15 November, 1919
At first light, Ross Smith arrived at the water-logged Pisa aerodrome to find the Vimy still hopelessly bogged. So he came up with a cunning plan – he’d get mechanic Jim Bennett to run alongside the plane near the tail wing, holding his weight against the back of the Vimy to prevent the nose from dropping and driving the wheels into the mud.
As the Vimy began to taxi and the wheels lifted off the ground, Bennett sprinted and jumped up towards the back cockpit, where Wally Shiers was waiting to haul him on board. They were off!
“We gathered way very rapidly, and, after leaving the ground, I was delighted to see Sergeant Bennett on board when I looked around,” Ross Smith wrote in 14,000 Miles Through The Air. “The take-off was very exciting and and hazardous … I am sure that in a cinema picture our performance would resemble the take-off of a seaplane more than that of a land machine.”
The day’s 180-mile flight was a battle against strong headwinds through dense clouds. A faulty oil gauge forced a quick stop at the Italian aerodrome in Venturina, but by early afternoon they’d arrived at the huge Centocelle aerodrome in Rome .