The person responsible for establishing the ‘excellence’ of Qantas engineering was Arthur Baird, but Baird wasn’t his original name.
Born Wilfred Arthur Beard in Benalla, Victoria, in 1889 he had a remarkable aptitude for machinery and was reputed to have achieved the highest marks ever for a Mechanical Engineering student when he graduated from the Working Man’s College – later the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology – in 1909.
He completed a five-year apprenticeship with engineering firm W. Anderson and Son in Richmond, Melbourne. When he enlisted in February 1916, Beard had been an instructor fitter and air mechanic at Point Cook for nine months. He was sent overseas as acting Corporal with No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps a month later. Beard established a reputation that saw him loaned to Royal Flying Corps units to resolve their mechanical problems. He was promoted to Corporal, Sergeant and, in March 1918, Flight Sergeant.
Beard was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for valuable field service in 1918. Returning to Australia, he was discharged in June 1919 and started a garage business in Melbourne. When former No. 1 Squadron pilots Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh took delivery of the first Qantas aircraft in January 1921, Beard joined them and the airline became his life’s work.
As Chief Mechanic and Aerodrome Manager he recruited and led a team of expert aircraft mechanics at Longreach in western Queensland.
During the early 1920s he reverted to the original Scottish spelling of his name to become Baird. He was one of the first bosses in Australia to introduce music to a workplace when he began bringing his gramophone and records into the hangar to keep his team happy. For three years from 1926, Baird oversaw the construction of seven DH-50 airliners and a DH-9.
Qantas flew these aircraft and on the day after it qualified for its Certificate of Airworthiness, the first DH-50 ‘Iris’ gained fame by carrying the Governor-General and his wife, Lord John and Lady Ethel Stonehaven, on a tour to the Northern Territory. Baird was in charge of engineering activities at Archerfield and Rose Bay where he was intimately involved with the introduction of Empire flying boats to Qantas service. He later supervised the conversion work required to enable Qantas to operate five Catalina flying boats on the world’s longest-distance scheduled service, known as the ‘Double Sunrise’ flights between Perth and Ceylon during World War II.
As Qantas Engineering Manager, Baird took a close interest in training apprentices and instilling in them the famous Qantas safety culture. The Arthur Baird Trophy was presented to the top apprentice each year as a way to encourage the striving for excellence which he always saw as crucial to the airline’s successful operations.
Arthur Baird retired in June 1949, but continued as an adviser with an office at Rose Bay until his death at his Vaucluse home on 7 May 1954.