Robert McKenzie gets his fifth. Illustrated by Barry Spicer and displayed at the South Australian Aviation Museum, Port Adelaide. Adelaide-born McKenzie became a fighting ace with six aerial victories during World War I.

through Butler, Smith brothers, Melrose, Wilkins, Cowper and Thomas

SOUTH AUSTRALIA CAN CLAIM A FLOCK OF AVIATION FIRSTS, including Australia's first plane flight that happened, by accident, in a Bolivar paddock in 1910.

Engineer Bill Wittber was at the controls when the first flight, nicknamed the “Wittber hop”, happened in a Bleriot XI monoplane that had been brought to Adelaide by businessman Fred Jones.

Wittber was conducting taxiing tests in the Bleriot aircraft in a Bolivar paddock when he suddenly found himself about five feet in the air. He flew 40 feet before landing. This claim to Australia's first flight is disputed, as Harry Houdini's first controlled powered flight occurred a few days later in Victoria.

Bill Wittber went on to claim a first in his own right when he built his own plane and enginee, now displayed at the South Australian Aviation Museum in Port Adelaide.

South Australia's other aviation firsts include the flight from England to Australia by brothers Ross and Keith Smith in their Vickers Vimy bomber and the flight over the Arctic by South Australian-born Hubert Wilkins.

Other aviation pioneers recognised in the history walk at the South Australian Aviation Museum include Jimmy Melrose, who became an international aviation sensation in the 1930s. The suburb of Melrose Parl and the park on the South Esplanade at Glenelg are named after him.

South Australia's first recorded pre-aeroplane ascent was in 1871 with a flight in a coal gas-filled balloon, piloted by Thomas Gale. The balloon flew from the sheep and cattle markets near the corner of North and West terraces, Adelaide, to a point 12 kilometres north east.



Bill Wittber's first plane engine; Harry Butler Albert Park airport

Thousands flock to see Fred Jones' imported plane at John Martin's Rundle St store in 1910

Businessman Fred Jones shipped a Bleroit XI (No.37) monoplane in kit form from Europe to Adelaide in 1910. After landing on Port Adelaide docks from the steamer Schwaben, the disassembled Bleriot XI was taken by horse and cart to Eyes & Crowle in Pirie Street, where engineer Carl Wilhelm “Bill” Wittber was employed to assemble the all-wood plane, take it apart, and then assemble it again at John Martin’s store in Rundle Street to be put on display for thousands of shoppers.


Bill Wittber's 1910 hop in Bleriot XI monoplane at Bolivar claimed as Australia's first flight

Engineer Carl Wilhelm “Bill” Wittber, who assembled Fred Jones’ Bleriot XI kit monoplane, was taking it on a taxi test it in a Bolivar paddock in March, 1910, when it made a 40-yards hop at a height of five feet – claimed as Australia's first plane flight. Volunteer pilot Fred Custance followed this with "very wobbly" one-minute flight and a "very rough" landing.  When Jones' plane was later destroyed in a fire, Wittber built his own plane with a six-cylinder radial engine – another Australian first.


World War I kills Bill Wittber's plane venture but gets Harry Butler into sky to start airmail

Obsessed with flying, young Harry Butler from Koolywurtie on Yorke Peninsula joined Bill Wittber at Smithfield from 1911-15 for tests on the plane with a six-cylinder radial engine (an Australian first) built by Wittber. Taxi trials of the plane in 1915 produced longer and higher hops but the venture ended when the government banned civilian aircraft flying after World War I broke out. Disgusted, Wittber dismantled and burnt his plane. Butler joined the Royal Flying Corps in England. Excluded from the pilots' course by lack of education, he became a mechanic. His experience and knowledge were recognised and, by 1916, Second Lieutenant Butler was flying in France. Although wounded and twice awarded the Air Force Cross, he stayed in the Royal Flying Corps until 1919. Butler improved communication with the battle front by dropping messages, creating the concept of air mail. Butler’s first actual air mail flight was in 1917 when he took letters from Glasgow to Turnberry.


