Saturday, 21 March 2015

Early Aviator Thrilled Townsville Crowds

In 1913, a 23 year-old English-born aviator, Arthur W. Jones, brought his imported Caudron bi-plane to Townsville for two exhibition flights that thrilled Townsville crowds. The display was one of the many activities organised for the city’s 50th birthday Jubilee celebrations.  
Arthur W. Jones and his Caudron bi-plane at Cluden, August 1913.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

The single-engine, French designed aircraft had been shipped to Townsville aboard the SS. Kyarra, and in the lead up to the flights, was on display at the old wool stores in Flinders Street, for a fee of 1 shilling.

Special trains were laid on to transport curious onlookers to Cluden racecourse, where the exhibition took place.  The return fare, including entrance to the racecourse, was 3 shillings, or, if you had your own transport, the entry fee was reduced to 2 shillings.

Mr Jones had already made 150 successful flights in his Caudron, exhibiting at shows all around Australia.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported on “a most successful aviation display”, noting that more than 1500 people had travelled by the special excursion trains, and that the road to Cluden, “presented an endless trail of motor cars, vehicles and bicycles.”

“At six minutes past four the propeller was started, and after backfiring twice, the young aeronaut gave the signal to let go.”

“The machine glided forward about 20 yards, and amidst an outburst of cheering rose gracefully on her course towards the south-east at a gentle slope, going behind the grandstand and turning towards the north when past it.”

After only 3 and half minutes of flight, Mr Jones passed over the grandstand to the cheers of thousands of onlookers, where it became apparent that he was having difficulty with the wind.

According to the Bulletin, “The skill of the airman and the response of his machine was displayed in this work which was performed with the gracefulness of a bird.”

After a few more minutes, Jones had landed his plane, to the delight of the crowd.

“When a few feet off the ground Mr Jones glided his plane along and stopped immediately in front of the stand with remarkable ease.”

Piloting the aircraft was certainly not for the faint-hearted, as it had no throttle.  The engine was either on or it was off, and the only way to land the plane was to switch off the engine.

The Bulletin waxed lyrical, noting “It was a splendid afternoon’s entertainment and added still another historical event in the life of Townsville, in that the first successful aeroplane flight of North Queensland had eventuated in that city on its 50th birthday.”

In January 1914, Jones had a lucky escape during an exhibition in Adelaide, South Australia, when both he and his aircraft fell from the sky. 

According to the local press, Jones had been flying for about 16 minutes, when the engine seemed to stop suddenly, and plummet to earth.  Then a gust of wind struck the plane when it was about 70 feet in the air, causing it to nosedive into the ground, and flip over on impact.

Remarkably, Mr Jones received only minor cuts and bruising and muscle strains in the crash, and when asked what had happened, reportedly said that he had lost his way and run out of petrol.

“She simply dived to the ground,” Mr Jones remarked.

“A cup of petrol would have saved it all.”

Jones repaired his aircraft and was back on the circuit later that year, exhibiting in Cairns in July 1914.

Arthur W. Jones and his Caudron, at Cairns, 1914.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.

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