Kingsford Smith Drive.jpg Kingsford Smith Drive sign (2021). Mike Gooch. Word on the Street image collection.

The name of the famous Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935) will be familiar to many readers. In 1928 his aviation feats, including the first trans-Pacific flight and the first trans-Tasman crossing, brought him worldwide acclaim.

Kingsford-Smith and his co-pilot Charles Ulm guided their Fokker Trimotor, the Southern Cross, over the Tasman arriving at Wigram in Christchurch on 11 September 1928. A crowd of 30,000 flocked to the aerodrome to greet the airmen at the end of their historic flight, which took a little over 14 hours.

A week later another huge crowd thronged the Hāwera racecourse to greet the men after they landed aboard three Bristol planes en route to Auckland. The airmen were greeted with a haka “rendered by twenty Maori braves”, speeches and a quick luncheon after which they continued north.

The excitement generated by the visit helped push the local aviation community into action and the following year a meeting was held to form the Hāwera Aero Club. The club wasted no time in leasing land on Mrs Alice Dunlop’s property on Turuturu Road. Known as Dunlop Field, this first aerodrome quickly acquired a hanger, designed by local architect John Duffill.

Unfortunately it soon became apparent that the site had limitations and in July 1935 the club purchased Arthur Spratt’s 196 acre Waihi Road farm, still in use by the club today.

But before the move, Dunlop Field had the honour of a visit from Charles Kingsford Smith and his famous Southern Cross on their way to New Plymouth. The aircraft landed safely at 10.40 am on 22 March 1933 in front of a crowd of 3,000 including hundreds of local school children.

Two years later, in November 1935, Kingsford Smith’s plane, the Lady Southern Cross, disappeared over the Anderman Sea on a flight from India to Singapore. His body was never found and only fragments of the aircraft were recovered.

Fittingly, Kingsford-Smith Drive is located off Turuturu Road, only a short distance from the famous pilot’s landing place in 1933.

This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.

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