Harry Butler returns with Red Devil; sets up Adelaide's first airport Hendon at Albert Park

Back from World War I, Harry Butler brought a Bristol monoplane (the “Red Devil”) and an Avro 504-K to go into businesss as Captain Harry J. Butler & Kauper Aviation  at the basic Northfield airfield. He later bought 24ha at largely-rural Albert Park in 1920 to set up “Hendon”, also known as Captain Butler's, aerodrome.
The federal defence department bought the aerodrome site in 1922. It was the first serious Adelaide airport until the shift to Parafield in 1927.


in global flights and feats – and ultimately go hurtling into space

Ross and Keith Smith learn their flying and navigation skills by chance during WWI

Adelaide’s famous Smith brothers Ross and Keith learned their flying skills in World War I. Keith paid his way to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. He was posted to a new bomber unit that left for France in 1918. Ross served mainly with No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, defending the Suez Canal. He flew the twin-engined Handley Page 0/400 on bombing in Palestine and long photographic flights. He was co-pilot of the aircraft in a pioneer flight from Cairo to Calcutta in 1918.

Smith brothers' Vickers Vimy beats 1919 30-day challenge for flight from England to Darwin

Adelaide brothers Ross and Keith Smith shared the £10,000 prize offered by the Australian government for the first to fly from England to Australia in less than 30 days, touching their Vickers Vimy down at Darwin in December 1919. With Ross as pilot, Keith as assistant pilot and navigator, and mechanics J.M. Bennett and Norwood-born Walter Shiers, the flight began from Hounslow. They covered the 18,250km in just under 28 days, with 135 hours flying at an average 137km/h.


Walter Shiers the mechanical backing for Smiths' triumphant England-Darwin flight

Norwood-born Walter Henry Shiers was only surviving crew member at the dedication in 1958 at Adelaide Airport of the memorial of the first England-Australia flight in 1919. Born  into a family of 12, Shiers attended Richmond Public School, Keswick, until 1902 when he began work with a market gardener and learned the basics of pump and motor maintenance. Enlisting as a trooper in the 1st Light Horse Regiment in 1915, Shiers was transferred to what became No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, in 1916. He was promoted 1st class air mechanic in 1917. Shiers gained prominence as engineer on the first flight (with Ross Smith as co pilot) from Cairo to Calcutta in 1918 and, a year later, on the first flight from England to Australia with Ross and Keith Smith and the other mechanic J.M. Bennett. These flights extended aircraft and crew further than anything previously. 

George Hubert Wilkins' epic flights explore the geography, climate of Arctic and Antarctica

Aviator is only one of claims to international fame of George Hubert Wilkins. Add explorer, naturalist, photographer, geographer and climatologist. in 1926, he began a programme of Arctic explorations by air. The culminated in his great feat of air navigation: in 1928, from Alaska, eastward over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway. Wilkins went on to carry out the first aerial explorations of the Antarctic in 1928-29 with major influence on future exploration. 

Jimmy Melrose rises to global celebrity with solo flight record in 1934 race to England

Jimmy Melrose’s global celebrity in the 1930s was short but spectacular. As a young aviator he was called “the next (Charles) Lindbergh”. His fame, as an Australian handsome heartthrob, rivalled Errol Flynn’s. Born in Burnside to a prosperous pastoralist family, Melrose set Australian and world flying records in just three years. On his 21st birthday, he left Parafield aerodrome in his Puss Moth for England, reaching Croydon in a record eight days, nine hours. He died in a crash at 22. 

Roy Gropler youngest to make solo England to Australia flight at 19; killed in crash at 22

Roy Gropler was another 1930s Adelaide aviator achiever who made a solo flight to Australia from England when only 19 – at the time, the youngest to do it.  Gropler began flying lessons at 16 at Parafield in the Royal Aero Club of South Australia DH-60 Moths. After his father agreed to back him in an air taxi business, Gropler went to England in 1935 to buy his aircraft – a secondhand Klemm L.27a IX, akin to a large wooden “powered glider” but with a long fuel range – and fly it back. Still inexperienced and flying a light open-cockpit plane, Gropler left on a hazardous 43-day journey. Gropler is an interesting comparison to another young South Australian 1930s aviator Jimmy Melrose. Both were killed in air accidents – less than two years apart – aged 22.

Jon Johanson builds his own plane and sets round-the-world/South Pole epic flight records

Adelaide-based Jon Johanson set world records and won one of aviation’s top honours in a home-built Van’s Aircraft RV-4. After 2,000 hours building his plane, Johanson received a permit to fly it in1992 and his first round-the word trip was in 1995. Johanson left from Parafield on June 26 for Oshkoch, USA, then across the Atlantic Ocean for Europe, the Middle East, Asia and back to Parafield on September 24. Total flight time was 198 hours, After more world trips, in 2003, Johanson again left from Parafield to make the first solo flight in a single-engine home-built aircraft over the South Pole. In 2004, Johanson was awarded the gold air medal by the FAI, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (The World Air Sports Federation). At the time, Johanson held 47 FAI world records.

