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‘An absolute legacy’: Southern Cross replica returns to the skies

written by Jake Nelson | December 8, 2023

Airborne once again: the Southern Cross replica VH-USU takes off from Shellharbour Airport. (Image: Jake Nelson)

The iconic replica of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith’s Fokker FVIIB, Southern Cross, has successfully taken its first public demonstrator flight since 2002.

The plane, which has been painstakingly restored by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) over the past 12 years, took off shortly after 10:30am at Shellharbour Airport and flew for roughly 15 minutes before making a successful landing.

Speaking to Australian Aviation after the flight, pilot Bruce Simpson, who flew alongside co-pilot Mark Thurstan, congratulated the team at HARS and said the plane had flown “pretty well as advertised”.

“It was flying and operating exactly how it was designed to. An extraordinary amount of credit needs to go to the engineers on the project, because it does exactly what it’s designed to do. A very successful flight,” he said.

“It reminds you of how heroic Smithy and all those guys of the era were, in terms of flying this aeroplane or similar styles of aeroplanes across the world – an extraordinarily difficult and demanding job, absolutely. An enormous amount of respect for what they did.”


Originally constructed in the 1980s, the replica of the famous aircraft used by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew to cross the Pacific in 1928 – which carries the original plane’s registration of VH-USU – suffered an undercarriage failure in May 2002, followed by wing and engine damage as it landed at Parafield Airport in Adelaide.

The plane, dubbed the largest “close replica” aircraft in the world, has been restored by HARS over more than 12 years since the society purchased it in 2010. Led by project engineering manager Jim Thurstan, the effort was funded by donors such as Robert Greinert and Dick Smith.

“It is a fantastic tribute to the organisation, to the staff, the project management, the sponsors. Without any of those components, this would never have happened,” said Simpson.

“It’s an absolute legacy for the aviation industry of Australia.”

The society is seeking further donations to keep the replica flying, with tax-deductible contributions able to be made at https://hars.org.au/donations/southerncrossreplica/.

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