Vickers Vimy Exhibition

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Posted 2023-06-04 by Graeme Fanningfollow
If you have the opportunity, you will not be disappointed when you visit the Vickers Vimy Exhibition down at Adelaide Airport, where you can view up close the original Vickers Vimy aircraft which flew from England to Australia in 1919, piloted by Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith, both South Australians.


The Vickers Vimy was a British heavy bomber aircraft developed and manufactured by Vickers Limited. It was originally built during the latter stages of the First World War to equip the Royal Flying Corps.

By Armistice on 11 November 1918, only a handful of these types of aircraft had been utilised.

Just 16 years after the Wright Brothers had flown the first ever powered aircraft, in 1919, brothers Ross and Keith Smith from Adelaide accepted the challenge set by the Commonwealth Government in Australia for an air race from England to Australia, with the winners picking up a cool 10,000 pounds prize money.

There were a list of rules and regulations that came with that challenge, including that all entrants must be Australian nationals, the aircraft must be constructed in the British Empire, and the journey must be completed within 720 consecutive hours (30 days) and also be completed before midnight on 31st December 1920.

The rules went on, for example, the aircraft (landplanes) must leave from Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, and seaplanes RNAS Calshot. Mandatory reporting points were at Alexandria and Singapore, with the final destination being the region of Darwin.

Keith and Ross Smith were one of six entries who started the race.

Race Challenges

Ross was the pilot, with Keith being co-pilot, and were accompanied by two mechanics, Sergeants Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers.

Their journey from England departed on 12th November 1919, with early hurdles on the route involving weather conditions. With the build up of ice on the wings, there was early concern that the plane might crash land as early as the Alps, but fortunately the crew were able to negotiate their way over this area.

Many other obstacles awaited their journey including a cracked induction pipe upon their arrival in Cairo, Egypt. Wally Shiers was attempting to source a replacement and then remembered there was a supply of Wrigley's Spearmint Chewing Gum on board.

Wally asked all of the crew to chew strips of gum, which was then formulated into a wad, and then wrapped in strips around the cracked area of the pipe. Voila - it saved the day! A simple but effective solution.

Later in the journey, upon attempting to take-off in Surabaya, Indonesia, the aircraft became bogged and bamboo matting had to be laid as a temporary runway to get the Vickers Vimy air borne again. This bamboo matting was as a result of the native population dismantling their own huts/homes.

Race Winners

Finally, the crew landed in Darwin on 10th December 1919, having covered a distance of 18,250 kms in just under 28 days, an incredible feat! The 10,000 pound prize money was theirs, having won the race.

Out of the other 5 entrants, only one other completed the journey from England to Australia, an Airco DH-9 which arrived 8 months later, becoming the first single-engine aircraft to fly that distance to Australia. The other 4 aircraft tragically crashed, with two crews killed.

By the time the Smith Brothers and crew landed in Darwin, the aircraft was in pretty bad shape and there was then speculation whether the aircraft would be able to complete its Australian final leg of the journey. There was even thought at one stage of loading the aircraft onto a train carriage for the journey to Sydney and Melbourne.

However fortunately repairs were able to be made and the aircraft, having completed its Australian tour, landed in Adelaide at Northfield airstrip on the 23rd March 1920. It then left for its final destination at Point Cook in Melbourne on 5th April of that same year.


Upon entering the exhibit, the first thing you notice is the sheer size of the aircraft, and thoughts surrounding how in the hell were the crew able to fly all that way in this type of aircraft. To think how cold it would have been flying at the altitudes that were attained, as well as the tropical weather later in their journey. Additionally visibility would have been a massive issue throughout parts of their epic trip.

There is excellent interpretation about the historic flight with footage, photographs and stories, as well as maps outlining the route.

You can also take the lift up to the upper level to look down from above onto the aircraft, which gives you an even a better appreciation of the wonders of aviation in the early part of the 20th century.

One of the many interesting aspects of viewing the aircraft is a mirror mounted on the ceiling which reflects down into the cockpit, showing you more detail and also how relatively tiny the cockpit area was.

One of the many incredible stories portrayed is the construction of the aircraft, which was made of largely spruce pine, involves the fabric covering wrapped around the wings. The material used was Irish Linen and 25 women workers were in charge of the fabric covering, sewing huge sleeves for the wings, which were then stitched together with 10,000 knots.

Water was used to shrink the fabric over the wooden skeleton before the plane was covered in multiple layers of dope, yes you read correctly! The dope was a kind of lacquer that apparently was so toxic that the women were forced to drink lemonade to stop them from fainting!

The registration number of the Vickers Vimy is still on display - G-EAOU short for God, 'Elp All of Us!

You can also read about the stories surrounding the future lives of the historic aviators and their crew, including the one surrounding the tragic plane crash, which killed Ross Smith and Jim Bennett, whilst on a test flight in England in 1922. Sadly Smith's brother Keith witnessed the plane crash.

Incredibly only two Vickers Vimy aircraft exist still today - one is on display at the British Science Museum, which was the first aircraft flown across the Atlantic Ocean by two British aviators, Alcock & Brown in June 1919. The other is the Smith brothers on display at Adelaide Airport.

You can also view the monument of Sir Ross Smith outside of the Adelaide Oval, unveiled in 1927 in dedication of him, as well as the others who were pioneers in the aviation industry at the time.

If the Smith Brothers were alive today, along with Jim Bennett and Wally Shiers, I'm sure they would be so chuffed with the aircraft being preserved and on display to the public, adjacent to the Adelaide Airport.

What an incredible contrast between our early aviation achievements and modern aviation.

You will find the Vickers Vimy exhibition in a modern space adjacent to both the Atura Hotel and the main airport terminal.

Hours of opening of the exhibition are every day from 8 am until 8 pm and the best news, it is at no cost.

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184911 - 2023-06-16 02:29:04


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