Andy Thomas goes into space as mechanical engineer four times for NASA over 22 years

Andy Thomas, great great grandson of the South Australian Institute Museum's first curator George Waterhouse, made four missions during 22 years with NASA in the United States. With an Adelaide University doctorate in mechanical engineering, he joined Lockheed in Atlanta in 1978, rising to principal aerodynamic scientist. Selected by NASA in 1992, Thomas joined the astronaut corps. He was payload commander for STS-77 and made his first space flight on Endeavour in 1996.



Royal Aero Club mecca for training and high society in the 1930s

Horrie Miller and Joe Larkin part of colourful 1920s birth of national airlines in Adelaide

Stunt pilot Horrie Miller and Joe Larkin were part of the early competitive days of Australian airlines, starting at Harry Butler’s Hendon (Albert Park) aerodrome before moving to Parafield. In 1924, Larkin was involved in starting the Adelaide-Mildura-Hay-Narrandera-Cootamundra-Sydney airmail route over 24 hours. In 1927, philanthropist-confectioner MacPherson Robertson helped Miller to set up MacPherson Miller Aviation and used it to carry chocolates from Melbourne to Adelaide. 

Parafield Airport from 1927 becomes central to companies setting up interstate services

Parafield Airport opened in 1927 on the day after Harry Butler’s Albert Park (Hendon) aerodrome closed. Horrie Miller’s Miller Aviation Company (later MacRobertson Miller Airways in Western Australia) and Australian Aerial Services moved from Albert Park. Adelaide Airways, flying to Melbourne via Mount Gambier, and Australian National Airways, flying to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney as well as South Australian country centres, operated through Parafield from the mid 1930s. 

Adelaide Steamship's Adelaide Airways starts chain of mergers that lead to Ansett-ANA

Adelaide Airways, formed as an Adelaide Steamship Company subsidiary in 1935, operating out of Parafield airport, bought West Australian Airways, Australia’s first scheduled air service. In 1936, it merged with Ivan Holyman's airline to form Australian National Airways (ANA), the giant among Australian domestic airlines before and after World War II. In 1957, ANA tried to sell out to the government's Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) before being bought by Reg Ansett to create Ansett-ANA.

Royal Aero Club trains young heroes and becomes bastion of wealthy families

The Royal Aero Club at Parafield in the 1930s had members from Adelaide’s wealthiest and best-known families. It also trained young aviation heroes such as Jimmy Melrose from South Australia's pastoral elite. A friend of Melrose, Francis Marion Wright (nee Lunn) gained her A pilot's licence through the club. In 1934, she won the highest score in competitions. When World War II broke out, she wasn't allowed to fly with the forces but, as a mechanic, worked on servicing aircraft at Parafield.



RAAF Edinburgh base enabling tests of deadly weapons in 1950s

Australia's first fighter pilot Richard Williams the father of the RAAF becoming separate force

A proponent for air power being independent of other branches of the armed services, South Australia's Richard Williams played a leading role in setting up the Royal Australian Air Force and became its first chief of air staff in 1922. He served for 13 years over three terms at that rank, longer than any other officer. Williams, from a working-class background in Moonta Mines, was the first military pilot trained in Australia. He commanded Australian and British air fighter units during World War I.

Robert McKenzie first of South Australian aces: John Cock distinguishes himself in World War II

Robert William McKenzie became a World War I flying ace, credited with six aerial victories. A chemist in Adelaide before joining the Australian Army Medical Corps when the war started, McKenzie transferred to the Australian Flying Corps. In World War II, John Reynolds Cock from Renmark had five confirmed combat wins over France as well as being the first Australian pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the war. With the fall of France in 1940, he was deployed in the Battle of Britain.

Bob Cowper among Australia's most highly decorated air aces during World War II

Adelaide’s Bob Cowper was one of Australia’s most highly decorated World War II air aces. Former squadron leader and fighter pilot survived dozens of wartime missions and two crashes in his Mosquito. Leader of the famous 456 RAAF Night Fighters, Cowper’s many medals included a Distinguished Flying Cross (with bar) for gallantry, the Medal of the Order of Australia and the French Legion of Honour for his heroics during the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944. He flew Defiants, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes over Britain, Malta and France, and survived several close shaves during 68 aerial missions. The closest was plummeting through the night sky while unconscious, after shooting down an enemy plane. He regained consciousness just in time to open his parachute.

