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TheCENTENARYofPOWEREDFLIGHTinAUSTRALIA. During2003,TheRoyalAeronauticalSocietyAustralianDivision,anditsBranches,celebratedthe centenaryofpoweredflight.ThefocalpointofthesecelebrationswastheCentenaryofFlightDinner, heldonDecember17,atThePowerhouseMuseuminSydney,tocoincidewiththecentenaryofthe WrightBrothersmomentousachievementatKittyHawk. Since2003,therehavebeenongoingcelebrationsasindividualnationshavereflectedontheirown contributionstoatechnologythathassoprofoundlyreshapedourworld.InBrazilandFrance,during 2006,itwasSantosDumontYear.Lastyear,100YearsofBritishAviationwascelebratedintheUnited Kingdom,withparticularfocusonthefirstpoweredflighttherebySamuelCody.Thisyear,100Yearsof FlyinginCanadaisbeingcelebrated,withaspecialtributetothefirstpoweredflightbyDouglas McCurdy.FromDecemberthisyear,itwillbetheturnofAustraliatoacknowledgehowfundamentallya centuryofpoweredflighthaschangedthiscountry.Itwillalsoprovideanopportunitytohonourthose individualAustralianswhoplayedsuchamajorroleonaviationsworldstage,bothinpeaceandinwar, duringthelast100years.

s. In1897,LawrenceHargravewasmadeaLifeMemberoftheAeronauticalSocietyofGreatBritain,now theRAeS,toacknowledgehispioneeringcontributiontothescienceofaviation.TheRAeSinAustralia hasaspecialattachmenttoLawrenceHargravethroughtheLawrenceHargraveLecture,theLawrence HargraveAward,andasconservatorofhisgraveattheWaverleyCemetery,Sydney.Therefore,itis appropriatetorememberthatHargravechairedtheinauguralmeetingofTheAerialLeagueofAustralia inSydneyonApril28,1909.Thisdatemarksthecommencementofactivitiesofthefirstorganised pressuregroup,eventuallywithbranchesinotherstates,setuptopromotethebenefitsofpowered flighttotheAustralianpeopleandtheirnewFederalGovernment.Theorganisingforcebehindthe LeaguewasGeorgeAugustineTaylor. ThefirstsignificantachievementoftheAerialLeaguewasinJune,whenTaylorgainedacommitment fromtheMinisterforDefence,JosephCook,fortheFederalGovernmenttoofferaprizetothe successfulinventorofapoweredaeroplaneformilitarypurposes. DuringSeptember1909,TaylorestablishedthefirstaeroplanefactoryinAustraliaatSurryHills,Sydney. Therehebuiltapoweredmonoplane,aswellasabiplaneglider.Thegliderwasintendedasatraining devicebeforegoingontoattemptpoweredflightinhismonoplane.Althoughhismonoplanewasa failure,TaylorachievedthefirstuntetheredflightinAustralia,inhisglider,atNarrabeenHeadson SundayDecember5,1909,beforeacrowdofabout100people. WithfinancialsupportfromLawrenceAdamson,andpromotedbyJ.&N.Tait,thefirstpowered aeroplanetobeimportedintoAustraliaarrivedinSydneyfromFrance,onboardRMSOtranto,on November15.ItwasaWrightModelA,andinthisaircraftColinDefriesmadethefirstpoweredflight inAustralia,atVictoriaParkRacecourse,onThursdayDecember9,1909.Itwasashort,straightline flightandwascontrolledthroughout.DefrieshadreceivedpilottrainingatCannesearlyin1909,and againatPariswhenhereturnedtherelaterintheyear.Theflightwaswitnessedbyacrowdofbetween about150and250people,includingreportersfromtheSydneynewspapers.Thefollowingextracts fromTheSydneyMorningHerald,andTheDailyTelegraph,publishedonDecember10,conveythe senseofexcitementexperiencedbytheonlookersastheywitnessedthemiracleofflightforthefirst time. TheSydneyMorningHerald:Certainlynobetterdaycouldhavebeenchosen.Whenthefirsttestwas madethebreeze,whichwasasoutheasterly,wasscarcelyfelt.Theaviatorfacedthewind,andmade severaltrialsunsuccessfully.Thenheturnedtothenorth,intendingtorunintothewindattheturn.The resultwasasuccess.Whentravellingatabout35milesanhour,andhandlingthemachinealone,Mr Defriessuddenlyraisedhiselevatingplanes,andatonceroseintotheair.Asheleftthegroundthere wasaninvoluntarycryfromabout150spectators,Hesup!andhewasup.Asthemachinerushed

