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Beyond Flights of Fancy: Australia's Aviation History

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

✦ Aviation has come a long way. Now we get onboard Qantas Airways like it's the most natural thing in the world to be inside the belly of a 'metal flying bird'.

Did you ever wonder why children are so fascinated by planes? When they see one in the sky they all stop what they're doing and look up, transfixed. We all share this sense of wonder, of how in the world can a bunch of humans stay up in the air for a long enough time to get from one place to another? Aviation was made possible because several people in history dared to dream, and they made a fantasy a reality.

It started with balloons

Dean, Gale and L'Estrange were Australia's first balloonists. Dean succeeded in 1858 with his gas-filled balloon, The Australasian which flew a distance of 30km with two people in it. Gale flew in his balloon The Young Australian in 1869. L'Estrange took to the skies in 1881 and his balloon had an unfortunate accident striking a building which ignited the leaking gas.

Gas balloon displayed at the royal Agricultural Showgrounds, Sydney, January 1901, photographed by WH Maguire. Photo: State Library NSW
Gas balloon displayed at the royal Agricultural Showgrounds, Sydney, January 1901, photographed by WH Maguire. Photo: State Library NSW

Fun Fact: Did you know that Hungarian-American escapologist Harry Houdini made Australia's first controlled flight in 1910?

The first Australian to make a series of glider flights was George A. Taylor in 1909. By 1910, other aviators had made attempts with their own flying machines. What is interesting is Houdini was credited with the first controlled flight at Diggers Rest, Victoria on 18 March 1910! Who would have thought that Houdini's magic went beyond just escaping from chains and trunks!

23 February 1911 is an important date because that's when we had Australia's first aircraft passenger, Frank Coles, get on board aviator Joseph Hammond's aircraft. Hammond later took Australia's first paying passenger one month later on a 19km flight.

November 1911 saw Australia's first qualified pilot in William Hart, who, incidentally, was also a dentist.

Aviation continued to progress until Ross and Keith Smith made the first flight between England and Australia in 1919.

Raising the bar

Progress is an inevitable part of human history, and balloons, kites, gliders were no longer challenging enough. In 1919, the Commonwealth Government announced a prize of £10,000 for the first Australian to fly from England to Australia in an attempt to boost local aerial activity.

The prize was claimed by Ross and Keith Smith. They landed in Dyarwin, NT, clocking nearly 136 hours of flying time spread out over 28 days.

Goble and McIntyre were the next to raise the bar. In 1924, they completed the first aerial circumnavigation of Australia. They took 44 days to fly around Australia. It was an even greater feat they managed to do this because they were pummelled by bad weather and even mechanical failure.

By 1927, Charles Kingsford Smith and Chalres Ulm did the same circumnavigation in only 10 days.

In 1928, Bert Hinkler went on the first solo flight to Australia from Croydon, England. He arrived in Darwin on 28 February 1928 after 128 hours of flying time.

It's a bird, it's a plane

Through Australia's aviation history, tribute must also go to the incredible machines that the pilots flew in.

The Vickers Vimy Mk IV was originally designed as a World War I bomber. It was powered by twin Rolls Royce engines, had a top speed of 177 kph, could carry 2,300 litres of fuel and had a cruising range of 1,600 kilometres. Remember the name of this aircraft as it completed the 17,910 km journey from England to Australia in 28 days!

Bert Hinkler, whom we mentioned earlier, did his first solo flight from England to Australia in an Avro Avian G-EBOV. The aircraft was powered by an 80 horsepower A.D.C. Aircraft Cirrus II engine, and it took him on an 18,000 km journey. Unfortunately, Hinkler was killed on 7 January 1933 when he crashed into a mountain in Italy on one of his flights.

The next amazing aircraft is the Fokker trimotor Southern Cross. It was one of the largest aeroplanes at that time. The aircraft took Australian aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm on their first trans-Pacific flight in 1928. The aircraft had been rejuvenated with three new engines for the flight to take place. Unfortunately, these three new engines were incredibly deafening and it forced the crew to communicate with each other by messages scribbled on bits of paper.

Birth of Qantas

Qantas was the brainchild of two young aviators Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness who went on a journey from Longreach to Darwin in August 1919. As they travelled through the rough outback, they came up with ideas for a local air service. They founded Qantas and it continues to be a globally recognised airlines.