Mallala RAAF reserve No.6 service training school graduates 2,000 pilots for World War II

Mallala, north of Adelaide, was the base for the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 6 Service Flying Training School after war broke out in the Pacific in 1941.The school formed a reserve squadron for Australia's defence by instructing pilots at the intermediate and advanced level under the Empire Air Training Scheme, operating Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford aircraft. After graduating more than 2,000 pilots, No.6 SFTS completed its final course in 1945 and became the Care and Maintenance Unit Mallala in 1946. This was one of 40 units across Australia storing surplus aircraft awaiting sale, scrapping or stripping for spare parts. From 1947, the base built for No.6 SFTS was occupied by RAAF units No.24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron and No.34 Communications Squadron supporting tests and transport for the long-range weapons project at Woomera rocket range. In 1949-50, the federal immigration department altered some buildings on the base to house migrant families. This lasted only briefly because the defence department needed the area for other purposes. When the RAAF Base Edinburgh opened in 1954, Mallala wound down and was closed in 1960 with land and buildings sold in 1961. Mallala base’s next phase was as a speedway. Clem Smith is credited with saving Mallala Motor Sport Park that’s again busy with car events, motorcycling and Formula 2 and V8 races. The circuit was bought by the Shahin family, who also owns The Bend raceway at Tailem Bend, after Smith’s death in 2017.

Edinburgh RAAF base at frontline of weapon testing including the Maralinga A bombs

The planes and pilots who used Edinburgh RAAF base in the late 1950s and early 1960s were supporting tests of weapons – including the deadliest: atomic bombs. Alongside the wartime Salisbury explosives factory, Edinburgh was built in the early 1950s as a support base for weapons development at Woomera in the far north of the state. Maralinga, part of the Woomera prohibited area, was the site of British major nuclear tests between 1955 and 1963.


as links increase; Flying Doctor base, regional airports improved

Privatised, upgraded Adelaide Airport now handling eight million passengers a year

Adelaide Airport officially opened at Brooklyn Park in 1955, succeeding the smaller airfields at Northfield, Albert Park (Hendon) and Parafield. Adelaide Airport grew gradually with an extended runway (1960s), additions to the terminal and an international terminal (1982). The new Federal Airport Corporation oversaw a $20 million upgrade before Adelaide Airport Limited took over in 1998. It completed the $230 million integrated terminal in 2003, with a multi-level carpark adding to expansion.

Airport named No.9 best in world as features added and international carriers increase

Adelaide was named No.9 in the World’s Best International Airports by the Travel + Leisure website in 2016. Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, Southern China and Qatar have expanded their services to the airport. A new 165-room seven-storey hotel is the biggest step in a $2 billion expansion detailed in a masterplan that includes tripling the terminal’s size by 2044 and building several multi-storey office buildings in a business area.

Upgrade for Kangaroo Island's Kingscote amid airports boosts in South Australian regions

A $21 million upgrade to Kangaroo island's Kingscote airport, opened in 2018, allows larger planes flying directly from interstate, including Melbourne, Sydney or Perth. This was expected to bring an extra 25,00 tourists to the island. Funded by the federal and state governments, the Kingscote Airport now has an extended runway for larger aircraft and amenities raised to International Air Transport Association Class C standards. Mount Gambier Airport, owned and operated by the District Council of Grant, has also benefited from a $3.5 million federally-funded upgrade. Mount Gambier's main point of contention, on price and scheduling, has been that it is only serviced by one commercial airline, Rex, with flights to and from Adelaide and Melbourne as well as charter flights. In the remote far north of the state, Umuwa Aerodrome runway in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands is being raised with improved drainage. Other public regional airports in South Australia are at Andamooka, Ceduna, Cleve, Coober Pedy, Cowell, Kimba, Kingscote, Loxton, Naracoorte, Port Lincoln, Oodnadatta, Parafield, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Renmark, Streaky Bay, Tumby Bay, Wailkerie, Whyalla and Wuidinna. Private airports are at Gawler, Goolwa, Jacinth Ambrosia Mine, Leigh Creek, Moomba, Murray Bridge, Olympic Dam, Prominent Hill Mine and William Creek.


