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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Extraordinary airmen make aviation history

‘Then “Smithy” said to me … You're a hell of an organiser … I could talk for hours about Smithy. He was the big man as far as flying went’, Charles Ulm declared at a joyous civic reception.

1 Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Captain Charles Ulm, 1961 William Dargie. © Roger Dargie and Faye Dargie. 2 Charles Kingsford Smith and crew of the Southern Cross before the east-west crossing of the Atlantic, June 1930, 1930 International News Photos Inc. 3 Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm, 1929 Broadcasting Co. of Australia Pty Ltd. Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre.

‘Each indispensible’ ran the Evening News headline in June 1928, after Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, with their American crew, made the first successful trans-Pacific flight. With Australia’s aviation industry in its infancy in 1927, these two ambitious pilots had been trying to build commercial flight businesses. One day Ulm walked into Kingsford Smith’s office and proposed amalgamation. (Neither admitted to the other that they were broke.) Agreeing that a record-breaking flight could demonstrate the possibilities of aviation, the duo subsequently circumnavigated Australia in less than half the previous record time, before preparing for their extraordinary Pacific crossing. Painted after their deaths (in separate 1930s flying accidents), William Dargie’s portrait of the co-pilots captures their ebullience and confidence – in their dream and in each other. 

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency