ONE hundred years ago tomorrow, Harry Houdini undertook the first powered flight in Australia. Here is The Weekly Times first-hand account, from March 19, 1910
CONQUEST OF THE AIR
THREE SUCCESSFUL FLIGHTS
The distinctive honour of having been the first to conquer the air in this part of the world by flying in a machine heavier than air was achieved yesterday by Houdini, the well-known handcuff king and ``mysteriarch'', who is fulfilling an engagement at the Opera House.
Few except his intimate friends had any idea that Houdini had ambitions to become an aviator and it will come as news to the public that Houdini not only owns a flying machine of his own, but has for the past five weeks been assiduously practising with it at Digger's Rest, in a paddock a mile square on the property of Mr Cook, who farms in the district.
A SUCCESSFUL FLIGHT
Yesterday morning Houdini reached the paddock from Melbourne by motor car at 5 o'clock and at once donned an aviator's costume, short jacket, pants, socks and shoes. Then his machine was run out and the trials began.
THE MACHINE DESCRIBED
The machine is a Voisin bi-plane weighing 1400lb, with its pilot. She is driven by a petrol engine weighing 240lb and of 60-80 horsepower with a pulling capacity of 400lb.
This morning six of the gentlemen present hung on to the bi-plane while the engine was started. It dragged them some distance thus proving its great power.
THE FIRST FLIGHT
The weather hitherto had not been conducive to the bold attempt, but yesterday everything seemed favourable for the initial venture.
Houdini climbed into the pilot seat and set the machinery in motion.
At first the engine snorted and roared, creating a perfect pandemonium of sound as the whirling aluminium propeller cleft the morning breeze.
Then like a whippet loosed from the leash the machine careered along the ground for a distance of 50 yards.
Suddenly she jerked to the left and made straight for the trunk of a tree.
Her daring pilot placed both hands on the lever operating the elevating plane and at the same time tugged at the steering wheel. The machine then rose like a bird and just missing the tree, sailed fairly into the air.
The speed was 50 miles an hour.
The paddock was circled in a little over a minute, the machine being about 40 feet above the ground at the time.
Slowly like a thing of life it came back to the starting point and settled without a jar or a shock.
The spectators rushed over to congratulate Houdini on his success. Among the first to press his hand was Mr Ralph C. Banks, who has also been experimenting with a Wright aeroplane near the spot.
A SECOND FLIGHT
After a few moments' rest, Houdini again took possession of the machine and opened the throttle wide. The bi-plane rose gracefully into the air after a preliminary sprint of 50 yards across the field. This time a height of 100 feet was attained. It remained in the air for three minutes and made a circuit and half of the paddock.
Then with a beautiful hovering movement the aeroplane with the daring aviator glided gracefully to earth.
OVER THE TREES
The third and final trialof the morning was then entered upon and again Houdini rose into the air.
Like a sweeping hawk the biplane swung around the paddock and then Houdini, boldly tilting the upper plane, made a sensational flight over the tree tops.
In all, three circuits of the paddock were made, the three odd miles being left behind in a little over four minutes.
As in the previous flights the machine rode to earth in graceful undulations and Houdini gasping with excitement, clambered out of the pilot seat to be received with renewed congratulations and cheers by the spectators who were scarcely less excited than the aviator himself.
To a representative of The Weekly Times after his great feat, Houdini stated that he hoped, if weather conditions were favourable, to shortly make a flight over Melbourne and possibly fly across the bay from Port Melbourne to Williamstown.
"I am the first man to have flown in Australia," he said, "and I have fulfilled my greatest ambitions.
"I shall never forget my sublime and enthralling sensations and I only hope that my success will encourage other aviators to persevere and conquer the air. They will find aviation a pastime providing new and wonderful sensations, such as no other pastime can afford."
"What were your feelings while floating between heaven and earth?" was asked.
"They were absolutely novel and I can scarcely describe them. But I felt a sensation of wonderful lightness and confidence, couple with a delicious feeling of freedom and being independent of space and time.
"You know the untrammelled experience of flight in a dream? It was like that. There was no resistance against it. The morning air, sweet and fresh, felt like some life-giving elixir or cordial, as it first whistled and shrieked in my ears.
"Behind me the propeller churned away making a terrible din as if protesting against my temerity. I shouted with joy but of course the spectators away beneath couldn't hear me.
"Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed my engineer capering about and dancing on his hat, while certain semaphore signals prearranged told me that it was time to return to earth."
"How did you make your descent?"
"I simply depressed the plane, shut off the motor power and glided to the ground as smoothly as a water hen glides to a pool.
"It was as if the machine desired to impress me that all was perfect ease.
"I know of no locomotion in which master and machine appear to have a complete (may I use the word?) affinity. There is the mind of the man, composed and serene after the first exhilarating effect of rising, directing the flight and the immediate response of the mechanical obedient bird.
"I could even go the length of saying that it was like a thing of life entering into one's own desire to ride the air."