forwarditkeptintheair,androsequicklyfrom2fttofully15ftor20ft,andthentapereddownagain toearth,aftercoveringabout115yards. TheDailyTelegraph:TheWrightaeroplaneaccomplisheditsfirstflightyesterdayafternoonatVictoria ParkRacecourse.Afterseveralpreliminarytestsitsucceededinflying115yds,theheightfromthe groundvaryingfromabout3ftto15ft.Itwasadmittedonallsidesthatthemachineinrisingbehaved likeabird.Itflewperfectlyhorizontalandshowednotendencytodipateitherwing.Whenthe aeroplanerosetherewasaninvoluntaryshoutofdelightfromthe250spectatorspresent.Hesflying, wastheuniversalcry,andtherewascheeringallalongtheground.Themannerinwhichtheaeroplane flewwasarevelationandledonetobelievethathadMrDefriestriedtocontinuelongerhecouldhave doneso. ColinDefriesmadeasecondflightonDecember18.TheSydneyMorningHeraldreported:TheWright aeroplanemadeitsfirstimportantflightonSaturdayatVictoriaParkracecourse,coveringaquarterofa mileinastraightlineataheightvaryingfrom2ftto15ft.Thelengthandendresultofthisflight,(it endedinacrash),wasalmostidenticaltothatofSamuelCodyonOctober16,1908.However,forthe Australianaviationenthusiastof1909theflightsbyDefriesweredisappointingbecausetheyhadnot demonstratedtheprogressofpoweredaviationsince1903.Forexample,OrvilleWrighthadjustseta newaltituderecordof1600ft,inasimilarWrightModelA,atPotsdamGermany,onOctober2,1909. ItwaslefttoHarryHoudinitodemonstratetoAustraliansthepracticalpossibilitiesoftheaeroplaneby performingthefirstcontrolled,circlingflightinAustraliaonMarch18,1910.Houdinireceivedpilot trainingonhisVoisinbiplaneatHamburg,Germany,duringNovember1909.Ataboutthistimehe acceptedaninvitationfromtheSydneytheatricalidentity,HarryRickards,toperformathisTivolicircuit theatresinMelbourneandSydney.HoudinidecidedtoshiphisVoisintoAustralia,anduseitto promotehisperformances.HemadehisfirstflightintheVoisinatDiggersRest,Victoria,onMarch18, 1910.Itwasashortflightofaboutoneminute,atlittlemorethantreetopheight,butitwasa controlledcircuitofPlumptonspaddock.Thefirst,andtwosubsequentflightsthatday,werewitnessed byatleastninepeoplewhosignedawitnessstatement.ReportersfromTheArgusandTheAgewere alsopresent.ThefollowingextractisfromTheAge,March19,1910. TheAge:InhisfirstattemptHoudinisenthismachinetearingacrossthepaddockatatremendous speed,thebiplanerisinginlessthanahundredyards.Justasitrosethemachineswervedstraightfora solidgumtree,andtheheartsoftheonlookersbeatfastastheysawdisasterperhapsdeathrightin thetrack.Mechanicallytheaviatormovedtheelevatinglever,andthebiplaneskimmedoverthetree likeabird.Acompletecircleofthepaddockwasmadeatabout50milesanhour,andthedescentwas accomplishedwithperfecteaseandgracefulness.Toland,Houdiniflewlow,stoppedtheengine,and sailedeasilyandgentlytoearthonthemomentumofthemachine. HoudiniflewagainatDiggersRestonMarch20&21.DuringHoudinistimeatDiggersRest,hisflights increasedinaltitudetoabove100ft,andindurationtoamaximumof7min37sec.Hethenmovedto SydneywhereheagaindemonstratedhisVoisintothepublicatRosehillRacecourse,betweenApril18 andMay1.HislastflightinAustraliaattractedacrowdofabout500people.SatisfiedthatHoudinihad adequatelydemonstratedthecapabilitiesofhisVoisin,TheAerialLeagueofAustralia,awardedhima shieldwhichwasinscribed:ToHoudinifortheFirstAerialFlightinAustralia,16March1910.Itis thoughtbysomethatthedateontheshieldwasfudgedtocounteraclaimfromFredJonesthatayoung pilotnamedFredCustancehadcarriedoutthefirstcontrolled,circlingflightinAustralia,atBolivar,near Adelaide,onMarch17,1910. FredJones,anAdelaidebusinessmanandentrepreneur,purchasedaBleriotXIduringavisittoEurope inthelatterhalfof1909.TheaircraftarrivedatPortAdelaideonFebruary3,1910.Forthreeweeks, fromFebruary14,itwasplacedonpublicexhibitionatJohnMartinsRundleStreetstoreinAdelaide. TheBleriotwasthenremovedtoMrWinzorspropertyatBolivartoprepareitforflighttesting.Fred Joneshadtwoassistants,BillWittber,anexperiencedautomobileengineerandaviationexperimenter,

