Balsa wood!

The Southern Cross, airborne, with shiny silver wings gleaming.

Having decided, after many discarded attempts, on the title, On Wings of Steel, for my story of Australia’s pioneer aviators, I suffered a devastating blow this week when I was cross-checking my facts using a different publication.

Because, in the main reference I had used so far, the Southern Cross was described as ‘blue and silver’ and the wings were said to be ‘glinting in the sunlight’ I had thought that the wings were made of metal. I know that two of the metal engines were mounted on the wings and that  Ulm and Smithy’s plane was one of the first to have a steel frame, even though the body was made of canvas. So I assumed that the wings were made of steel. Not so! According to this source the wings were made of balsa wood and painted silver. I always knew that those early planes were very flimsy. I’ve often described them as ‘held together with bits of wire’. That, at least, turns out to be true. Inside the canvas fuselage wire stays criss-crossed the whole of the back cabin and the tail section to hold the steel frame in shape. Although I am disappointed to have to change my title, I now have even more admiration for the men who flew in these fragile aircraft. How they managed, in their open-sided forward cabin, to keep the Southern Cross in the air for 32 hours, sometimes flying at 9,000 feet above the earth, crossing vast oceans and landing on islands that were mere specs on the map, I can barely imagine. They were obviously men of steel, even if their plane had balsa wood wings.

Ah well, back to the drawing board to check my facts yet again and to search for another title.

Leave a Reply