Southern Cross (aircraft)

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Southern Cross
StateLibQld 1 139254 Landing the aircraft, Southern Cross in Brisbane, Queensland, ca. 1928.jpg
Southern Cross landing in Brisbane, 1928
Type F.VIIb/3m
Manufacturer Fokker
  • 1985
  • G-AUSU (1928–1929)
  • VH-USU (1931–)
Owners and operators
Preserved at The Kingsford Smith Memorial near Brisbane Airport

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]

File:Southern cross book 1928.jpg
First edition cover of descriptive book of the flight

Trans-Pacific flight

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 34-1/2 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).

The aircraft was in constant radio communication with ships and shore during the flight using four transmitters and three receivers powered by a propeller driven generator attached to the fuselage below the cockpit.[11] Transmitters included one 50 watt short wave operating at 33.5 meters and two 60 watt transmitters operating at 600 meters with one 600 meter emergency, waterproof set capable of operating eight hours submerged.[11] Receivers, sharing a common audio amplifier, included a short wave, long wave and beacon.[11] The first paid commercial messages were sent and received during the flight and a new world record distance for radio was set with a short wave reception at Bloemfontein, South Africa the long way around the world at 12,800 miles (20,599.6 km).[11] Direct short wave aircraft to shore communications were maintained with the Pacific Coast until the flight was four hours out of Honolulu which had been monitoring the flight from two hours of its departure with a similar reception overlap on the Honolulu to Suva leg.[11] Success on this flight influenced Admiral Byrd to equip his three Antarctic Expedition aircraft with similar equipment.[11]

Trans-Tasman flights

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.[12] 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.[13] Sergeant Anthony Lohrey of the Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) oversaw its construction.

A personal tribute

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 1.27 cm to every 30.48 cm (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.[14]


File:Southern Cross cockpit.jpg
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 – ).[12] 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.[15]


The Southern Cross at the RAAF base at Canberra in 1943.
  1. Carl "Ben" Eielson, NAHF (Pilot of the Detroiter)
  2. "Ace Pilots". Ace Pilots. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Century of Flight". Century of Flight. 
  4. ""Smithy" and the ''Southern Cross'', State Library of NSW". 
  5. "30 May 2003 – 75th Anniversary of Smithy's Landing at Albert Park". 
  6. Aviators – Charles Kingsford-Smith, includes photo of the plaque commemorating the flight across the Pacific and the landing at Brisbane on 9 June 1928
  7. Famous Fokker Flights Archived 11 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  8. History of Eagle Farm (Our Brisbane) Archived 2 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  9. Photo of Southern Cross, and welcoming crowd, at Eagle Farm on 9 June 1928 (National Archives of Australia)
  10. Magnificent Machines – Home-grown Legends The Sydney Morning Herald
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Smith, Robert L. (1928). "The Fourth Propeller, A New Industry". San Francisco Business. San Francisco: San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. XVII (July 11, 1928): 14–15, 35. Retrieved January 17, 2014. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "ADF Serials". ADF Serials. 10 January 2004. 
  13. Southern Cross reproduction
  14. Austin Byrne Southern Cross Memorial collection highlight: National Museum of Australia
  15. Gateway renamed the Southern Cross Way, The Sydney Morning Herald

External links