From South Australian origins, Flying Doctor now part of aeromedical base at Adelaide Airport

Royal Flying Doctor Service is now at a $13 million aeromedical base, including a medical precinct with all members of retrieval services, at Adelaide Airport. The flying doctors' start is linked to South Australia. In 1911, the Rev John Flynn arrived at a Beltana mission where he saw the lack of medical care for in the outback. South Australians Alfred Traeger, who invented a pedal-operated generator for radio, and fundraiser Adelaide Meithke were key figures in starting the Flying Doctor. Its Adelaide Airport base will include a six-aircraft hangar, an enhanced patient care area with private bays and a corporate office.The South Australian Ambulance Service’s Medstar team now share sthe same precinct at Adelaide Airport. This move saves seven to nine minutes of travel time for medical teams.



the daredevil; classic museums at Port Adelaide and Parafield

Volunteers rescue gems of aviation history – and rockets, too – for their Port Adelaide museum

South Australian Aviation Museum in Lipson Street, Port Adelaide, displays aircraft and aircraft engines relevant to South Australian/Australian aviation. The museum's volunteers have made many notable rescues, such as a Macchi MB326H twin seater jet trainer destined to be used for target practice at an artillery range at Port Wakefield. The museum also has the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's collection of 1950-80 rockets from the Woomera test range.


World War II Pacific rarities being brought back to life at Classic Jets Fighter Museum

Restoring rare and classic World War II Pacific conflict fighter aircraft has been a feature of the work of volunteers at the Classic Jets Fighter Museum at Hangar 52, Parafield Airport.The museum’s first restoration coup was a P38 H Lockheed Lightning 42-66841. Of 9,923 of these big twin-engine fighters made by Lockheed in 1937-45, the museum’s is only one of 25 remaining. It was flown in Papua and New Guinea operations until a forced landing in 1943. Another of the museum’s prizes is a World War II Corsair F4U-1 S/N 02270 salvaged from Vanuatu, where it forcelanded in a lagoon, near Quoin Hill fighter strip, in 1944. The pilot escaped uninjured and its machine guns were removed the next day and the aircraft was abandoned. Restoring this aircraft – the world’s oldest surviving Corsair, with a data plate indicating it was No.124 off the production line – has been ambitious and challenging. Five other Corsair crash sites have supplied many hard-to-find components for the project. The museum was also helped by the loan of airworthy airframe modules and the ingenuity of volunteers involved in the restoring in adjoining Hangar 107. The museum also presents a range of former RAAF and RAN jet aircraft from the 1950s to the 1980s. It also offers the chance to sit behind the controls of a RAAF Mirage, Sabre and RAN Sea Venom jet fighters. Added to these are military aviation artefacts and conventional, radial and jet aircraft engines.

Parafield tradition of pilot training still strong; UniSA offers diplomas in aviation

The Parafield airport tradition of pilot training, fostered by the Royal Aero Club of South Australia, continues, although its location amid Adelaide's norhern suburbs has become controversial. Originally from Waikerie where he ran his original flying school, Bruce Hartwig, became chief flying instructor for the Royal Aero Club at Parafield in 1980. Hartwig worked with Greg Norris at Parafield to set up what became the first aviation school in Australia to attain an ISO 9001 international quality assurance rating. It remains one of Australia’s premier specialist aviation schools. At its Mawson campus, next to Parafield airport, the University of South Australia offers aviation as a tertiary qualification. Its bachelor of aviation (management) offers skills for a career in aviation management, airline administration, or airport and flight operations. Students interested in a flying career can apply for the bachelor of aviation (pilot) specialisation. This complemented with flight training through the graduate diploma in aviation for domestic students or through private flying lessons for international students. Flight Training Adelaide at Parafield is the university’s partner in flight training for its graduate diploma of aviation students. TAFE SA Parafield Campus at Parafield Airport specialises in aviation courses including aircraft engineering and pilot training. Adelaide University Gliding Club and Adelaide Biplanes at Aldinga add to the flight training experience.


Daredevil pilot Chris Sperou dominates Australia and takes on world in aerobatics

Chris Sperou has won the Australian aerobatics championship 13 times and flown in five world aerobatic championships – using all the tricks he taught himself, after training with the Royal Aero Club at Parafield airport. In his Super Pitts special biplane, Sperou was the first pilot in Australia approved to carry out the inverted ribbon cut: flying upside down at 10 metres above the ground and descending to seven metres  to cut a ribbon stretched between two poles with his propeller.


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