Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, also known as “Smithy,” was an Australian aviator whose enthusiasm for flying garnered him worldwide renown. His exceptional flying abilities and record-setting flights won him the title of “World’s Greatest Pilot.” His boyhood was spent in Canada and Sydney, and despite his academic prowess, he was known as an adventurous lad with a passion for cycling. After completing his studies in electrical engineering, Charles Kingsford Smith joined the army, where he discovered his desire to pursue a career in aviation. However, an attack rendered him injured, and he was later forced to leave the military. After regaining his health, he attempted other ventures, such as launching a pleasure flying service and an aviation mail transport service, among others. During his lifetime, he established many aviation records, including the first trans-Pacific flight, a flying expedition around the world, a nonstop flight over the Australian peninsula, and the establishment of an air connection between Australia and New Zealand. The armed forces acknowledged his accomplishments and rewarded him with honorary titles and military honors. Due to his courage, skill, and incessant quest for adventure, he attained international renown.
Youth and Early Life
Charles Kingsford Smith was born in Hamilton, Brisbane, Australia on February 9, 1897. The eighth child of banker William Charles Smith and his wife Catherine Mary, née Kingsford, he was born in 1840.
At the age of six, he emigrated to Canada with his family; however, they returned to Sydney in 1907. In Canada, he attended Vancouver schools, and upon returning to Sydney, he graduated from St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir School.
Later, he attended the Sydney Technical High School to study mechanics and electrical engineering. At the age of 16, he graduated as an electrical engineer.
Charles Smith’s Career
After completing his education, he began working as an apprentice engineer for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. He was eager to join the army upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914, but he had to wait until 1915 because he was not yet 18 years old.
Initially, he served as a motorcycle despatch rider in the First Australian Imperial Force of the Australian Army. In 1917, he became a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C. ). During his time as a pilot in the military, he discovered his passion for flying.
During one of his missions in 1917, he was shot in the foot by enemy forces, necessitating the amputation of a major portion of his left foot. After his rehabilitation and return to duty, he worked as a flight instructor for the R.F.C.
Along with several other team members, he was transferred to the newly formed Royal Air Force in 1918. However, insufficient navigational skills prevented him from participating in the 1919 England to Australia Air Race. At this time, he and his companion established a company in England called Kingsford Smith, Maddocks Aeros Ltd.
Later, he traveled to the United States of America and worked briefly as a stuntman. In 1921, he returned to Sydney after failing to obtain backers to support his desire to make a trans-Pacific voyage.
Upon his arrival in Sydney, he began working for ‘Diggers Aviation Co.’, a flight company specializing in recreational flying. Later, he worked for Western Australian Airways Ltd. as a salaried pilot. At the time, he was one of the first airline pilots in Australia.
In 1928, he and aviator Charles Ulm purchased a three-engine Fokker aircraft from the United States after understanding the magnitude of the Australian air transport market. He altered the aircraft and named it Southern Cross.
On 31 May 1928, Charles Kingsford Smith and his four-member crew, including Charles Ulm, took out from California to Australia on their maiden trans-Pacific trip. The achievement was accomplished in three stages over the course of 83 hours and 38 minutes.
In 1928, he and Charles Ulm made a nonstop flight between Victoria and Perth. Upon establishing this record, they registered as Australian National Airways in order to provide mail services. The activities commenced in 1930, but the following year one of its carriers disappeared over the Snowy Mountains. As a result of financial issues, the company ceased operations shortly thereafter.
In 1929, he set a new record by flying from Sydney to London in 12 days and 18 hours. In the same year, he attempted the same route again. The Southern Cross flight from Sydney to England was forced to make an emergency landing on the Glenelg River estuary flats.
During the fourteen-day search operation, two of Charles Kingsford Smith’s companions who had set out to assist in the search and rescue were involved in an accident and ultimately perished from exposure and thirst.
Charles Kingsford Smith was held responsible for the loss of his two friends, and the media alleged that the emergency landing was a publicity hoax. Even though it was determined to be an accident and he was exonerated, the experience continued to haunt him for the remainder of his life.
In 1929, he completed the first round-the-world flight in a record-setting 12 days and 18 hours. In 1930, during the England to Australia Air Race, his passion for flying was so strong that he set a record by flying solo for 10,000 miles.
A few years later, in 1933, he surpassed his previous record for a solo trip between Australia and England by completing the journey in 7 days and 4 hours. Between 1933 and 1934, he flew between Australia and New Zealand many times, breaking his own record each time.
Charles Kingsford Smith was successful in his first effort to traverse the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the United States from east to west.
On November 6, 1935, he and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge took off in the ‘Lady Southern Cross’ along with co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge. However, on November 7, 1935, the plane disappeared. The plane is presumed to have crashed into the ocean off the coast of Burma.
His Major Opera
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith became famous for his successful flight from the United States to Australia across the Pacific Ocean. In the majority of his flights, he was known to have set records and reset his own records. He is also remembered as the first aviator to complete a round-the-world journey. His other exploits include nonstop flights over the Australian peninsula and the first-ever east-to-west crossing of the Pacific Ocean.
Awards & Achievements
In 1917, the British Armed Forces awarded him the Military Cross “for distinguished courage and devotion to duty.”
In 1928, he was given the Air Force Cross by the armed forces of the United Kingdom.
In 1930, the Royal Automobile Club awarded him the Segrave Trophy.
In 1932, he was honored as “Knight Bachelor” in the King’s Birthday Honours list. He was appointed honorary Air Commodore of the Royal Australian Air Force the following year.
Personal Life and Legacy
Charles Kingsford Smith wed Thelma Eileen Hope Corboy in 1923. In 1929, however, the couple separated.
He married Mary Powell in 1930. The couple’s son’s name was Charles.
On November 8, 1935, his plane disappeared during a record-breaking flight from England to Australia. It is suspected that the aircraft crashed into the ocean near Myanmar. He was 38 years old when he passed away.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s memorial in Brisbane preserves and maintains his “Southern Cross” aircraft.
Estimated Net Worth
In 1906, he and a friend were almost drowned at Bondi beach after being swept into the ocean. They were rescued by lifeguards; this incident left him with a lifelong fear of water.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith appears on the Australian twenty-dollar bill.
In 1934, he played a cameo in the film “Splendid Fellows.”
In 1944, a documentary titled “The Old Bus” was filmed about him. Two years later, the Australian film Smithy, based on his life, was produced.