John Robertson Duigan MC
On 16 July 1910, John Robertson Duigan flew an aircraft (a seven metre hop) at his family’s Mia Mia property, near Kyneton, Victoria, Australia. This is acknowledged as the first powered, controlled flight of an all-Australian designed and built aeroplane which occurred less than seven years after the Wright Brothers’ ‘Flyer’ lifted off at Kittyhawk, North Carolina.
In the five countries where powered flights were achieved, considerable technical resources were available. Yet John accomplished the flight with little outside help other than several books, the magazine Aero and the engineering skills of his younger brother, Reginald Charles – making John’s effort extremely remarkable.
After attending BGS, John went to study electrical engineering at Finsbury College in London. He also qualified in motor engineering and driving at Battersea Polytechnical College and then worked for the Wakefield and District Light Railway in Yorkshire. Returning to Australia in 1908, John went to live on the family property in Mia Mia.
John’s experiments in aviation dated from 1908 when he constructed an unsuccessful kite. Next he began building a Wright-type glider, capable of lifting two people off the ground that was completed and flown on a tether wire in 1909.
Before September 1909, John began construction of his own design powered aircraft. Apart from the engine, which was built by J. E. Tilly in Melbourne, the whole aircraft was made by John on the farm. His brother Reginald helped assemble the aircraft and John first ‘flew’ in it on 16 July 1910, hopping about 20 feet. By early October he was flying nearly 200 yards (183 metres). These were the first flights in Australia of a locally designed and built aircraft.
John returned to England in 1911 and obtained a flying licence from the International Aeronautical Federation in April 1912. In 1916 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in No.2 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, and was appointed to command the squadron’s second flight in August. John was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in action during WWI. He later opened his own motor engineering business in Yarrawonga. He served in the Quality Control Branch of the Royal Australian Air Force in WWII.
In 1970 the Duigan brothers were honoured on an Australian postage stamp. In the early 21st century, Qantas named one of its Airbus A380s after John and Reginald Duigan in recognition of the brothers’ contribution to aviation industry.
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