Fully restored Southern Cross II's first flight is tantalisingly close

Restoration: Jim Thurstan, Brian Van Bragt, Alex Brown and Rod Richardson work on installing three restored engines on Southern Cross II this year and (below), other progress shots. Picture: Adam McLean.
Restoration: Jim Thurstan, Brian Van Bragt, Alex Brown and Rod Richardson work on installing three restored engines on Southern Cross II this year and (below), other progress shots. Picture: Adam McLean.

Thanks to a team of volunteers at the Historical Aviation Restoration Society (HARS), the replica of Australia's most famous aeroplane not only remains in the country but will fly again soon.

The Netherlands had been interested because it is the last flying example of a Fokker F.V11B-3M type aircraft, but HARS won the day.

The last of three fully restored engines was fitted just prior to the latest COVID lockdown which forced HARS, based on NSW's South Coast, to close its aviation museum when it was tantalisingly close to getting Southern Cross II back in the air.

There were only a few days worth of electrical work left to get to the stage of running all three engines and begin flight testing the full scale replica of the iconic aircraft Charles Kingsford Smith affectionately called "The Old Bus".

The Southern Cross II with the three restored engines fitted. Picture: Jim Thurstan

The Southern Cross II with the three restored engines fitted. Picture: Jim Thurstan

Jim Thurstan has been leading the restoration and said once restrictions finally eased it wouldn't be long before Illawarra residents saw the Southern Cross II back in the sky.

"Since June I've only been able to do some very minor maintenance taking the spark plugs out and putting a silicon gel spark plug in to keep the cylinders dry," Mr Thurstan said.

He said there was not much left to do before testing the engines at full power.

"In June we were only a couple of weeks away from running the engines for the first time," he said.

"We will run them individually at first. When we know they are all okay we will run all three together. We will probably do all that on the one day."

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Mr Thurstan said each engine was briefly started after being reconditioned but they only ran at idle speed.

Now HARS needs to test all three up to take-off speed, which will be done in stages over two to three hours before reaching full power.

He said after a decision was made to completely rewire the aircraft's electrical work earlier this year, they were almost at the point where the engines could be tested.

Southern Cross II on the tarmac at Shellharbour Airport. Picture: HARS

Southern Cross II on the tarmac at Shellharbour Airport. Picture: HARS

But even if HARS was allowed to reopen, the electrician lives in a hot spot and is not allowed to move out of his suburb.

"He is very frustrated about not being able to get down," Mr Thurstan said.

"We are halfway through that work. To get it up to running to the engine testing stage is probably only four or five days work.

"What we will do is run the engines then bring it back into the shed for a full annual inspection, finish off the wiring and change some of the communication equipment so we can take it out flying."

In the meantime HARS has been preparing as much as the paperwork as it can for CASA approval.

Mr Thurstan said the team of volunteers was getting excited to see Southern Cross II back in the sky.

The replica of Smithy's pioneering aircraft was built in the 1980s by John Pope in South Australia.

Mr Pope wanted it to play an important part in Australia's Bicentenary in 1988 and it did after its first flight in 1987.

It went on to clock up 560 hours as a flying history lesson to children around the nation before it crashed on take-off in South Australia in 2002.

The incident damaged the mono-wing, undercarriage and two of the three propellers.

Mr Pope initially wanted to restore it himself and had interest from a Dutch company wanting to acquire it. But he wanted it to stay in Australia.

Picture: Jim Thurstan

Picture: Jim Thurstan

When HARS then expressed interest in bringing to to Albion Park he realised it would be the ideal organisation to pull off the restoration.

"It has taken a lot longer than we anticipated but we are very close," Mr Thurstan said.

Once it is flying again, Southern Cross II will mostly operate locally while HARS searches for a spare engine which is expected to cost $50,000.

HARS will then look at taking it further afield and possibly resume its former mission of visiting rural communities around Australia as a flying history lesson for future generations.

Mr Thurstan said it probably wouldn't ever land and take off from Seven Mile Beach like the original did on its record breaking 14-hour flight to New Zealand in 1933.

But he expects it will do a low fly over of the beach when it is back in the air.

Among those most interested in seeing Southern Cross II return to the sky is Dick Smith who has helped fund the restoration. He visited HARS to see the progress just prior to the latest lockdown.

"He has been kept fully informed and knows what is going on," Mr Thurstan said.

"He is frustrated like the rest of us about the delays.

"He saw it with all three engines fitted and thought it looked really good. We told him he had been really generous. He is very eager to come back for the first flight."

Other special guests who wanted to attend that were Charles Ulm's son who lives near Goulburn and Charles Kingsford Smith's son who lives in the United States.

Both are in their 90s and if they can't make the visit HARS will at the very least fly the Southern Cross II to Mr Ulm's farm where he has an airstrip.

"I think what will happen is we fly locally around here before we fly down there," he said.

This story Australia's most famous aeroplane has been fully restored and is set to take flight first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.