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The origins of manned flight in Australia are fairly well documented, but that doesn't stop some from arguing who was first. It all depends on what you call "manned flight".

The First Person in Australia to Leave the Ground Supported By Wings

This was Lawrance Hargrave, the pioneer whose box kite designs were the basis of several early powered aircraft. He was lifted about 5 metres from the ground by a tethered set of four box kites, in November 1894.

Remember, this was neither free flight nor powered flight.


First Manned, Free Flight in Australia

The first person to fly in an aircraft in Australia appears to have been George Augustine Taylor, at Narrabeen on December 5 1909. His aircraft was a glider based on Lawrence Hargraves' ideas (pictured at right).

Again, remember that this was not powered flight, which had already been achieved first by the Wright brothers six years earlier, in December 1903.


First Manned, Powered Flight in Australia

There are a number of contenders for this position.

The first successful takeoff occurred just four days after Taylor's glide, on December 9, 1909. Colin Defries, using an imported Wright biplane, flew at Victoria Park racecourse in Sydney. His flight covered just over 100 metres, not enough for Defries to demonstrate that the aircraft was flying under control. As is so often the case, whether you accept this as the first depends on what you call "flight".

The next attempt was by Fred Custance, flying a Bleriot monoplane imported by F.H. Jones, near the town of Bolivar in South Australia. This occurred on March 17, 1910, but was observed by only Jones and three others, and was not widely reported by the press.

However, the very next day, on March 18, 1910, Harry Houdini (more famous for his escapology), flew his French Voisin biplane at Digger's Rest, Victoria.

Unusually for the time, the event was recorded by a movie camera. Note that this film shows a later flight he undertook from Sydney, probably from Rosehill Racecourse



john duigan

First Flight in an Australian Designed and Built Aircraft

There is less room for argument here. John Duigan (left) achieved this at Mia Mia, Victoria, in 1910, in an aeroplane built by himself and his brother Reginald. However, the exact date you use depends again on what you call "flight". The first attempt, on 16 July, is said to have covered only seven metres, not much more than the length of some loungerooms.

After some further work, the aircraft flew again on October 7, 1910, this time a more creditable distance of 178 metres.

National Library of Australia


See John Duigan's biography for more details. 

In 1910, Sydney Smith arrived in Australia, to sell British Bristol Boxkite bitplanes (as pictured at right) to Australian defence forces. After arrival in Perth, a pilot in his team, Joseph Hammond (a New Zealander - probably the one in overalls, at right), performed a test flight of one of the Boxkites, on January 3, 1911. This demonstration is said to have been a major inspiration for the young Norman Brearley, the founder of W.A. Airways, to take up flying.


First Flight of a Western Australian Designed and Built Aircraft

Tom Shackles and Selby FordNo account of the history of aviation in W.A. befween the wars would be complete without a mention of the design, construction and successful operation of the state's first designed and manufactured aeroplane, the "Silver Centenary"

The Silver Centenary was the achievement of Selby Ford, a mechanically talented resident of the town of Beverley. His "day job" was the maintenance of the local electrical power station, one well suited to his leanings but which left him in need of further challenges. Over the period 1928 to 1930, based on no more than a sketch outline, he constructed a single-engine, two-seater biplane.

When test flown, it was found to be well constructed and stable in the air, and was flown to Perth for demonstrations. But, not having any formal design plans to back up its reliability, it did not qualify for an Certificate of Airworthiness, so was retired to storage in 1933.

However, in 1967 a museum was opened in Beverley with the Silver Centenary its central display. Then in 2006, Rod Edwards (a member of Selby Ford's family) had the idea of restoring and flying the aircraft. Before he commenced, he found out how to obtain a Certificate of Airworthiness, and with the help of Rob Felton (a professional aircraft builder and restorer) the Silver Centenary was restored and back in the air in August 2007.




Account of Lawrance Hargrave's achievements

ABC News article on the Silver Centenary