By Jennifer High, Senior Curator of Transport and Energy
On 11 April 1921, Bert Hinkler flew non-stop from Sydney to Bundaberg, Queensland, in his Avro Baby aircraft, G-EACQ. The flight was a new distance record in Australia, with the 1287 km journey completed in 8 hours and 40 minutes. One hundred years later, Hinkler’s Avro Baby is part of Queensland Museum’s collection and on display at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation in Bundaberg – over 16,000 kilometres from where the aircraft’s journey began.
The Avro ‘Baby’ is born
The Avro 534 Baby was a civil sporting biplane designed by Roy Chadwick and Alliot Verdon (AV) Roe, following the company’s success in manufacturing aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. A wooden structure, covered in canvas, the Baby was powered by a 25 hp water-cooled Green C4 engine. The first Avro Baby crashed on its maiden flight in April 1919. The second Avro Baby was quickly manufactured using some parts from the first, given the registration K.131, and flown successfully in May 1919.
There were around 10 Avro Baby’s manufactured during the early 1920s, in a number of variations, including those for racing and as floatplanes. The Avro 554 Baby was modified as a seaplane for use in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s final expedition to Antarctica in 1921.
K.131 competed in a number of races and events before it too crashed and was rebuilt with modifications, including a larger engine and greater fuel capacity. In this form it was given a new registration, G-EACQ, then bought and flown by Bert Hinkler.
Hinkler’s Avro Baby flights
Herbert John Louis (Bert) Hinkler (1892-1933) was born in Bundaberg, Queensland. He was an early aviation enthusiast, joining the Queensland Aero Club in 1910 and building his own gliders in 1911. Hinkler travelled to England in 1913 and began working for the Sopwith aircraft factory, before enlisting with the Royal Naval Air Service in 1914 and serving through the First World War. After the war, Hinkler began working with AV Roe and Company at Hamble, near Southhampton, as a mechanic and test pilot.
Hinkler utilised the greater fuel capacity of the rebuilt Avro Baby G-EACQ to set a number of flight distance records, with his ambition always to fly from England to Australia. On 31 May 1920, he left Croydon in G-EACQ, flying 1046 kilometres (650 miles) non-stop over the Italian Alps to Turin, Italy in just 9½ hours. He continued on to Rome, but abandoned his flight there, due to mechanical and political difficulties. Hinkler returned to London with G-EACQ, where he was awarded the Britannia Trophy for his flight to Turin.
Back in Australia
Unable to pursue his flight to Australia, Hinkler resolved to ship his Avro Baby to Australia in 1921. He lost no time in continuing his flights, setting another record with his non-stop from Sydney to Bundaberg on 11 April.
“Bert Hinkler, the well-known aviator, left Sydney at six o’clock on Wednesday morning in his Baby Avro aeroplane and arrived in Bundaberg, his native town, at forty minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon. He landed within 200 yards of his home. He was met by his aged parents, who were delighted at the unexpected arrival. The flight was accomplished without mishap in eight hours forty minutes. The aviator took the direct course between Sydney and Bundaberg, passing over Toowoomba. Hinkler covered about 700 miles which is claimed to be a world’s record for a non-stop flight for that type of machine fitted with a thirty-five horsepower engine which is ten years old. Hinkler needed only twenty-two gallons of petrol, averaging about thirty-two miles to the gallon.” (1)
Unfortunately, G-EACQ was damaged during the return flight to Sydney in bad weather. Hinkler decided to return to England, leaving his Avro Baby behind.
G-EACQ was registered in Australia as G-AUCQ and was at one stage fitted with twin floats. It was owned by Australian Aircraft and Engineering Co (AA&E) at Mascot, where its registration lapsed. The aircraft was stored by its last owner JJ Smith in Victoria from 1931. In 1970, Hinkler’s Avro Baby was restored by the Royal Queensland Aero Club at Archerfield and donated to Queensland Museum.
(1) 1921 ‘Barcaldine & General Budget’, The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine, Qld.: 1892 – 1922), 23 April, p. 14. , viewed 08 Apr 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79723939