In those days, air travel was a completely new thing, so there were no flight routes. Fysh and McGinness have had to travel more times by car through difficult terrain to identify potential places for aeroplanes to refuel or do an emergency landing.

In May 1920, Fysh and McGinness decided to start a local air service. They met wealthy station owner Fergus McMaster and presented their proposal for a 'joy flight' and taxi air service in Western Queensland and the Northern Territory. This meeting was when Qantas was born.

Fun Fact: QANTAS stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.

Qantas was established in Queensland in 1920 with its first headquarters in Longreach. The first commercial flights were mail runs between Charleville and Cloncurry in Queensland.

Qantas was established in Queensland in 1920 as featured in Brilliant-Online
Qantas was established in Queensland in 1920. Photo: Veronica Lind

Other than delivering the post, flights started taking paying passengers between towns. Passenger flights became popular because they greatly reduced the times of travelling. In 1930, Qantas moved its headquarters to Brisbane.

In 1934, Qantas changed its name to Qantas Empire Airways Limited as it grew in international focus. Since then, one could say that Qantas has stretched its wings and flown further than our early aviators could ever imagine.

Learn more about the history of Qantas airlines here.

Closer to Home

First aircraft landed in Port Macquarie

On Saturday 5 February 1921, an Avro 504K biplane first landed in Port Macquarie. It's been more than a 100 years since the first plane landed. And guess where this historical landing took place?

On Saturday 5 February 1921, an Avro 504K biplane first landed in Port Macquarie as featured in Brilliant-Online

On Oxley Reserve, which we now know as the Port Macquarie Golf Club. This certainly gives a unique touch to the golf club's longstanding history. Lieutenant Frank Roberts from the Australian Flying Corps landed the plane. The plane had arrived the previous May as one of the first five of 100 surplus World War I aircraft given to Australia as part of the Imperial Gift of 1919. The British government had far too many planes, and rather than destroy them, decided to gift them to member nations of the Commonwealth.

Not long after, another Avro 504K became the first plane operated by Qantas to carry a paying passenger.

This was a thrilling moment for the people in Port Macquarie, and who wouldn't pass up a chance to experience what it felt like to take to the skies? Lieutenant Roberts offered to take residents on a short joy ride, or shall we say, flight, skimming over the town, the Hastings River and the ocean. It was described as an 'angelic state of existence' for the lucky ones who experienced this.

64 years of flying instruction at the Hastings District Flying Club

The Hastings District Flying Club boasts 64 years of flying instruction history (since 1958) with Chief Flying Instructor Barrie Abbott.

Till today, the Hastings District Flying Club (HDFC) operates a flying club and Recreational Aviation flying school out of Port Macquarie on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, with a hangar and club house at the airport.

Present Chief Flying Instructor, Ray Lind has been instructing flying for nearly 30 years.

Our goal as a flying school is to produce GREAT and RESPECTED Pilots. We do this by ensuring total aviation safety and disciplined airmanship through accurate and professional flying training. HDFC is second to none among all RA-AUS flying schools. Our students always emerge more mature, disciplined, confident and responsible after they have gained their pilot's certificate. These characteristics stay with them for life and it sets them apart from others, even if they do not fly professionally. This is a wonderful privilege for every young individual.

HDFC offers 2 flying scholarships a year. One of the earlier recipients of this scholarship was Jimmie Higgins and Jimi Ludriks who is now a Boeing 747 First Officer with Cathay Pacific. Both boys were from Wauchope.

RAAF Roulettes

One cannot help but be wowed every time the Roulettes soar through the skies with their acrobatic displays. They are the Royal Australian Air Force's aerobatic display team, skilled at performing jaw-dropping aerobatics that consist of a number of manoeuvres flown in various formations at low level.

Roulette pilots are Qualified Flying Instructors who work at the Central Flying School, based at RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria. Read our Brilliant stories about the Roulettes here.

Around the world in...155 days!

If you're a fan of aviation, you'll definitely know the name Zara Rutherford. She became the youngest woman at the age of 19 to fly solo around the world in 2022. She travelled over 51,000 km and made more than 60 stops across five continents during her trip, breaking two Guinness World Records in the process. Read her stories below.

Perhaps you could be the next to lead Australia's aviation history on to its next chapter. Let your dreams soar to the skies!



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