Captain Harry Frank "Jim" Broadbent
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I am not sure how many people will have heard of Captain Harry Frank Broadbent.
But Harry Broadbent, known as Jim to many, was, and should be remembered as, an aviation legend. In his few years, he was killed at just 48 years old, he accomplished many aviation firsts in Australia and also many England-Australia records. All in aircraft that were not intended for such use really.
The scrap of paper on the left appeared online recently. It was signed by Jim Broadbent back on 25th September 1938, and it set wheels in motion for this page.
As with all on our site, there is a connection back to BCal and in this case it is the lineage of BCal and he exhibited the pioneering spirit seen throughout.
Captain Broadbent's career saw him flying for Silver City and then Aquila Airways between 1952 and 1958. It was soon after leaving Aquila that events took a fateful turn.
Harry was born on 25 March 1910 in Chiswick, London, he was the son of a music-hall vocalist Joeseph Gibbs and his wife Madge Adelaide. Harry was educated at Wychwood College, Bournemouth and was taken to Australia after his parents' divorce. In 1923 his mother married John Allan Broadbent, of Windella station, Narrandera; henceforward he preferred to be known as 'Jim Broadbent'. His mother, Madge, passed away on 1928 when Harry was 18.
Inspired by the 1928 flights of Bert Hinkler and Kingsford Smith he joined the New South Wales section of the Australian Aero Club, and received a private pilot's licence on 20th November 1929. In 1930 he went to England, but was frustrated in his attempt to break Kingsford Smith's England-Australia record.
Back in Australia, Broadbent bought an Avro Avian in 1931. On 12th August he flew solo from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, linking the cities for the first time by air in one day. Within a month he set a round-Australia record by flying 7475 miles (12,030 km) in 7 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes. On 31st December that year he married Beryl Elizabeth Bower at St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick.
After winning the annual New South Wales Aerial Derby on 14th May 1932, Broadbent purchased a three-seat Puss Moth monoplane. He obtained a commercial licence and started an air taxi service, but all Puss Moths were grounded, pending accident investigations. He acquired and trained racehorses until the ban was lifted. Having won the Victorian Aerial Derby on 18th March 1933, he reactivated his air taxi service.
Between 17-20th May 1935 Broadbent flew 7140 miles (11,491 km) round Australia in his new Puss Moth in an astonishing time of 3 days, 9 hours, 54 minutes (a record that remains unbroken).
Leaving Darwin on 10th October 1935, his aircraft was damaged near Basra, Iraq, and he continued to England by Imperial Airways Ltd. A simultaneous take-off from Croydon Aerodrome was made on 2nd November by Broadbent and Charles Melrose in Percival Gulls. Broadbent reached Darwin on 9th November, reducing Kingsford Smith's 1933 England-Australia solo record to 6 days, 21 hours, 19 minutes, and was awarded the Oswald Watt gold medal for 1935.
In 1936 Broadbent joined Australian venture Butler Air Transport Co. and flew the Charleville-Cootamundra section of the England-Australia airmail route. Meanwhile, a friendly rivalry had developed between him and the New Zealand aviatrix Jean Batten. She broke his 1935 England-Australia record in October 1936, but he regained it by lowering the time to 6 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes (27 April-3 May 1937) in his Leopard Moth, Windella.
Harry "Jim" Broadbent in 1936
On 18-24 October Jean Batten cut his record to 5 days, 18 hours, 15 minutes. Broadbent had to abandon two attempts to break her record. Determinedly, he then flew a Vega Gull out of Darwin on 18th April 1938 and landed in England on the 22nd April his time was 5 days, 4 hours, 21 minutes. His achievement was the last of the pre-World War II record flights on the England-Australia-England routes and his time remains today as a record for the aircraft class. (See photo to the right)
In 1938-39 Broadbent piloted flying boats between Sydney and Singapore for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. He then served with Royal Air Force Ferry Command, conveying aircraft from Canada and the United States of America to Britain and Australia (1941-43), and flew Lockheed Electras for the allied Directorate of Air Transport (1943-44).
Having divorced his wife in July 1948, Broadbent married 24-year-old Meris Chilcott Rudder at St John's Presbyterian Church, Wahroonga, on 27th January 1950. They moved to England in 1952 and he started flying Bristol freighters with Silver City Airways on their busy cross-channel routes.
In November 1954 Jim began piloting Short Solent flying boats for Aquila Airways Ltd from Southampton to Lisbon and Madeira. Aquila's Las Palmas service started on 8th January 1956 and after receiving much media coverage there was a rush of bookings for the 1,600 mile trip.
Aquila flying-boat Aotearoa, G-AOBL, made the inaugural flight and she was commanded by Captain Harry Frank "Jim" Broadbent, by now a long served flying boat captain.
Harry pictured after taking back the England-Australia record in April 1938
Harry "Jim" Broadbent in 1937
Aquila's final flying boat service arrived back in Southampton on 30th September 1958. Though the day before, 29th September, Captain Broadbent was attached as an instructor to the Portuguese airline, Artop, they planned to continue the flying boat services from Portugal to Madeira that Aquila had ceased operating.
On 9th November 1958 Captain Broadbent, commanding an Artop Martin Mariner flying boat (CS-THB), took off from Lisbon at 12:23hours bound for Madeira. At 13:21hours the crew reported that they were making an emergency landing in the Atlantic, west of Portugal.
The Mariner flying boat used internal petrol heaters for heating and this was seen as a possible cause. Sadly, despite Captain Broadbent's aviation experience and undoubted command ability no trace of the aircraft, crew or passengers has ever been found.
Aquila Airways Solent, Aotearea, at Southampton
From Ray Baker (added 22/07/16)
I joined Trans Oceanic Airways at Rose Bay, Sydney, in January 1951. At that time, Jim was a line captain, flying Hythe IIIs and later, Solent IIIs. In the absence of the chief pilot, Capt. Phil Mathieson, Jim assumed that position as his deputy. With the imminent demise of TOA, Jim departed for the U.K. to join Silver City.