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article imageMawson's 1912 aircraft found in Antarctica

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By Roderick Eime     Jan 3, 2010 in Environment
The restoration team working on Mawson’s huts have finally found parts of the Vickers aircraft taken to Antarctica by Sir Douglas Mawson in 1912.
"The biggest news of the day is that we've found the air tractor, or at least parts of it!" team member Tony Stewart wrote on the team's blog from Cape Denison in Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay.
It was always a bold move to take the early aircraft to the world's most hostile environment and the exercise did not begin well for Australia's Antarctic hero, Sir Douglas Mawson.
A demonstration of the aircraft was undertaken in Adelaide just before the party set sail in 1911. It crashed and the wings were too badly damaged to be repaired and it was converted at last minute to an "air tractor" for towing sledges.
When deployed at their base in Cape Denison the rudimentary engine performed badly in the extreme cold and the experiment was abandoned. The engine was stripped from the aircraft and returned to Vickers while the fuselage was discarded near the base when the party left in 1913.
The aircraft is historically significant because researchers believe it to be the first one to come from the famous Vickers factory, the armaments manufacturer later responsible for such famous aircraft as the WWI Vimy bomber and Wellington of WWII.
The Mawsons Hut Foundation conservators were excited to find the remaining parts of the fuselage which have only become visible because of the particularly low tide. The aircraft had been occasionally sighted in the past, the last time being in the mid-1970s.
The first successful use of an aircraft in Antarctica was by Mawson's countryman, Sir Hubert Wilkins, who flew with pilot, US-born Ben Eielson, from Deception Island over the peninsula (Graham Land) in 1928.
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