Childhood & Early Life
Charles Kingsford Smith was born on 9 February 1897 at Hamilton in Brisbane, Australia. He was the seventh child of banker William Charles Smith and his wife Catherine Mary, née Kingsford.
At the age of six, he along with his family moved to Canada, however, the family returned to Sydney in 1907. In Canada, he attended schools in Vancouver and upon his return to Sydney, he completed his education from St Andrew's Cathedral Choir School.
He later pursued studies in mechanics and electrical engineering from the Sydney Technical High School. He graduated as an electrical engineer at the age of 16.
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After completing his studies, he began work at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company as an apprentice engineer. With the onset of the World War I in 1914, he was keen to join the army, but he had to wait until 1915 as he was not yet 18 years old.
Initially he joined in the Australian Army – First Australian Imperial Force and served as a motorcycle despatch rider. In 1917, he was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) as a pilot. It is while he was serving as a pilot that he realised his passion for flying.
In 1917, during one of his missions, he was shot in the foot by enemy forces and as a result a large part of his left foot had to be amputated. Upon his recovery and return to service, he worked as a flying instructor at the R.F.C.
In 1918, he along with several other team members was transferred to the newly established Royal Air Force. However, citing insufficient navigational experience, he was not allowed to participate in the England to Australia Air race of 1919. At this point he along with his friend began a joy riding flight service in England named Kingsford Smith, Maddocks Aeros Ltd.
He later travelled to the United States of America and worked as a stuntsman for a short period. After failing to find sponsors to support his interest in flying a trans-Pacific flight, he returned to Sydney in 1921.
Upon his arrival in Sydney, he took up work at a joy riding Flight Company called ‘Diggers' Aviation Co’. Later, he worked as a salaried pilot with Western Australian Airways Ltd. He was among the first airline pilots in Australia at the time.
After realizing the scope of air transport in Australia, he raised funds from public and in 1928, he along with aviator Charles Ulm bought a three-engine Fokker plane from USA. He modified the plane and called it ‘Southern Cross’.
On 31 May 1928, Charles Kingsford Smith along with his four member crew including Charles Ulm embarked on their initial trans-Pacific flight, from California to Australia. The feat was achieved in three parts and in a total flying time of 83 hours and 38 minutes.
In 1928, he along with Charles Ulm flew between Victoria and Perth without any stops. Upon setting this record; they registered themselves as Australian National Airways with the aim of operating mail services. The operations began in 1930, however, the following year one of its carrier went missing over the Snowy Mountains. Financial difficulties led to the closure of the company soon after.
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In 1929, he flew from Sydney to London in a record-breaking time of 12 days and 18 hours. The same year he made a second attempt on the same route. While flying the Southern Cross from Sydney to England, the plane had to make an emergency landing at the the flats of the Glenelg River estuary.
The plane was rescued after a fortnight long search operation and during this time two friends of Charles Kingsford Smith who had set out to aid in the search and rescue met with an accident and eventually died of exposure and thirst.
Charles Kingsford Smith was blamed for the death of his two friends and media accused the emergency landing as a publicity stunt. Even though it was proved an accident and he was exonerated, the incident plagued him for the rest of his life.
In 1929, he accomplished the record of completing the first round-the-world flight in 12 days and 18 hours. His passion for flying was so strong that he achieved the record of flying solo for 10000 miles in the England to Australia Air Race in 1930.
A few years later, in 1933, he broke his own record for a solo flight between Australia and England by covering the distance in 7 days and 4 hours. Between 1933 and 1934, he flew multiple times between Australia and New Zealand and broke his own record each time he flew.
Charles Kingsford Smith was successful in his initial attempt to execute an east to west crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the USA.
On 6 November 1935 he along with co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge embarked on a journey in the plane called ‘Lady Southern Cross’. However, after 7 November 1935, the plane went missing. It is assumed that the plane crashed into the sea off the coast of Burma.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Military Cross by the British Armed Forces in 1917 'for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty'.
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In 1928, he was awarded the Air Force Cross by the United Kingdom Armed Forces.
The Royal Automobile Club presented him the Segrave Trophy in 1930.In 1932, he was listed in the King’s Birthday Honours list as ‘Knight Bachelor’. The same year he was appointed as the honorary Air Commodore of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Personal Life & Legacy:
In 1923, Charles Kingsford Smith married Thelma Eileen Hope Corboy. However, the couple separated ways in 1929.
In 1930, he married Mary Powell. The couple had a son named Charles.
On 8 November 1935, his plane went missing in the midst of a record breaking attempt to fly from England to Australia. It is believed that the plane crashed in sea near Burma. He was 38 years at the time of his death.
His aircraft ‘Southern Cross’ is preserved and maintained at the memorial for Sir Charles Kingsford Smith at Brisbane.
In 1906, he, along with a friend, was swept into the sea and they were almost drowned at the Bondi beach. They were rescued by lifesavers; this incident left him with a fear for water throughout his life.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith is featured on an Australian Dollar 20 note.
He appeared in a cameo role in the film ‘Splendid Fellows’ in 1934.
In 1944, a documentary f was made on him titled ‘The Old Bus’. Two years later an Australian film ‘Smithy’ was made on his life.