On 22 July 1983, entrepreneur and founder of Australian Geographic Dick Smith completed his first solo around-the-world helicopter flight.
The sojourn was also the first solo flight from the US to Australia by helicopter and the first solo helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
For the ambitious journey, Dick flew his helicopter – in which he usually took his family ‘helicamping’ around Australia. The trip across the globe turned out to be much more than a leisurely activity, though, as he battled exhaustion, freezing temperatures, torrential rain, turbulence, extreme heat, dust and tropical storms.
He was even mysteriously shot at when he was over Alaska, with bullets hitting the helicopter’s reserve fuel tank.
Dick believed that a helicopter was a better way to record his flight through the various stages of his trip and he later turned his remarkable journey into a documentary.
He departed on the first leg of his flight from Fort Worth, Texas, in August 1982. From here he flew to Europe, covering 11,752 km in just over 60 hours, spread over 11 days. He was met at the end of this leg in Scotland where he was met by Prince Charles and his royal family.
After this stop-over, Dick moved onto the second leg of his journey, which took a route from London to Rome then to Athens, Crete, Cairo, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
During this part of the journey he faced many weathering extremes. He was forced to land on a beach on the Malay coast when a large tropical storm blocked his path.
From there he flew through Jakarta and Bali and set down in Darwin, proudly achieving his goal of matching Australian aviator Bert Hinkler’s time of 15 days from London to Darwin, which was completed in 1928.
Dick completed his trip by flying under the Harbour Bridge and landing in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. By this stage he had covered an amazing 30,000 km.
The final leg of his journey took place in May 1983, when he flew from Sydney to Cape York then on to Manilla, Hong Kong and Japan. The home stretch proved to be as difficult as the first half of his journey and he was not granted permission by the USSR to land on the Kuril Islands.
Needing to refuel, Dick organised to land on the deck of Norwegian cargo ship Hoegh Marlin between Japan and the Aleutian Islands. From there he flew to Alaska, Canada and finally back to Texas.
All up, he travelled a total of over 55,000 km in 260 hours of flying.
In 1990, after a number of trips resulting in over 1500 hours and 280,000 km, Dick Smith took his helicopter on its last flight from his home in Terrey Hills to the Powerhouse Museum. He presented the helicopter to the museum where it can still be seen today.
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