In 1919, the Australian government offered a prize £A10,000 for the first aircraft crew to make the flight from England to Australia. Six different teams of pilots made the attempt, but the prize was won by the Smith brothers, pilot Ross Macpherson Smith and copilot Keith Macpherson Smith, flying a modified Vickers Vimy bomber. Along with two engineers, they departed Hounslow Heath Aerodrome on November 12, 1919, and, following stops in Lyon, Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Basra, Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Akyab, Rangoon, Singora (Songkhla), Singapore, Batavia (Jakarta) and Surabaya, they arrived in Darwin on December 10 after 28 days of travel with a total flying time of 135 hours and covering 11,123 miles (17,911 kilometers).

In 1934, Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services) teamed with Imperial Airways to form Qantas and Imperial Airways Ltd., and began flying between London and Brisbane in 1935 using a de Havilland DH.86 Express. The weekly flights connected with trains in Italy and France, and the trip took less than half the time of the of the Smith brothers’ journey, getting passengers to their destination in a little under 13 days—if everything went as planned. But technological advances in aircraft and engines during WWII would further shorten the flying time. Where the DH.86 cut the travel time in half, newer airliners would quarter the DH.86's time.

Following the war, Qantas started what was called the Kangaroo Route in 1947, flying from Sydney to London with stops in Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, and Tripoli. Passengers spent the night in Singapore and Cairo. Accommodations aboard the Lockheed Constellation were markedly improved, and the journey could be completed in as few as 4 days. In 1947, going about 9,000 miles in just 4 days was remarkable. The amount of time needed to make the trip was shortening as quickly as the airliner was evolving, and now, there is just one more jump to make.

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On December 11, 2016, Qantas announced the first ever nonstop service from London to Perth. In March 2018, Qantas will fly a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner twice a day between London Heathrow Airport and Perth Airport. The flight will cover 9,000 miles (14,498 kilometers) and will arrive after a flying time of 17 hours. The flight will overtake the Sydney to Dallas route as Qantas’ longest, and it will be the second longest route in the world.

For modern fliers, 17 hours seems like a very long time to be cooped up in an airplane. But it’s not 28 days, nor 12 days, nor even 4 days. The world is getting very, very small indeed. Of course, if you are afraid of flying, you can still hitch a ride on a freighter from Tilbury on the southeast coast of England to Sydney that passes through the Suez Canal. However, that trip will take you about 45 days. You’d be better off with the Thompson brothers in their Vickers.

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Currently, the three longest nonstop flights are:

  • Air India Flight 173 – Delhi to San Francisco, 9,400 mi (15,128 km), Boeing 777-200LR
  • Emirates Flight 449 – Auckland to Dubai, 8,823 mi (14,200 km), Airbus A380-800
  • Qantas Flight 7– Dallas to Sydney, 8,577 mi (13,804 km), Airbus A380-800


If you enjoy these Aviation History posts, please let me know in the comments. And if you missed any of the past articles, you can find them all at Planelopnik History.

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(Vickers Vimy photo author unknown; de Havilland Express photo by Qantas via goodall.com; Lockheed Constellation photo author unknown via Airways Museum; 787 photo by Qantas via Australian Aviation)