12 November, 1919
South Australian brothers Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith, with mechanics Wally Shiers (SA) and Jim Bennett (Vic), departed Hounslow aerodrome in the Vickers Vimy at 9.05am. The official weather report said “totally unfit for all flying”. But Ross took off anyway, fearing the onset of the European winter and determined to catch Frenchman Etienne Poulet who had a huge head-start in the race to Australia.
A fierce snowstorm over France forced Ross to take the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU to 9000ft. Their goggles froze, their gauges froze – even their sandwiches froze! His navigator brother Keith, unable to make out any landmarks below, sat with a compass and marked tiny lines on a map to indicate the Vimy’s approximate location. After six long hours, Ross spotted a break in the clouds and spiraled down, to find they were only 40 miles from their destination in Lyons.
Ross later wrote he was “a silly ass” for taking off in such appalling conditions. But they’d survived day one! You can read Sir Ross Smith’s personal account of the race in The National Geographic Magazine by clicking here.