8 December, 1919
Keith Smith came up with a clever idea to get the Vickers Vimy out of a Surabaya bog. “Why not construct a roadway of mats to stop our wheels sinking into the mud, then run along it and so get back into the air!”
“Natives were streaming in from every direction bearing sheets of bamboo matting — they were literally carrying their houses on their backs — and already a great pile of it lay by the Vimy,” Ross Smith wrote in 14,000 Miles Through the Air.
“At first a pathway of mats was merely laid down, but in our keen anxiety to set off we had overlooked the “slip-stream” from the propellers. The engines were opened up and we were just gathering speed nicely when some of the sheets were whisked up and blown into the tail-plane. This threw the machine out of control and to our dismay the Vimy ran off the matting and bogged again.
“Once more we had to dig deep down and place great planks under the wheels and haul the Vimy back into the matting…
“At last all was ready and just 24 hours after our arrival at Surabaya we started up the engines, ran along the roadway, and with feelings of intense relief felt the Vimy take off and get into the air.”
The photo top left shows “Matting Road” constructed for the Vimy in Surabaya. It can be viewed alongside other photos of this remarkable airstrip in the digitised Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith collection at the State Library of South Australia. [SLSA-PRG-18-9-1-31]
The State Library has also created a mini podcast series called “In the words of Ross Smith”. Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ti_qcHn3b4