Australian pioneer aviator Bert Hinkler, with his Avro Avian, was the first person to fly solo from England to Australia in 1928.
Australian pioneer aviator Bert Hinkler, with his Avro Avian, was the first person to fly solo from England to Australia in 1928.

How Bert Hinkler waited 10 years for first epic solo flight

IT was a flight he had waited nearly 10 years to make. In 1919, Bundaberg pilot Bert Hinkler had dreamt of flying from England to Australia - solo. However, organisers of a race, won by pilot brothers Ross and Keith Smith, deemed Hinkler's solo flight too risky.

But on the morning he finally got to achieve his dream on February 7, 1928, 90 years ago today, he still had to convince himself to do it. In the end he decided: "Hang it I'll go. I've waited 10 years for this. Not another hour."

Hinkler drove to the aerodrome, prepared his small Avro biplane, kissed his partner Nance Javis goodbye and took off through low fog on that cold February morning.

There was no fanfare and very little fuss, which was just the way he wanted it.

Publicity was not uppermost in his mind. He was focused on beating the record of 28 days set by the Smith brothers in 1919, but also becoming the first person to do the trip solo. Hinkler would smash the record and become one of the greatest aviators in Australian history.

 

Bert Hinkler as an RAF pilot in 1918.
Bert Hinkler as an RAF pilot in 1918.

 

Born Herbert John Louis Hinkler in Bundaberg, Queensland, in 1892, Hinkler was the son of a Prussian migrant itinerant labourer, Johann "John" Hinkler, and his Brisbane-born wife, Bonney.

Bert grew up fascinated by flight. At five his mother saw him point to a bird and say he wanted to be able to fly.

At the age of 11 he heard news of the Wright brothers and their pioneering flight in America and thereafter cut out articles from papers and magazines about aviation. He left school at 14 getting whatever work he could while he tinkered with gliders and other machines to realise his dream of flying.

After teaching himself as much as he could, in 1911 he enrolled in an aviation correspondence course and continued his glider experiments. His ambitions were further fuelled when American pilot Arthur Burr "Wizard" Stone, on tour with his flying show, arrived in Bundaberg in 1912.

It was the first time Hinkler had actually seen an aeroplane.

He had recently read about an instability problem with Stone's Bleriot aircraft and told him how to fix it. As a result, Stone offered Hinkler a job as a mechanic.

When Stone crashed his plane in New Zealand, the tour ended and Hinkler got a job at an aeroplane factory at Penrith.

 

Aviation pioneer Bert Hinkler (1892-1933) with his aircraft.
Aviation pioneer Bert Hinkler (1892-1933) with his aircraft.

 

Aviator Bert Hinkler checks his plane at his official welcome to Brisbane after his epic London-to-Australia solo flight in 1928.
Aviator Bert Hinkler checks his plane at his official welcome to Brisbane after his epic London-to-Australia solo flight in 1928.

 

Bert Hinkler with his mother Frances in Bundaberg in 1928 after his solo flight from England to Australia.
Bert Hinkler with his mother Frances in Bundaberg in 1928 after his solo flight from England to Australia.

 

Knowing that Europe was then a centre of aviation, he made his way to England in 1914 and got a job at Sopwith Aviation to pay for a pilot's licence.

But when war broke out in August that year he joined the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) to get his wings.

While in the RNAS he invented a dual-control system to allow a gunner to take control of the plane if the pilot was injured or killed. He made other improvements to aircraft, including machine guns that could eject shells so they didn't hit the pilot.

He earned his pilot's licence in 1917 and after the war was posted to Italy with the newly formed RAF. When Australian prime minister Billy Hughes announced in 1919 a £10,000 prize for the first crew to fly to Australia, Hinkler applied but was barred from competing.

It may have been lucky that he didn't take part; only two of four teams finished and four men died.

Over the next few years Hinkler made his name as a solo pilot and navigator with various long distance flights and air races. He also tested planes to fund the trip he longed to make - from London to Darwin.

The dream started to become a reality when he took off on February 7, 1928. His first leg was from London to Rome. He hoped to reach the Italian capital before the sun went down but had to land by moonlight.

 

Bert Hinkler's arrival in his Avro Avian at Eagle Farm, Brisbane on March 6, 1928, after his record solo flight from England to Australia.
Bert Hinkler's arrival in his Avro Avian at Eagle Farm, Brisbane on March 6, 1928, after his record solo flight from England to Australia.

 

Bert Hinkler lands at Eagle Farm racecourse on March 6, 1928.
Bert Hinkler lands at Eagle Farm racecourse on March 6, 1928.

 

A special poster commemorating Hinkler’s epic flight appeared in The Weekly Times on March 17, 1928.
A special poster commemorating Hinkler’s epic flight appeared in The Weekly Times on March 17, 1928.

 

He then made the hop to Malta, stopping there overnight before flying on to Libya in North Africa. From there he headed to Tobruk but had to put down in the desert when night fell. He finished that leg the next day before flying on to Ramleh in Palestine.

The rest of his journey took him to Basra in Iraq, Jask (Iran), Karachi (Pakistan, then India), Kanpur and Calcutta (India), Yangon and Victoria Point (Myanmar), Singapore, Bandung (Java) and Bima (West Nusa Tenggara).

Hinkler finally landed in Darwin on February 22 after just 15 days of flying, almost halving the standing record. After Darwin, he flew to Longreach, Bundaberg and reached Brisbane on March 6.

At every city he informed the press of his progress, so that by the time he arrived in Australia he was greeted by huge crowds, especially in his home town of Bundaberg.

The Australian government gave him a £2000 reward for his efforts, which helped finance some of his dreams, including building his own aircraft.

While attempting to break the Britain to Australia record again in 1933, Hinkler crashed into the Pratomagno Ranges in Italy and was killed. He was buried, with full military honours on Benito Mussolini's orders, in the Cimitero degli Allori, Florence. A monument in his memory was erected at Prato Alle Vacche in the Pratomagno ranges.



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