40 years ago Aviatiator, Adventurer and Entrepreneur Richard “Dick” Harold Smith touched down in the Bell 206 JetRanger III at the Bell Helicopter Hurst Heliport, now known as the Floyd Carlson Airfield. This historic flight marked the completion of the very first solo around-the-world flight by helicopter.
Smith's journey had begun 352 days earlier, on August 5, 1982, when he departed from the same airfield in Fort Worth, Texas, embarking on the ambitious circumnavigation. In total, Smith covered 32,258 miles (51,914 km) during his journey, logging over 260 hours of flight time. Smith chose to complete the journey using the Bell 206, also known as the ‘Australian Explorer’, due to its range, durability, and reliability.
Smith's first significant adventure was in 1964 when he sailed with a group of Rover Scouts to Ball's Pyramid in the Pacific Ocean—the highest sea spire in the world. Failing to top it on this occasion, Smith returned in 1980, completed an ascent and, together with Hugh Ward and John Worrall, formally claimed the land for Australia by unfurling the New South Wales state flag. He went on, in 1988, to sue the state government over its ban on recreational climbing of the spire because the "restrictions really attack people's right to have an adventure". His action was taken when the government refused an application by Greg Mortimer, the first Australian to climb Mt Everest, to make the climb.
Smith learned to fly in 1972, graduating to a twin-engine Beech Baron. In 1976, he competed in the Perth-to-Sydney air race.
Smith conceived and initiated airline flights over Antarctica, his first flight was made by a chartered Qantas aircraft on 13 February 1977. In August of the same year, Smith chartered another jumbo, this time to take paying passengers on a 10-hour, 5,000 km flight over the Red Centre of the Outback in search of Lasseter's fabled but lost reef of gold. The search, attended by Lasseter's son Bob and Aboriginal tracker and artist Nosepeg Tjunkata Tjupurrula, found nothing.
At the age of 34, he purchased his first helicopter, a Bell Jetranger II, and, on 23 February 1979, obtained his licence to fly it. In January 1980, with Rick Howell co-piloting the Jetranger, he made a record-setting flight from Sydney to Lord Howe Island and returned (1,163 km). The helicopter opened new opportunities for exploring places otherwise inaccessible. Dicks Bell Jetranger is now housed in the Australian Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences.
On 19 August, the 50th anniversary of James Mollison's solo crossing of the Atlantic, Smith completed the first solo Atlantic crossing in a helicopter when he arrived at Balmoral Castle, United Kingdom to be greeted by a waiting (then prince) King Charles III. From there he flew to London, where, later that day, the first stage of his flight ended, after 11,752 km. The second stage of his flight started in London on 13 September and finished in Sydney, Australia, on 3 October 1982, 23 092 km later. On 25 May 1983, the final stage of the flight started. Not being granted permission to land in the Soviet Union, he arranged to land on a ship to refuel. His journey ended on 22 July 1983, the 50th anniversary of Wiley Post's solo aeroplane flight around the world on 22 July 1933.
Smith made the first helicopter flight to the North Pole, upon his third attempt in his Jetranger helicopter. In 1986, he had to give up just 670 kilometres short of his destination because his navigation equipment was beginning to fail and visibility had dropped to almost zero. He failed once more, before his successful flight on 28 April 1987. The flight was made possible by having fuel delivered in a DHC-6 Twin Otter for refuelling in parts of the Arctic Circle.
In 1988–89, Smith flew a Twin Otter aircraft VH-SHW (registered after his hero, polar explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins) following meridians of longitude around the world, landing at both the North and South Poles, making him the first person to complete such a circumnavigation. The flight followed the "vertical" South-North-South track, (keeping broadly between 80 and 150 degrees E, heading south, and 60 and 100 degrees W, heading north) departing Sydney, Australia, on 1 November 1988, and returning on 28 May 1989. The journey included the first flight made from Australia to the Australian Antarctic Territory.
In August and again in October 1989, Smith, piloting his own helicopter, initiated and conducted searches in remote tracts of the Simpson Desert for the first stage of the Redstone Sparta rocket which had carried Australia's first satellite into orbit, making the nation only the fourth to succeed in doing so, on 29 November 1967. His search was ultimately successful, the relic was recovered in an elaborate 22-person overland expedition the following year and placed on display in Woomera.
In October 1991, Smith was the second person to fly over Mount Everest. Dick and Pip Smith circled the summit in his Cessna Citation, taking photographs. In Australian Geographic (January–March 1993) Dick wrote: "The experience was unbelievable and I felt privileged to be one of the very few people to obtain permission from the Nepalese government to fly over the summit."
Smith and his co-pilot John Wallington made the first balloon trip across Australia, in a Cameron-R77 Rozière balloon, Australian Geographic Flyer, on 18 June 1993, for which he received the Commission Internationale d'Aerostation (FAI Ballooning Commission)'s 1995 Montgolfier Diploma.
In November of the same year, Smith broke the record for a purely solar-powered vehicular crossing of the Australian continent. Driving the Aurora Q1 for eight-and-a-half days, he completed the 2,530-mile (4,070 km) journey from Perth to Sydney at an average speed of 31 miles per hour (50 km/h). The vehicle was equipped with 1,943 solar cells epoxied to its fibreglass shell, with lead-acid and lithium-thionol batteries for storage, producing a maximum of 1.4 kW. He achieved a 20-day reduction in the record previously set by Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins 12 years earlier in The Quiet Achiever.
In June 1995, Smith completed another helicopter flight around the world, this time with his wife Pip. He bought a twin-engine Sikorsky S-76. At their journey's end, Dick and Pip had completed the first east-to-west (i.e. against prevailing winds) helicopter flight around the globe, flown more than 39,607 nautical miles (73,352 km) in the process and taken more than 10,700 photographs as a record of what the planet looked like in the last decade of the 20th century. He said, "I hope that many of the areas will be photographed again in 10 years' time from exactly the same positions".
In November 1995, Smith climbed the most remote of the seven summits, the Carstensz Pyramid in Irian Jaya with Peter Hillary and Greg Mortimer.
On 7 January 2006, Smith flew his Cessna Grand Caravan from Sydney to Hari Hari on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island to mark the 75th anniversary of the first solo trans-Tasman flight by Guy Menzies in 1931.