andFredCustance,anineteenyearoldautomobilemechanic.Althoughhehadnopilottraining, CustancevolunteeredtobethefirsttoflytheBleriot.By11amonSundayMarch13,theBleriotwas readyforitsfirsttaxiingtrials.AsubstantialcrowdhadgatheredincludingreportersfromtheAdelaide papers.FredCustancewasthefirsttotaxiaroundthepaddockatabouthalfspeed.BillWittberthen climbedonboard,andtheresultingWittbersHop,duringwhichhelaterclaimedtohaveflownfor40 ydsataheightof5ft,wasdescribedonthefollowingdayinTheRegister,byitsSpecialReporter. TheRegister:AsimilarrunwastakenbyMrC.W.Wittber,andonthereturntripbeforethewindthe machinedidanunexpectedflutter.Astrongpuffcaughtoneoftheplanesandcausedthemachineto riseafewfeetclearoftheground,butasshewasheadingforarathernastyspotpowerhadtobeshut off,andshecametoastandstill.Theenginewassubjectedtofurthersatisfactorytestswiththemachine anchored,afterwhichthetrialswereabandonedforthedayonaccountofthefresheningbreeze. TherewerenofurthertrialswiththeBleriotuntiltheearlymorningofMarch17.BillWittberwasnot present,leavingtheinexperiencedFredCustanceinthepilotsseatandtheequallyinexperiencedFred Jonestoswingthepropeller.TherewasnogroundcrewtohelpanchortheBleriotduringpreliminary enginechecks.TheonlyotherpeoplepresentwerethepropertyownerMrWinzor,andtwoneighbours, Mr&MrsSawyer,nodoubtdrivenfromtheirbedbytheearlymorningactivity. TheAdelaidenewspaperswereforcedtorelyoninterviewswithFredJonestoreportwhathappened thatmorning.Hetoldreportersthattwoflightshadtakenplace.Aswenowknow,throughaconfession byFredJones,madeafewmonthsbeforehisdeath,thefirstoftheseflightswasafiction.Adescription ofthismythicalflightfollows,asitappearedinTheRegisteronMarch18. TheRegister:...atabout5oclockMrF.C.Custancetookhisplaceinthepilotseat.Afewpreliminary twistsofthepropeller,andthemachinewasunderwayatgoodspeed.Itrosequickly,and,withthe fencesofthepaddockasaguide,theareawascoveredthriceinrapidsuccessionadistanceofabout threemiles.Theheightofflyingwasbetween12and15ft.Themachinewasintheairforabout5m 25s...thepilotlandedwithoutanytrouble. SunriseonMarch17,1910,asreportedinTheRegisterwasat6.19amAdelaidetime,withthemoon settingat10.32pm.InretrospectitisobviousthatasuccessfulflightinaBleriotXI,inthepredawn darknessaround5am,involvingthreecircuitsofapaddockataheightofbetween12and15ft,would beimpossiblebysomeonewithnoflyingexperience.Thus,withthefirstflightexposedbyFredJones himselfasamyth,weareleftwiththeremainingdetailshegavetothepapersregardingtheonlyflight oftheBleriotthatmorning.Adescriptionofthisflightfollows,asreportedinTheRegisteronMarch18. TheRegister:Afterwaitingfordaylight,MrCustanceagainenteredthemachinewiththeintentionof establishingaheightrecord.Themachinestartedoffinwonderfulfashionfroma40ydsrun,andquickly mountedtoaheightofabout50ftwhichisthegreatestelevationyetattainedbyamonoplanein Australasia.Aftertravelingforabout200ydsMrCustancemadeaslighterrorinmanipulatingthe elevators,andcausedthemachinetodescendheadforemost.Theundercarriagewassmashedandthe propellerbroken,... Thegeneralconsensushasbeenthattheforegoing,despitethesourcebeingFredJones,isacredible accountoftheoneandonlyflightbyFredCustanceatBolivar.Therewasalsotheevidenceofa damagedBleriot,andaslightlyinjuredFredCustance,foralltoseeaftertheevent.Manyyearslater,Bill WittberwasconsultedaboutthewordingonthemonumentatBolivarthatheunveiledonJune27, 1967.ThesewordsdescribeonlyoneflightbyCustance,whichendedinacrash. Therefore,itisbeyonddoubtthatitwasHarryHoudini,andnotFredCustance,whoachievedthefirst controlled,circlingflightinAustralia.

