Chasing the Southern Sun
Michael Smith flew across 25 countries in a recordbreaking circumnavigation of the world by flying boat.
Michael Smith, the 2016 AGS Adventurer of the Year, made a daring journey across 25 countries to become the first person to pilot an amphibious aircraft on a solo circumnavigation of the world.
THE ORIGINAL PLAN wasn’t to fly around the world. Enchanted by the luxury, glamour and romance of the Qantas flying boats of the 1930s, I had wanted to retrace their historic route between Australia and England as closely as possible, in my own amphibious aircraft. When I departed on 12 April last year it was a calm Melbourne morning. There was no fanfare, no media, and no sponsors as I said goodbye to my family. It was to be a personal journey – just me and my little airplane. Southern Sun is a two-seat, single-engine aircraft, that can land on runways or water; it was custom-built for this trip, its design a nod to the true flying boats of the 1930s and 40s.
I’d spent a decade researching the 1930s flying-boat route (introduced to deliver mail at a standard rate) that travelled between Rose Bay, Sydney, and Southampton, England. It was the golden age of aviation, where just 14 well-heeled passengers could sail the skies in a trip that took 10 days to reach Britain. On board was a wine cellar, a place to promenade and high windows for ticketholders to appreciate the ever-changing views. The Short Empire flying boats would coast onto the calm waters of exotic locations and passengers would overnight in luxury hotels. At the time, one ticket cost the equivalent of an average annual salary.
I had looked at what vintage planes were available to retrace the route shared by Qantas Empire Airways and Imperial Airways (one of the forerunners of British Airways), but in the end I settled on a second-hand Searey to practise with.Ten years later and with 450 flying hours under my belt, here I was with my new custom-built Searey with 13 hours’ worth of fuel tanks built in, and up to 21 hours of range with a fuel bag sitting on the seat beside me. A simple plane with basic instruments and no autopilot – I would be flying much like the old days. I was ready for adventure. My route closely followed that of the 1930s, including stops in remote Australia, South-East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. I would leave Melbourne and finally touch down in London, on the other side of the globe.The plan wasn’t just to fly the original flight path, but to explore, to seek out the landing spots and opulent hotels enjoyed by guests. I flew over the outback and became nervous as I approached Darwin. It was my first encounter with an inter national air port. Phew! I landed easily, then left for Dili, Timor-Leste, one of the original refuelling stops (and also where my company operates the Cinema Loro sa’e free outdoor cinema program). Afterwards, as I crossed the equator between Indonesia and Singapore, I was excited to see the GPS click from S to N before