Ford Silver Centenary
The Silver Centenary first flew on 1 July 1930, and recorded approximately 50 hours of flight, mainly between Beverley and the Maylands Airfield, Australia. Built in the back of the town of Beverley's Electric Supply powerhouse.
The fuselage layout was similar to the DH60 Gipsy Moth, but the construction was to be of Ford's own design. The Oregon longerons and struts, with steel gusset plates, were covered with ply, which was lightened by cutouts and lightening holes. Aluminium cowls were fitted forward of the fireproof steel bulkhead, and along the top decking to the rear of the cockpits, beyond that point fabric was used over closely-spaced formers and stringers. Fabric formed the secondary covering on the fuselage, and was used exclusively on wings and tail unit. Dual control was fitted, and provision made for the installation of lighting and radio equipment. After the fuselage structure had been completed, and the assembly of one wing commenced, Tom Shackles, a local butcher, became a partner in the project. The aerofoil section was built to follow Ford's chalk-lofting ideas and had a high leading-edge camber, which gave the wing excellent stall characteristics, and which was later the subject of a patent. Another design feature incorporated was the contrary wing sweep lower wings forward and the upper to the rear. This was later believed to be the reason for its great reluctance to spin.
Instruments, spruce and dope, were all bought from LASCo, but late delivery of this material often caused delays in construction, however the majority of the components Selby hand-made himself.
All the metal fittings for the aircraft were hand-made including the steel-tube centre section and interplane struts, faired with sheet tinplate, steel elevator-control horns, strut-attachment brackets, aileron bellcranks and pushrods.
Initially the undercarriage, with rubber cord shock absorbers, utilised a pair of motorcycle wheels, with fittings procured from W.G. Blanch of Armadale, who had used them on a light, plane of his own.
One of Selby's major hurdles for the original project was finding the right power plant for his aircraft. A three-cylinder Anzani radial engine was purchased for £25 soon after construction began, but, after fitting, it was found to give insufficient power. As luck would have it, participants C D Pratt and D. Guthrie in the 1929 Centenary East - West Air Race crashed their Gipsy Moth VH-UKX in the Baandee lakes (East of Kellerberrin 110 miles from Berverley) and Selby was able to purchase the Gipsy 1 engine for £175. A broken valve rocker, a magneto mounting pad, and two engine feet were replaced, and the engine was then satisfactorily mounted on Silver Centenary, together with a new Gipsy propeller purchased from LASGo.
News of the engine purchase was printed in a Sydney newspaper and this caught the eye of the Controller of Civil Aviation Board, (CAB) H. C. Brinsmead. He dispatched one of his inspectors (J A 'Jim' Collopy) to Perth to take a look at the aircraft's construction.
In his letter of November 1929 Inspector Collopy noted that no formal plans were available for the project. And as most of the fabric covering had been completed prior to his inspection, this made it difficult for Inspector Collopy to see all the critical sections. He found that the partners were not conversant with terms such as 'centre of gravity', or 'centre of pressure', nor had they any knowledge of stressing or material testing. However, notwithstanding their limited aerodynamic knowledge, he did note that Selby and Torn had conducted a terrific job, and if limited to non-aerobatic flight, there should be no chance of structural failure. He only found a few areas that he felt needed a design enhancement.
On advice from the inspector, Selby discarded the undercarriage as too light, and one on the lines of the Gipsy Moth substituted, using standard aero-wheels and LASGo-made oleo legs, and strengthened the centre section spars.
Tom Shackles and Selby decided to call the aircraft the Silver Centenary because of its silver colour, and the fact that 1929 would be the Centenary year of the foundation of Western Australia. Selby then again attempted to register the Silver Centenary. In the belief that he would receive a Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A), Selby even painted the British mark G-AU on the fuselage (which he later converted to the Australian mark VH-U) but the C of A was not granted. They needed a complete set of drawings and data for CAB use. However during the first inspection, not a single drawing, sketch, or diagram was available. The application for registration was filed on 11 December, and they were notified on 20 January 1930 that, due to doubt as to its
aerodynamic stability and structural strength, it was not then proposed to register it. A further inspection on 5 April, by Tom Johnson, resulted in a few modifications being required by CAB, and these were carried out within two weeks by the builders, except for the new undercarriage, as the oleo legs had not arrived from LASCo.
Selby requested permission for Captain C H Nesbitt of Western Air Services to test fly the machine, and on 1 July 1930 after part of the wall of the powerhouse was removed, the Silver Centenary was wheeled down the road to Benson's paddock in Beverley, to conduct the first flight.
Captain Nesbitt had a successful 30 minute flight. He then conducted four more joyflights with Selby, Tom and their sisters (who had helped in the fabric covering).
On July 4 1930, Captain Nesbitt and Selby flew in company with a Gipsy Moth to Northam, with the intention of a rendezvous with Amy Johnson and Major de Havilland, escorting them on their way to Perth; however the latter were delayed at Kalgoorlie. They continued on to the Maylands airport and received a huge reception from the awaiting crowd. (Amy Johnson later inspected the aircraft at Maylands, and commented very favourably on its appearance) Following the death of Capt Nesbitt in October 1930 (in a crash of a DH Puss Moth, ironically after a structural failure) Warren Penny then conducted many of the flights and even instructed Ford in it. He was concerned with the lack of registration (the aircraft was still classed as experimental) and contacted Brinsmead the Controller of CAB who subsequently grounded the aircraft at Maylands.
Captain F S Briggs of the Shell Company finally received permission in September 1931 to fly the Silver Centenary back to Beverley and was very complimentary of her performance. An unusual characteristic of this unique aircraft was the ability to fly itself out of a spin. There are various theories for this, one of which is the very slight forward sweep of the main planes.
The final cross country flight was to an airshow in Narrogin in December 1931, on the last occasion that permission was granted to fly the Silver Centenary away from Beverley.
The C of A was never forthcoming due to the lack of detailed plans, so it was hung from the Powerhouse roof until after Selby died in a car accident in 1963.
On 6 January 1964, Brian and Graham Ford (Selby's sons) removed it from 32 years of storage, and over a period of time made general repairs. They cleaned and re-painted the Silver Centenary and even ran the Gipsy engine, but did not fly it. In 1967 it was housed as the centre piece of a memorial to Selby in the newly built Beverlcy Aeronautical Museum. The aircraft is so significant in the history of Beverley it even appears on the town's crest.
Upon purchasing the Silver Centenary from his grandmother's estate in the late 1990s, Rod Edwards set out to see if it would be possible to restore it to flying condition. With the advent of the 'experimental' category, the task has been made a little easier. After 76 years the VH-USC mark was finally secured.
The fact that the Silver Centenary was reported to fly so well encouraged Rod Edwards to closely follow the original design, although some small modifications were necessary to provide a safety margin. Many of the original components were in 'as new' condition and retained in the restoration.
Engine: 85 hp Gipsy 1, four-cylinder.
Wing span: 30' 4"
Height: 8' 9'
Empty weight: 1100 lbs
Fuel cap: 26 Imp gal.