HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

12 June 2018

Francis Charles Chinchester lands in Jervis Bay.

Historic Tasman Crossing 1931.


"I wanted to fly across from New Zealand to Austalia. No-one had flown across the Tasman Sea alone, and I had a great urge to be the first to do it."


This remarkable flight in an open plane when aviation was in it's infancy was a very risky affair.  New Zealand airman Francis Charles Chinchester with limited resourses, dared to set off across the Tasman in an attempt to become the first man to solo cross from East to West, and only the second ever cross ocean flight, after Lindberg's crossing of the Atlantic.

chichester stamp-front
An envelope and stamp were released to commemorate the crossing.

March 28 – With limited funds, and a plane needing repair,  he borrowed floats from the New Zealand Permanent Air Force and fitted them to his Gypsy Moth Bi-plane aircraft (Madam Elijah ZK-AKK).  He did this because the plane could not carry enough fuel for the whole distance, which meant he would need to land at islands to refuel during the flight.  

The first leg of his journey saw him land at Norfolk Island, the next was Lord Howe Island, becoming the first person to land at Lord Howe.


April 1 - Successfully landing at Lord Howe, he moored the plane in the lagoon. Overnight there was a storm and awoke the next day to find his aircraft upside down and severly damaged.  He thought the flight was over, but with the aid of Mr. R. Wilson (who was In the Air Force In Egypt during the war) and the inlanders who had never seen a plane before. The wings and fuselage were entirely remade and fitted, this was quite a challenge as there were about 4000 pieces of wood in each wing to be glued back into the right place. There was 92 feet of sewing around each wing and tape to be sewn on the top and bottom ribs, each 41/2 feet long. The float was repaired, the machine repainted, after weeks of effort the engine was reconditioned,  the repairs took around 9 weeks. This was an amazing feat considering there were no vehicles or aircraft mechanics on the island.


"All the tinfulls of nuts, bolts, washers, screws and parts must be used up. If anything was left over, I nosed around the engine until a place was found for it."


June 7 – Leaving Lord Howe he flew into a torrential storm, in an open cockpit he was soon saturated, the storm was so bad he flew completely blind, unable to make out the surface of the ocean and ruining his only chart.  Flying out of the storm he used a school atlas and worked out he was on a course for a point south of Tasmania.   
He quickly turned towards the Australian coast, greatly concerned about his fuel situation.  An engine defect compelled him to steer a course giving favourable wind conditions.  He sighted the Australian coast, then the Shoalhaven River came into view, he next sighted Jervis Bay, where five war ships were the only sign of life. At 3.30 pm Chinchester landed in Jervis Bay alongside the seaplane carrier, HMAS Albatross, near the Naval College. It had taken him 6 hours and 15 minutes to cover the 500 mile journey at a average speed of 70 miles per hour.


Great anxiety was felt by those waiting on his arrival in Sydney, fears for his safety mounted as a report from the steamer Kurow had sighted him at 1.30 pm 80 miles due east of Sydney.  Fears were allayed when news of his safe landing at Jervis Bay came through.


H.M.A.S Albatross.

Navigation – Compasses then were unreliable in small planes, so he learned astronomical navigation used by ships and tried to adapt it to flying. His only method of fixing his position was to take sun sights with a sextant.  As a solo pilot, this was a difficult thing to do in a moving aircraft, as he needed to fly the aircraft at the same time.

"I had to use the sextant fast, setting the plane into a dive so as to get the sun above the tank with the horizon below the wing beside the motor, and immediately I had the sun touching the horizon in the sextant I jogged back the control to climb, while I recorded the sextant, watch and altimeter readings."

He could not have hoped to land in a more fortuitous place,  H.M.A.S Albatross had only arrived in Jervis Bay a few days earlier for exercises.

A greatly surprised Captain Feakes of the Albatross.
Welcomed him aboard – "Dr Livingstone I assume....At any rate you have managed to discover the only aircraft carrier in the Southern Hemisphere."

The navy proceeds to lift Mr Chinchester and his plane aboard Australia's first aircraft carrier, HMAS Albatross,  where he was made comfortable by the officers.  Mechanics onboard HMAS Albatross overhauled his seaplane.

Mr Chinchester assisting in the lift injured his hand when he caught it between the plane
and the side of the ship.  He severed the top of one finger and sustained a serious cut to the hand.
He was immediately admitted to the ships hospital for treatment.

pic of man

Francis Chinchester was a remarkable man, his life story is well worth reading.


His remarkable life, Continue reading - http://www.a-e-g.org.uk/sir-francis-chichester.html
Gypsy Moth -
Stamp -

There are some discrepancies in the date he landed at Jervis Bay. Many stories have him landing on Jervis Bay on the 10th of June, but my research via newspaper reports which were printed on the 8th of June 1931,  have him landing on the 7th of June.

Beaten in his attempt to fly solo across the Tasman.

StateLibQld_2_112972_Guy_MenziesJanuary 1931 - He was beaten by an Australian, Guy Lampton Menzies.  Menzies flew from Australia to New Zealand in the same plane Kingsford-Smith had used during his record crossing from England to Australia.


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