This is a photograph of the single-engine Lockheed Altair aircraft, 'Lady Southern Cross', piloted by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy) and Captain P.G. Taylor in 1934 at Archerfield airport, Queensland, before their record-breaking trans-Pacific flight. Smithy and Taylor completed the first west to east trans-Pacific flight from Brisbane, Australia, to San Francisco, USA, via Suva and Hawaii, between 21st October and 4 November, 1934, in the little 'Lady Southern Cross'. Tragically this is the plane in which Smithy and his engineer/co-pilot, Tommy Pethybridge, tragically died the following year in 1935 trying to break the England to Australia speed record.
The charismatic Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy) was a household name in Australia for setting aviation records and his death was a national tragedy at the time. Of the young Australian World War One pilots who returned from the front none went on to make aviation history as Smithy had done. Smithy flew in the AIF in Egypt, Gallipoli and France before being commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. After the war he undertook a number of pioneering flights and sought to establish regular air services in Australia. With Charles Ulm as co-pilot and two Americans, Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, Smithy flew a rebuilt Fokker aircraft he named Southern Cross from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, then Fiji to land at Brisbane on 9 June 1928 for the first flight across the Pacific. This was followed by the first non-stop flight from Melbourne to Perth. In June 1929 he flew the plane from Sydney to London in the record time of 12 days and 18 hours. (The 'Southern Cross' was purchased from Smithy by the Commonwealth government and is now displayed at Brisbane airport.)
Driven to set even more records he decided to compete in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race and purchased the Lockheed Altair which he considered capable of achieving first place. However, engineering problems and lack of time meant he had to withdraw from the race. Even so, in testing the aircraft in Australia, he established a number of city-to-city speed records in the Altair and to 'save face' for withdrawing from the race he flew the Pacific instead, in the west-east direction, establishing another record.
So it was with this background that Smithy and his co-pilot/engineer, Tom Pethybridge, triedend to break yet another record, the England to Australia speed record, and in endeavouring to achieve this they lost their lives. They disappeared in the Bay of Bengal and were never found. Poignantly, in May 1937, the undercarriage from the 'Lady Southern Cross' (in the Museum's collection, object number 94/64/1) was discovered washed up on the beach of the tiny island of Aye, off the coast of Burma. Smithy is recognised internationally as one of the world's greatest aviators for pioneering record flights and seeking to establish regular air services in Australia.
Margaret Simpson, Curator