Aircraft model, De Havilland 60G Moth seaplane, VH-ULD, wood / metal, made by Iain Scott-Stevenson, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2002
The use of aerial devices for exploration purposes in Antarctica began with a plan by Professor Edgeworth David to use Hargrave kites to carry meteorological instruments aloft. David had been invited to participate in the 1907 British expedition to Antarctica by Sir Ernest Shackleton and David was accompanied by two of his former students, Leo Cotton and Douglas Mawson. Although the use of the kites does not seem to have been as successful as hoped Mawson, who in 1911 was Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Adelaide, saw value in the use of aircraft and for his expedition to Antarctica that year took along a Vickers REP monoplane. Unfortunately the aircraft crashed just prior to departure and, without sufficient time to effect repairs, it was taken without wings to act as a tractor. In this role it was successful until a major failure of the engine prevented further use.
With the vast distance of the Antarctic, and the problems of overland travel to carry out surveys, aircraft were the most feasible solution. Australian, George Hubert Wilkins, the first to fly the Arctic from Alaska to Spitsbergen, Norway, proved that Antarctic flights were possible and able to facilitate greater advances in surveying the territory than could be achieved on foot. He did this by using his Arctic-tried-and-true Lockheed Vega aircraft over two Antarctic expeditions; 1928-29 and 1929-30.
While Wilkins was completing his aerial surveys of the Antarctic Peninsula the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, led by Sir Douglas Mawson, was using a DeHavilland Moth seaplane VH-ULD to survey the Australian Sector lying between the Ross Sea and Enderby Land.
From this time on aircraft became a required tool for Antarctic exploration despite weather and technical difficulties and the American explorers Richard Byrd and Lincoln Ellsworth used them there to good effect.
Post World War II the Australian Government established its own Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions with an aim to establish permanent meteorological bases on Macquarie and Heard Islands. Aircraft were part of the complement and a Supermarine Walrus amphibian was despatched by ship to Heard Island but violent weather conditions caused the aircraft's destruction after only one hour's flight. The Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher seaplane sent to survey the King George V Land managed four hours air time before it was returned to Australia.
Despite the setback aircraft are of such utility that they are now a main means of supply of Antarctic bases and of survey.
Made for the Australian National Maritime Museum exhibition "Antarctic Heroes - Triumph and Tragedy" curated by Lindsey Shaw and Susan Sedgwick. This exhibition ran from 5th December 2002 until 4th May 2003.
The model is a representation of the DeHavilland 60G seaplane (constructor's number 1128) VH-ULD that accompanied both British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions (BANZARE) of 1929-1930 and 1930-1931 led by Sir Douglas Mawson. The DeHavilland aircraft was purchased by Sir Douglas on the recommendation of the British Chief of Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard.
The aircraft was carried to Antarctica on the deck of the Royal Research Society's ship 'Discovery' and was placed in the care of RAAF personnel, Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Stuart Campbell and Sergeant (later Pilot Officer) Eric Douglas.
The Moth was used for survey work. Aside from the scientific objectives of the expeditions they also had the purpose of claiming British sovereignty over as much Antarctic territory as they could.
On December 31 1929 Campbell and Douglas made their first Antarctic flight in VH-ULD; an ascent to 5,000 feet (1524m)to observe the land masses close to the 'Discovery'. On January 5 1930 Campbell and Mawson made a flight, climbing to 2,000 feet (610m). The sighting of continental land on this flight led to the naming of MacRobertson Land. The next day a blizzard set in and flying was not resumed until January 25 1930 when four flights were made which included aerial photography and cinematography by Captain Frank Hurley. On the following day two flights were made and the 'Discovery' sailed north to Kerguelen Island. Here two flights were made on February 18 1930 and two on the next day. The Moth was then dismantled and the expedition returned to Australia.
The second BANZARE left Hobart on November 22 1930 to survey land between King George V Land and MacRobertson Land. VH-ULD was once more aboard the 'Discovery' in the care of Campbell and Douglas, both now promoted. The first flight on the new expedition took place on January 7 1931 to test the aircraft and to observe ice conditions. Further flights took place on January 15, 16 and 18 to explore the coastline. On January 27 1931 Douglas and Mawson made a flight to Knox Land but upon their return to the ship the process of lifting the aircraft from the water almost turned to disaster when a part of the lifting tackle gave way, dumping the aircraft tail in the water while Mawson clung on to the now inverted aircraft with his feet trailing in the water. The aircraft was slammed into the side of the ship several times before the lifting crew could lower it back into the water onto its floats. Neither Mawson nor Douglas was injured. The whole episode was filmed by Hurley and the footage survives. Despite the immersion of the tail of ULD and its several collisions with the ship, repairs were effected within a few days and it was test flown on February 6 1931 and found satisfactory. On February 9, 10 and 11 observation flights were undertaken over Princess Elizabeth Land and the eastern part of MacRobertson Land. The expedition returned to Hobart on March 19 1931. In all VH-ULD had made 21 flights in Antarctica proving the value of aircraft in observation and survey work including in adverse operating conditions. Its total flight time is thought to be no more than 26 hours.
On July 20 1931 VH-ULD was sold with spares but without engine to the West Australian Aero Club. The engine was sold to the Department of Defence. Following conversion to a landplane and engine fitment it was flown from Melbourne to Perth by club instructors Harry Baker and Cliff Nicholas. It was used primarily for flying training until impressed into the RAAF on August 22 1940 as A7-94. It served at Pearce RAAF Base until a crash into the sea on May 10 1942 . Sixteen days later it was converted to components.
Source: Winley, Bruce, Aussie Moths, (WestonPrint, Kiama, 1997), pp172-176