Replica of historic Southern Cross aircraft about to take off as new engines are installed for Wings Over Illawarra

The Southern Cross is arguably Australia’s most famous aircraft, and its exact replica is almost ready to take flight.

Carefully restored by volunteers from the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) for more than 10 years, the aircraft built in the 1980s needed major repairs to fix a broken wing after an emergency landing in 2002.

“The wing was by far the main focus for us, as it has the original wooden wing, and wooden wings are a thing of the past,” said Southern Cross replica engineer Jim Thurstan.

The original Southern Cross was flown by Charles Kingsford Smith on the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia in 1928.

The replica of the plane was the project of South Australian flight instructor John Pope, who created the plane as a traveling history lesson that would fly over the country.

Volunteer Jim Thurstan has overseen the restoration of the replica of the Southern Cross for over ten years.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

Plane to fly next year

With three new engines freshly assembled and tested, the replica of the aircraft is expected to take off in 2022.

“It will be really very satisfying, just taking it out to run the engines is a big step forward,” Thurstan said.

He said once the plane was fit to fly again it would hopefully resume its original purpose, touring the country and teaching people about the early days of aviation.

“John Pope, who originally designed it, is what he dreamed of doing and it was very successful.

“It flew in the bicentennial celebrations and in New Zealand, but it flew over Australia, going to country towns where school children went out and gained a history of aviation in general.”

A light aircraft rests on Seven Mile Beach
The original Southern Cross plane has already taken off from Seven Mile Beach in Gerroa.(Provided: Gerringong Historical Museum)

A primitive way to fly

The original Fokker aircraft was flown by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon and James Warner from the United States to Australia on a 11,670 kilometer journey.

This aircraft offered none of the comforts of modern aviation, and Jim Thurstan said the replica would be the same.

“Compared to modern airplanes it’s very primitive, but in 1928 it’s as good as it gets – they were the jumbos back then,” he said.

Two wooden steering wheels in front of an array of gauges and levers inside the cockpit of the Southern Cross replica.
The cockpit of the Southern Cross replica contains modern aviation instruments.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

“There were around 170 built in England, the Netherlands and America and flying with them would be noisy.

The aircraft with its new engines will be on display as part of Wings Over Illawarra this weekend – Australia’s biggest air show.

“We had people from all walks of life [work on the plane], and we had pilots from Qantas to help us when they were out of work recently, ”Thurstan said.

“Some will probably be able to fly this plane, which a lot of pilots would like to do.”

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