Inviewoftheforegoing,itispossibletosummarisethekeydatesforfirstflightsinAustraliaas follows: December5,1909.ThefirstuntetheredflightinagliderbyGeorgeAugustineTayloronaVoisin type,biplaneglider,atNarrabeenHeads,NSW. December9,1909.Thefirstpowered,straightlineflightbyColinDefriesonaWrightModelA,at VictoriaParkRacecourse,Sydney,NSW. March18,1910.Thefirstpowered,circlingflightbyHarryHoudinionaVoisinBiplaneatDiggers Rest,Vic. StartingwellbeforetheimportationofpoweredaircraftintoAustralia,andinnoneedofmotivationby theAerialLeague,anuniquelyAustralianapproachtothechallengeofpoweredflightwastakenupby twobrothers,JohnandReginaldDuigan,ontheirparentsproperty,SpringPlains,atMiaMia,Victoria. JohnDuigantraveledtoLondonin1902tostudyengineering.Hegraduatedinelectricalengineering fromFinsburyTechnicalCollegein1904,andinmotorengineeringfromtheBatterseaPolytechnic Collegein1905.AfterhisreturntoAustraliahewasinspiredbyreportsofWilburWrightsflying demonstrationsinFranceduringAugust&September1908.Bytheendof1908Johnhadjoinedhis brotherReginaldatSpringPlains,andthebuildingofhisfirstgliderhadcommenced.Thededicated workoftheDuiganBrotherseventuallyresultedinsomesignificantfirstsforpoweredflightinAustralia. Mostimportantly,JohnDuiganbecamethefirstAustraliantodesign,buildandsuccessfullyflya poweredaircraftinAustralia.Hedesignedabiplane,basedontheFarmantype,andpowereditwitha 25hpengine,whichwasinturnspeciallydesignedandbuiltinMelbournebyJ.E.Tilley.Thefirsttrials ofthebiplanewerecarriedoutatMiaMiaonJuly16,1910,achievingafewshorthops.JohnDuigans firstcontrolledflightwasperformedonOctober7,1910,overadistanceof196ydsataheightofabout 12ft. ThecelebrationofacenturyofpoweredflightbyAustralianswillnodoubtembracetheachievementof theDuiganBrothers.JohnDuiganhadthecouragetotestflytheaircrafthehaddesignedandbuilt himself.ItwasnotaprovenaircraftliketheimportedWright,VoisinandBleriotmodels.Furthermore, whileDefries,HoudiniandCustanceneverflewanaircraftagain,aftertheirAustralianexperiences,John Duiganwentontocontributetothedevelopmentofpoweredflight,particularlythroughhisassociation withA.V.Roe&Co.HelaterservedwithdistinctionasapilotwiththeAustralianFlyingCorpsduring WWI. Justasthe1903WrightFlyerispreservedasaNationalTreasure,inTheSmithsonianinWashingtonDC, sotooinAustraliathe1910DuiganBiplaneispreservedintheMuseumofVictoria.Thesignificanceof thisrareaviationiconwillresonatewithmembersoftheRAeSAustralianDivisionastheyreflectonthe achievementoftheDuiganBrothers,andofallinvolvedwithAustralianaviationoverthepastcentury.