XXII. 1919-20

Into the later months of 1919 comes the flight by Captain Ross-Smith from England to Australia and the attempt to make the Cape to Cairo voyage by air. The Australian Government had offered a prize of L10,000 for the first flight from England to Australia in a British machine, the flight to be accomplished in 720 consecutive hours. Ross-Smith, with his brother, Lieut. Keith Macpherson Smith, and two mechanics, left Hounslow in a Vickers-Vimy bomber with Rolls-Royce engine on November 12th and arrived at Port Darwin, North Australia, on the 10th December, having completed the flight in 27 days 20 hours 20 minutes, thus having 51 hours 40 minutes to spare out of the 720 allotted hours.

Early in 1920 came a series of attempts at completing the journey by air between Cairo and the Cape. Out of four competitors Colonel Van Ryneveld came nearest to making the journey successfully, leaving England on a standard Vickers-Vimy bomber with Rolls-Royce engines, identical in design with the machine used by Captain Ross-Smith on the England to Australia flight. A second Vickers-Vimy was financed by the Times newspaper and a third flight was undertaken with a Handley-Page machine under the auspices of the Daily Telegraph. The Air Ministry had already prepared the route by means of three survey parties which cleared the aerodromes and landing grounds, dividing their journey into stages of 200 miles or less. Not one of the competitors completed the course, but in both this and Ross-Smith's flight valuable data was gained in respect of reliability of machines and engines, together with a mass of meteorological information.

The Handley-Page Company announced in the early months of 1920 that they had perfected a new design of wing which brought about a twenty to forty per cent improvement in lift rate in the year. When the nature of the design was made public, it was seen to consist of a division of the wing into small sections, each with its separate lift. A few days later, Fokker, the Dutch inventor, announced the construction of a machine in which all external bracing wires are obviated, the wings being of a very deep section and self-supporting. The value of these two inventions remains to be seen so far as commercial flying is concerned.

The value of air work in war, especially so far as the Colonial campaigns in which British troops are constantly being engaged is in question, was very thoroughly demonstrated in a report issued early in 1920 with reference to the successful termination of the Somaliland campaign through the intervention of the Royal Air Force, which between January 21st and the 31st practically destroyed the Dervish force under the Mullah, which had been a thorn in the side of Britain since 1907. Bombs and machine-guns did the work, destroying fortifications and bringing about the surrender of all the Mullah's following, with the exception of about seventy who made their escape.

Certain records both in construction and performance had characterised the post-war years, though as design advances and comes nearer to perfection, it is obvious that records must get fewer and farther between. The record aeroplane as regards size at the time of its construction was the Tarrant triplane, which made its first - and last - flight on May 28th, 1919. The total loaded weight was 30 tons, and the machine was fitted with six 400 horse-power engines; almost immediately after the trial flight began, the machine pitched forward on its nose and was wrecked, causing fatal injuries to Captains Dunn and Rawlings, who were aboard the machine. A second accident of similar character was that which befell the giant seaplane known as the Felixstowe Fury, in a trial flight. This latter machine was intended to be flown to Australia, but was crashed over the water.

On May 4th, 1920, a British record for flight duration and useful load was established by a commercial type Handley-Page biplane, which, carrying a load of 3,690 lbs., rose to a height of 13,999 feet and remained in the air for 1 hour 20 minutes. On May 27th the French pilot, Fronval, flying at Villacoublay in a Morane-Saulnier type of biplane with Le Rhone motor, put up an extraordinary type of record by looping the loop 962 times in 3 hours 52 minutes 10 seconds. Another record of the year of similar nature was that of two French fliers, Boussotrot and Bernard, who achieved a continuous flight of 24 hours 19 minutes 7 seconds, beating the pre-war record of 21 hours 48 3/4 seconds set up by the German pilot, Landemann. Both these records are likely to stand, being in the nature of freaks, which demonstrate little beyond the reliability of the machine and the capacity for endurance on the part of its pilots.

Meanwhile, on February 14th, Lieuts. Masiero and Ferrarin left Rome on S.V.A. Ansaldo V. machines fitted with 220 horse-power S.V.A. motors. On May 30th they arrived at Tokio, having flown by way of Bagdad, Karachi, Canton, Pekin, and Osaka. Several other competitors started, two of whom were shot down by Arabs in Mesopotamia.