The Duigan Brothers
John Robertson Duigan (1882 - 1951)Reginald Charles Duigan (1889 - 1966)
The first Australian made aeroplane to fly, the Duigan Aeroplane, was designed and constructed by John Robertson Duigan with the assistance of his younger brother, Reginald Charles Duigan. After many trials, the first flight was achieved by John on 16th July, 1910 on their parents’ property Spring Plains, in central Victoria, Australia.
John Duigan left Brighton Grammar in 1900 and went to Finsbury Technical School in London. He was there for four years and took diplomas in both electrical and motor engineering and then had about three years’ experience testing his skills with several firms, including Weymouths and Siemens. He returned to Australia in early 1908 having had no contact with aviation while training in England and showed no special interest in it on his return.
Back home on his father’s property, he was not greatly interested in farm work. For something to do, John experimented with several versions of box kites and gliders. From a friend and fellow student in England, John received a picture featuring Wilbur Wright’s aeroplane and a letter detailing Wright’s flying in France during that year.
These inspired him to undertake an interesting project by putting his mechanical and engineering skills to good use to design a powered aircraft at home. Several prototypes were built on the Mia Mia property. Each aircraft would fly a short distance but modifications were required especially in the new fields of balance, control and power as the Duigan brothers wrestled with the concept of lift and drag. However, on 16th July of 1910, John Duigan sat proudly at the controls of the craft known as the Duigan Aeroplane which he designed and built over eighteen months. It was ready to fly.
Reginald Duigan spun the propeller and the 25hp Tilley engine roared to life. Bouncing down the runway in the farm paddock, the Duigan Aeroplane became airborne and slowly climbed skywards. John Duigan levelled it off and flew the aeroplane on a straight course for about half a mile and gingerly landed it back safely on its bicycle wheels. This was the first successful flight of an Australian designed and built aeroplane. The Duigan brothers had achieved their dream.
This was followed by other successful flights including a public flying display at Geelong Racecourse. The original Duigan Aeroplane was gifted in 1921 by Captain John Duigan to the Victorian Government and is now on display in the Victorian Museum. A replica of the Duigan Aeroplane constructed to commemorate 100 years since its firts flight, is hung in the passenger terminal building at Wagga Wagga Airport.
The first flight of the Duigan Aeroplane inspired some of the Duigan family to follow their forebears by flying Catalina aircraft in the Second World War, manufacturing and piloting ultra- light aircraft and building a replica Duigan aircraft.