This is the first of 24 articles that will follow the route of the Vickers Vimy aircraft, which Sir Ross Smith flew from London to Darwin in 1919… to win the Great Air Race!
The “Vimy” departed Hounslow Airfield, London at 9:05 am on November 12th, 1919. This is Ross Smith and the team’s final flight itinerary for the Vimy!
12th November London – Lyon (France)
13th November Lyon – Piza (Italy)
15th November Piza – Rome (Italy)
16th November Rome – Taranto (Italy)
17th November Taranto – Suda Bay (Crete)
18th November Suda Bay – Cairo (Egypt)
19th November Cairo – Damascus (Syria)
20th November Damascus – Ramadie (Iraq)
21st November Ramadie – Basra (Iraq)
23rd November Basra – Bandar Abbas (Persia)
24th November Bandar Abbas – Karachi (Pakistan)
25th November Karachi – Delhi (India)
27th November Delhi – Allahabad (India)
28th November Allahabad – Calcutta (India)
29th November Calcutta – Akyab )Burma)
30th November Akyab – Rangoon (Burma)
1st December Rangoon – Bangkok (Thailand)
2nd December Bangkok – Singora (Thailand)
4th December Singora – Singapore
6th December Singapore – Kalijati (Indonesia)
7th December Kalijati – Sourabaya (Indonesia)
8th December Sourabaya – Bima (Indonesia)
9th December Bima – Atamboea (Timor)
10th December Atamboea – Darwin (Australia)
The majority of the details found in the coming articles have been taken from Sir Ross Smith’s original diary, which he carried with him on board the “Vimy” flight! Ross Smith’s diary included 186 pages of notes and detailed comments.
Stage 1 – November 12th, 1919.
The Four Australian airmen, Ross Smith (pilot), Keith Smith (Co-pilot and navigator) and their two mechanics – Wally Shiers and James Bennett, arrived at Hounslow Airfield in London with the intention to fly to Lyon, France. However, at 6:30 am, a dense ground haze appeared, which prevented the crew from embarking on their journey halfway across the globe! The Air Ministry sent reports of bad weather in the southeast of London and the north of France (just their luck)! At 8:00 am another report was issued, which stated that the forecast was Class V (totally unfit for flying). This was was obviously very discouraging, however, the crew had made their mind up: come fit, come foul, they were determined to start their journey!
Eventually, at 9:05 am, they climbed into their seats and took off from the snow-covered airfield. They slowly climbed upward, through the cheerless mist-laden skies, and circled above Hounslow for 10 minutes and then set off!
The freezing breath of winter stung their faces as they began to cross the English Channel (Ross and Keith Smith were in an open cock-pit, and were totally exposed to the elements).
The Vimy’s engines were throttled down to about 3/4 of their possible speed. Suddenly, as they approached the coast of France, the sun came out and they were able to climb to 4,000 feet. However, within 15 minutes, the weather once again changed and the aircraft became deluged in sleet and snow. Goggles were useless, thanks to all the ice! The Smith brothers thus suffered total agony because they had to look out into the 90-miles-an-hour snow blast without protection!
Ross Smith wrote in his diary that this leg of the flight, the first leg, was by far the worst! “This sort of flying is a rotten game. The cold is hell and I am a silly ass for having ever embarked on the flight”.
After flying for 4 hours, the weather improved and they were somehow still on course. Despite the terrible conditions they had encountered, their twin Rolls Royce engines hadn’t missed a beat, and, 6 hours and 20 minutes after leaving London, they landed in Lyon.
Ross Smith wrote “We were so stiff with cold when we climbed out of the machine we could hardly walk. But what did it matter? Our spirits ran high and the French flying officers were very surprised to learn that we had come from London. They looked up at the weather, at the machine, and then at us and slowly shook their heads. They were shocked when they learned that we intended leaving for Rome the very next morning!”