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A Flight of the Imagination: Mawson's Antarctic Aeroplane


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Leane, E, Lucas, A, Henderson, C and Kriwoken, L 2011 , 'A Flight of the Imagination: Mawson's Antarctic Aeroplane' , Polar Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 , pp. 63-75 , doi: 10.1080/2154896X.2011.568791.

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When Douglas Mawson planned his Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911–14) he took advantage of newly available technology. His proposal to use an aeroplane for reconnaissance of unexplored regions in Antarctica was an innovative strategy, a first in polar exploration. He ordered a French‐designed Robert Esnault‐Pelterie (REP) two‐seater monoplane from Vickers Ltd in England. When a test flight in Adelaide ended in a crash, Mawson was forced to revise his plans. He took the engine and fuselage south to use as a motorized sledge or “air‐tractor”. This paper details the monoplane’s history, including conflicting interpretations of the crash. It outlines the optimistic preparation for the aircraft’s alternative role as a motor sledge in Antarctica, its disappointing performance and its eventual abandonment near Mawson’s Huts at Commonwealth Bay. Finally, it documents clues that have prompted a renewed search for this important historical artefact. Summer projects to locate and salvage it, using ice‐penetrating radar and other detection methods, have been run in conjunction with other conservation projects conducted by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation. We draw on archival research and new discoveries to piece together the fragmented history of the AAE’s monoplane.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Leane, E and Lucas, A and Henderson, C and Kriwoken, L
Keywords: Antarctica Australian Antarctic Expedition Douglas Mawson aviation
Journal or Publication Title: Polar Journal
ISSN: 2154-896X
DOI / ID Number: 10.1080/2154896X.2011.568791
Additional Information:

Copyright 2011 Taylor and Francis

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