Australia's most famous aviator, Charles Kingsford-Smith was born in Brisbane on 9 February 1897. He enlisted in the AIF in February 1915 and, after a brief period in the artillery, was posted to the 2nd Division as a signaller. He served on Gallipoli and then in Egypt and France as a dispatch rider. In October 1916, as a sergeant, Kingsford-Smith transferred to the Australian Flying Corps. In March 1917 he was discharged from the AIF and commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. Having been promoted to flying officer, he was posted to No. 23 Squadron in France in July 1917. Shot down and wounded a month later, Kingsford-Smith was awarded the Military Cross, having shot down four German aircraft in his first month of operational flying.
Kingsford-Smith was promoted to lieutenant in April 1918 and served as an instructor for the rest of the war. In the years after the war, he worked in varying capacities as a pilot, including a brief period as a stunt flyer in California, before joining the fledgling aviation industry in Australia.
In 1927 he and his flying partner, Charles Ulm, became the first airmen to fly around Australia. The following year, with the support of wealthy businessmen and government grant money - Kingsford-Smith, Ulm and two Americans, Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, became the first airmen to cross the Pacific. The following August, Kingsford Smith and his crew flew the Southern Cross from Point Cook to Perth and, shortly afterwards, from Sydney to Christchurch, becoming the first airmen to cross the Tasman Sea. His next aerial adventure, a planned flight to England ended in disaster when he made a forced landing in remote north-western Australia. Rescued after more than two weeks in the wilderness, Kingsford-Smith and his crew resumed the journey, eventually breaking the record for a flight between Australia and England.
In England, he and Ulm purchased a fleet of four aircraft with which to open an inter-capital air service in Australia. Australian National Airways, as the company was called, commenced operations in January 1930. Business interests in Australia notwithstanding, Kingsford-Smith made an east-west crossing of the Atlantic, receiving a rousing welcome in New York in June 1930. In October he broke the record for a flight between England and Australia, and in November was made an air commodore.
In 1932 he received a knighthood for his services to aviation but he was dogged by business failures and periods of ill-health. In May 1935 he began a trans-Tasman airmail service. But for the bravery of his co-pilot who climbed out onto the wing of their aircraft over the Tasman Sea to repair a damaged engine, the inaugural flight would have ended in disaster.
On 6 November 1935, he and another airman, J. T. Pethybridge, took off from England in an attempt to break yet another aviation record, but the pair were lost when their aircraft crashed into the sea off Burma.