WA’s first aeroplane
Belmont Park racecourse, Friday 10 December 1915. A visiting pressman from the Perth-based Daily News clambers into the cockpit of the first aeroplane built in Western Australia. His purpose? To explain to his readers ‘how it feels to fly’.
Building the Kalgoorlie biplane
In the early 1900s, Australia, like many other nations around the world, was beginning to invest in the powered flying machine first realised by Orville and Wilbur Wright’s successful 12-second flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.
But these developments were being made in the eastern states. There were no plans to build any aeroplanes in WA.
That changed in 1912 when Paul Jentsch, Roy Burton and Walter Peters, mechanical engineering apprentices from the Kalgoorlie (now the Curtin WA) School of Mines, first dreamed of building their own fleet. They were joined the following year by Albert Edward ‘Jack’ Geere, an English pilot in his mid-20s, who at the time was believed to be the only licenced pilot in the state.
The four men contacted others in the gold mining town and formed the Kalgoorlie Aero Syndicate, a group of 20 men who each had an equal share in £500 in capital. The syndicate eventually made contact with the British War Office and obtained plans for a two-seater tractor biplane. These plans were redrawn by Jentsch, who was a skilled draftsman.
The engine was bought secondhand from a crashed monoplane in New South Wales, while steel sheets and planks of hickory were used to build the frame. Construction began in 1914 and took almost 12 months to complete.
It was the first aeroplane built in WA.