How The Vimy Was Almost Completely Bogged En-route to Piza

We discuss how the great air race team managed to save the Vickers Vimy

Date Published February 18, 2019
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At 6:30am on November 13th, Ross Smith and his fellow airmen arrived at the Lyon Aerodrome ready to depart on their 380 mile flight to Piza. Unfortunately, however, the 300 gallons of petrol that was supposed to fuel the “Vimy” had not arrived.

Ross Smith was obviously distressed and wrote in his diary, “my brother Keith and I were literally losing hair, and we were not able to lift off for Piza until 10 Oçlock!”

Heading east, they flew out over Cannes and Nice and followed the coast of the Mediterranean with Ross Smith in the pilot’s seat. Keith Smith spent most of the flight taking photographs, because Kodak Ltd had offered a prize of 800 pounds to the crew who produced the 50 best negatives while on flight! Kodak supplied Keith and the two mechanics with free cameras and dozens of film, so the three airmen took several hundred photos while en-route. Luckily all these photos won the team the 800 pound prize! Most of these photos still exist today, and the majority are housed in the South Australian University Archives.

The crew eventually landed in Piza in heavy rain and found, to their dismay, that the Piza airport was flooded and the “Vimy”” was badly bogged.

At 3:40pm Ross Smith opened out the engines but, to his surprise, the “Vimy” would not move forward! The “Vimy’s” wheels had become embedded in the mud, so the team had to be very careful not to let the aircraft’s tail lift off the ground as there was the danger of the machine standing up on its nose. It took the team most of the day, 30 locals, and James Bennett’s body-weight being applied to the tail-plane, to dig the “Vimy” out of the mud!

Once they were in the air, the crew suddenly realised Bennett was not on board, he was still clinging to the tail! Fortunately Bennett somehow managed to clamber on board and join his crew, while the crowd below cheered him on!

Although it had been a long and frustrating day, the crew were finally on their way to Rome!


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