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20 June 2018

The landing that helped global aviation take off

On June 9, 90 years ago pioneer aviator Charles Kingsford Smith, his co-pilot Charles Ulm and two crew, landed his plane, the Southern Cross, on Eagle Farm Race Track in Brisbane completing the first flight across the Pacific Ocean to Australia.

This flight, along with Kingsford Smith’s previous trans-Atlantic flight and record flight around Australia as well as his subsequent trans-Tasman flights, laid the foundation stones for today’s commercial aviation industry.

For all of these historic flights Kingsford Smith and many of his contemporary aviators put their lives and fortunes in the hands of ExxonMobil fuels and lubes for their epic flights.

“We cannot speak too highly of your products,” said Kingsford Smith in a telegram to the company after the Pacific crossing. “And without your cooperation and service on the route we would have been unable to maintain schedule. Many thanks.”

ExxonMobil has been in the aviation business right from the start. Our lubes were used by the Wright brothers in their first flight in 1903 in the US.

In Australia we joined the aviation business in World War 1, when Vacuum Oil first started supplying avgas to early flyers. The business grew in line with the development of the aviation technology.  It really took off with the appointment of Captain Fred Haig as Vacuum Oil’s first Aviation Manager in Australia. He was, in fact, the first Aviation Manager of any oil company in Australia. Haig was wounded at Gallipoli, returned to Australia where, after his recovery, he joined the Australian Flying Corps. He was captured and became a prisoner of war after crashing his aircraft. He had a number of jobs after the war, mostly as a pilot and an instructor. 

Photo — Captain Fred Haig, Vaccum Oil's first Aviation Manager in Australia with pioneer aviator Charles Kingsford Smith.

“Vacuum Oil recognised at the time that aeroplanes were a neglected business as far as oil companies were concerned,” said Australian Wholesale Fuels Manager Steven Widdop. “In 1928 Haig joined Vacuum as the Aviation Manager, a position he held until his retirement in 1959. “Now every good Aviation Manager needs his own plane, and Vacuum, being a marketing company, thought that it would be a very good idea to buy an aircraft, and Fred Haig was, as well as being the Aviation Manager, the pilot of the new company plane – the first corporate aircraft in Australia. “He was a good friend of Kingsford Smith and together they flew to hundreds of towns across Australia, carrying windsocks in the plane, and helped local councils mark out paddocks to use as landing strips.”

The company opened its first aircraft refuelling unit in 1935 and started manufacturing Australia’s first aviation fuel in 1956 at the Altona Refinery. ExxonMobil continues to play a leading role in the aviation industry by helping airline manufacturers to push the envelope of aviation technology through the development of high-quality fuels and lubricants. “With more and more people taking to the skies today, the manufacture and supply of jet fuel has become a key focus for our fuels business,” said Aviation Sales Manager John Maartensz.

“The Altona Refinery recently completed an upgrade on its Jet Fuel Treater that has sustainably increased its jet production from 10 to 12 thousand barrels – or 1.9 million litres - per day. “The expanded Jet Fuel Treater complements two major projects nearing completion at the Yarraville Terminal which will also make a significant impact on ExxonMobil’s local fuel distribution and storage capabilities.”

The Yarraville Jet Fuel Pipeline Project will see 2.6 kilometres of new pipeline being laid to make distribution of jet fuel from our facility to an increasingly busy Melbourne Airport more efficient. The team at Yarraville Terminal are also in the process of commissioning two new fuel storage tanks which will increase capacity for jet fuel and unleaded fuel storage.

Altona Jet Fuel Treater Project Executive Jonathan Lawson said these projects underpin ExxonMobil’s importance and commitment to Australia’s aviation and transport industries and align with the refinery’s mission of ‘Fuelling Victoria’. “These projects will ensure we are able to meet the growing demand for jet fuel at Melbourne airport, where air traffic continues to rapidly increase year on year,” he said.

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