leg of the Pacific crossing.

The Southern Cross was one of the largest aeroplanes of its time. Purchased second-hand from Australian polar explorer George Hubert Wilkins, it had been salvaged from one of Wilkins' planes called the Detroiter, which crashed in Alaska in 1926. Fitted with three new engines, courtesy of Melbourne businessman Sidney Myer, the rejuvenated craft was bought by the wealthy American aviator G. Allan Hancock and loaned back to Kingsford Smith and Ulm, enabling the journey to take place.

The noise of the three Wright Whirlwind engines was deafening. So much so that the crew were forced to communicate with each other by messages scribbled on scraps of paper. By the time they reached Fiji, the crew were stone deaf and had no idea what the welcoming party said, observing only the waving arms and open mouths of the crowd.

Despite electrical storms, rain squalls, instrument failures and a heart-stopping eight minute engine splutter mid ocean, the Southern Cross and its crew completed the 12,000 kilometre journey in four stages, with a total of 83 hours flying time.

The arrival in Sydney on 10 June 1928 heralded a tumultuous welcome from a crowd estimated at 300,000. A police cordon formed around the plane as it taxied to a halt to prevent the excited crowds from rushing into the propellors.

Inflight communication

The crew of the Southern Cross were deafened by the noise of the plane's three engines. They communicated using messages scribbled on scraps of paper. Scroll through their messages below and experience the tension of the journey through the concerns of the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and radio operator.

Transcript: 
X234/7/H.Q.- Reply Sir - Are you on the true course for Honolulu, please - If so - how dare you - Please explain fully and without equivocation OC Troops
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
Rogers, Ellen, 1906-1985
Digital ID: 
a332001
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Transcript: 
Harry I checked us off the ground at 8.54 P.C.T. and out Golden gate at 9.06 P.C.T. If 9.06 is correct, Elapsed time would be 7 hrs 54 minutes plus time change to Ships time. Have you changed it 50 minutes if so O.K. and our speed made good over ground is 92.3 statute miles per hour- How are both of you back - enjoying the scenery, eh!! or what have you Chas Send out our D.R position, Q.S.T. 1/2 hourly now, I suggest
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332002
Transcript: 
6ARD Examiner and repeat to V.I.S. Sunflight - Been flying low all day to ensure gasoline economy have encountered and flown through many small rain storms and recently had a scare when starboard motor started spluttering - all O.K. now Altitude 600
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
Rogers, Ellen, 1906-1985
Digital ID: 
a332003
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Transcript: 
Time difference of our noon position and Suva is 1hr & 14 minutes so its getting dark tomorrow in Suva at about seven Pm is 31 hours of daylight + 1hr 1/4 = 32hrs1/4. Is it enough? Hows Petrol?
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332004
Transcript: 
Wheeler Field HU Please return KHAB adjustment of Radio beacon at Wheeler Field so as to accomplish let T with Present apparatus impossible stop the letter X with E I letter T. W. or N Honolulu is a bunch of Tramps they're all f'd up
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332005
Transcript: 
Don't let me influence you but should we not be heading more to the Starboard - say about 5 degrees. Can you get a fix from any of these stars. Set course for centre Phoenix Group
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332006
Transcript: 
That's the 2nd time in my life I've been scared. The other was when a man was firing at me point blank & couldn't hit me
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332007
Transcript: 
Jim - don't report this terrific storm we are in - It would worry our people to death. Will tell you should things become very serious
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332008
Transcript: 
Chas, When Jim Warner and I get back to U.S. we sure are going to try and have Smithy made president.
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332009
Transcript: 
They sure make my job hard Enuf with that damn jiggling & unsteady Flying
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332010
Transcript: 
Set course by aperiodic if Jim cannot fix E.I.C. then by signal tell me to go R or L until we on aperiodic course. Will then check on this steering compass
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332011
Transcript: 
Harry can't you get a star position at all? Or can't Jim get a radio bearing getting pretty serious if we dont get one in a few hours Smithy
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332012
Transcript: 
If anybody hereafter suggests to me that I go practice blind flying, I'm going to caress them gently on the skull with a pisspot.
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332013
Transcript: 
Damned good work Harry, old Lion, keep on doing your stuff Smithy & Chas
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332014
Transcript: 
Chas, With bad weather etc I think it will be well after eleven before we pass Noumea but I feel she is pretty much on course; I'll check with sights. Power to you. Carry on. Cheers H
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332015
Transcript: 
If you can find the shortest way we can easily make it. Harry, my darling, lead and I shall follow - find that Bloody Suva and Smithy will land this buzz wagon OK. Chas.
The Charles T.P. Ulm collection of historical aviation records, Part 1, 1919-1965
1919-1962
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Digital ID: 
a332017

Charles Ulm's album

View photographs from Charles Ulm's collection showing the arrival of the Southern Cross at Mascot, Sydney, as well as the excited crowds and official receptions:

Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248001
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248002
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248003
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248006
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248008
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248009
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248016
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248017
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248018
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248020
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248021
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248022
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248023
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Charles Ulm - photographs and albums, 1928-1934
1928-1934
Digital ID: 
a1248024
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