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Mechanics Bennett and Shiers among four new Hall of Fame inductees

written by WOFA | July 19, 2019

The crew of the Vickers Vimy that won the 1919 Great Air Race – Keith Smith, Ross Smith, James Bennett and Walter Shiers will all be in the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. (State Library of South Australia)
The crew of the Vickers Vimy that won the 1919 Great Air Race – Keith Smith, Ross Smith, James Bennett and Walter Shiers will all be in the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. (State Library of South Australia)

A pair of mechanics who were part of the historic flight from Great Britain to Australia a hundred years ago are set to join the two pilots Keith and Ross Smith on that trip in the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame (AAHOF).

Australian Flying Corps (AFC) aircraft mechanics James Bennett and Walter Shiers were with Keith and Ross Smith on board the Vickers Vimy G-EAOU that took off from Hounslow aerodrome in West London on November 12 1919 as one of six teams competing in the Great Air Race.

Of the six teams attempting to fly from Great Britain to Australia in less than 30 days, three crashed, two fatally. Meanwhile, a fourth was imprisoned in Yugoslavia after being thought to be “Bolsheviks”. Just two crews finished.

And it was the Smith brothers – who were inducted into the AAHOF’s inaugural class in 2012 – Bennett and Shiers that claimed the 10,000 pound winners’ prize when they landed at Fannie Bay in the Northern Territory 29 days after departing West London.

The AAHOF said Bennett and Shiers’ outstanding technical abilities and determination “not only enabled the completion of the England to Australia air race in 1919 piloted by Ross and Keith Smith, but the winning of it”.

“Ross Smith acknowledged publicly that the flight would never have been completed without the efforts of these two men,” the AAHOF said in a statement on Thursday.

The 2019 class also includes AFC pilot Nigel Love, who established Australia’s first flying school on a field in Mascot that eventually became the city’s airport.

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“On his return to Sydney in 1919 he took out a lease on an empty grazing paddock at Mascot. There he established Australia’s first flying school and aircraft sales/maintenance business,” the AAHOF said.

“The lease was taken over by the Commonwealth in 1923 and Nigel Love’s aerodrome became Sydney Airport.”

Finally, the AAHOF said the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) would receive the Southern Cross Award in 2019 for “its critical place in the front-line defence of our nation and in the formation and encouragement of the growth of Australian Civil aviation” as well as its outstanding work and essential support in disaster relief and rescue missions.

AAHOF chairman Steve Padgett paid tribute to the aviation spirit of the 2019 Hall of Fame inductees.

“2019 is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Sydney Airport and the 100th anniversary of the London to Australia Air Race,” Padgett said in a statement.

“2019 is also significant in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the RAAF. These are major events in Australia’s aviation and aerospace history and reflect the significant contributions of our inductees for this year.”

The inductees will formally enter the Hall of Fame at the AAHOF induction ceremony dinner to be held on November 16 at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Established in 2010, the AAHOF was the brain child of Paul Tyrrell, former chief executive of the Regional Aviation Association of Australia, and Chris Manning, former Chief Pilot of Qantas and current Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) commissioner.

In its early years, the AAHOF had a “virtual” presence via its aahof.com.au website with the support of the Wagga Wagga City Council.

Then, in 2017, it was announced that the AAHOF would be permanently based at the Historical Aviation Restoration Society (HARS) facility at Albion Park.

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