Dick Smith AC

The first person to fly a helicopter solo around the world

In 1982–83, entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith became the first person to fly a helicopter solo around the world. Further aviation achievements included circumnavigating the world via the South and North poles and the first nonstop, trans-Australian flight in a hot-air balloon.

Born 18 March 1944, Smith grew up in Roseville Chase, Sydney. He loved the outdoors and kept snakes and lizards in his backyard. “I joined Scouts as a Cub when I was eight, never realising what an incredible impact the Scouting movement would have on my life.”

In 1964, Smith and a team of fellow Scouts sailed from Sydney to climb Balls Pyramid, the largest sea stack in the world. Recovering from an operation, Smith was unable to reach the top, but would learn “about responsible risk-taking, the camaraderie of fellow climbers and leadership skills”. In 1980 he would climb to the summit.

By then, Dick Smith Electronics, the retail electronics business he’d started in the late 1960s, had become very successful. In 1982 Smith bought his second helicopter, a Bell JetRanger, from Fort Worth, Texas, had a long-range fuel tank installed and set out to fly solo around the world.

Overcoming loneliness, storms, bullets (from unseen hunters in Iceland) and his first-ever shipboard landing, Smith successfully completed the epic 55,000-kilometre flight in 1983.

In late 1985, Smith launched Australian Geographic, Dick Smith’s Journal of Adventure and Discovery. As well as taking a positive look at Australia and the achievements of its people, the journal would sponsor adventure from then on.

Two years later, after three attempts, Smith reached the North Pole, solo, by helicopter. In 1988–89 Smith and co-pilot Giles Kershaw flew a de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft around the world via the South and North poles.

On 18 June 1993, Smith and co-pilot John Wallington completed the first balloon flight across Australia, and in 2000, the first flight from New Zealand to Australia.

Dick Smith received the Baden-Powell Award 1966, was named Australian of the Year in 1986 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1999. In 2000 he was named Australian Geographic Society’s Adventurer of the Year for his trans-Tasman balloon flight, and in 2014 received a special Australian Geographic Society Award for 50 years of adventure. In 2015 he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his service to the community through his philanthropy and services to aviation.

From a cave 2,000 metres under the Earth, wooden huts in the Antarctic, to the heat of the Australian sun, Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 greatest explorers will take visitors across Australia, around the globe, into outer space and back.

Created by the Australian Museum and curated by Antarctic adventurer and author Howard Whelan, the exhibition brings together 29 historic and 21 modern adventurers and explorers. Learn more here.

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