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1879-1919

Aviation in Hawaii kicked off with a balloonist, saw Hawaii's first airplane flight in 1910 and ended with the purchase of Ford Island by the War Department.

CHRONOLOGY OF AVIATION IN HAWAII

1879 (Dec)
Visiting balloonist Rufus Gibbon Wells gave a lecture at Kawaiahao Church on his ballooning experiences in the U.S. and Europe, including participation in the war between France and Germany. He explained about air currents and the art of navigating a balloon in the atmosphere.

1889 (2 March)
World-famous aeronaut Emil L. Melville visited Hawaii and advertised a balloon show where he would hang from a trapeze in his new 86 foot balloon. Hundreds paid 50-cents to see him perform at Kapiolani Park. Melville was unable to get his balloon in the air and blamed his failure on strong winds.

1889 (11 March)
Melville made another attempt at ballooning from a paddock in Iwilei with thousands of spectators on hand. The balloon became fully inflated but Melville was only able to get it to tree top level and traveled 2 to 3,000 feet before jumping off the trapeze.

1889 (2 Nov)
Lawrence Van Tassell came to Honolulu from Fresno, California and made an impressive balloon ascension from Kapiolani Park about a mile high before an appreciative paying crowd.

1889 (18 Nov)
Van Tassell promised a balloon ascent to honor the birthday of King Kalakaua from the crater Punchbowl followed by a parachute landing at Iolani Palace. The pilot was his partner Joseph Lawrence. Lawrence refused a life jacket before his successful ascent to several thousand feet. During his descent, winds carried him to Keehi Lagoon about two miles from shore. Lawrence drowned.

1901-1902
An area along the southeast coast of Ford Island was acquired by the Navy in 1901-02 after condemnation proceedings were instituted by the Navy against the Ii Estate. $3,000 was paid for 25.83 acres of land.

1910 (31 Dec)
J. C. Bud Mars made the first powered airplane flight in Hawaii from a Moanalua field in a Curtiss P-18 biplane, the Skylark. He left Hawaii angry that more people hadn’t paid to see him fly; instead they watched for free from surrounding hilltops.

1911 (18 June)
Didier Masson took off from Leilehua, circled Schofield Barracks, and then flew at 5,000 feet toward Diamond Head, landing at Kapiolani Park 19 minutes later.

1913 (8-13 July)
Tom Gunn made an impressive 25-minute flight at Schofield Barracks, circled Wahiawa on another flight, and took up Hawaii’s first airplane passengers on July 13. Citing safety concern, Gunn skimmed the ground and to the disappointment of his passengers did not get airborne.

1913 (13 July)
1st Lt. Harold Geiger, US Army, arrived in Honolulu with 12 enlisted men and a civilian engine technician, two seaplanes, S. C. No. 8, a Curtiss E two-seater, dual control trainer, and S. C. No. 21 a Curtiss G, fuselage tractor, and a supply of spare parts, machinery, tents and other equipment. He determined that Schofield Barracks was unsuitable for seaplane operations and set up operations at Fort Kamehameha. To everyone’s disappointment, the seaplanes could only operate at high tide. After 4 months, Geiger gave up and was reassigned to the mainland.

1913 (2 Oct)
Tom Gunn placed pontoons on his airplane and took off from the water of Honolulu Harbor. This was the first such feat in Hawaii. Mrs. Newman paid $25 and became the first paying airplane passenger during a 15-minute jaunt above the harbor.

1915 (22 March)
Governor Lucius E. Pinkham approved the first aeronautical regulations promulgated by the Territorial Legislature. Act 14, Session Laws of Hawaii, 1915, prohibited the operation of aeroplanes, balloons and other aircraft in the Territory of Hawaii without license, except by pilots of the Army, Navy or National Guard.

1916 (2 Oct)
The first Hawaii resident to graduate from a flying school and first to hold sea and land plane ratings was Sen Yet Young who soloed at the Curtiss flying school in Buffalo, NY. He became a follower of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. In the seventh year of the Republic of China and at the age of 27, Young designed and flew the first Chinese built airplane. In the 12th year of the Republic he became head of the Chinese Aviation Bureau and spearheaded the first Chinese factory to manufacture airplanes. He died in 1923.

1916 (20 Nov)
The Hawaiian Air Office was established as a special staff section of the Hawaiian Department Headquarters, with offices in the Alexander Young Hotel (moved to Ft. Shafter in 1921). Capt. John F. Curry was selected to command the 6th.

1917 (8 March)
A resolution of the Aero Club of Hawaii passed and read: “That no application by persons other than citizens for permission to operate aircraft in the Territory of Hawaii or the waters adjacent thereto, shall originate with nor receive the endorsement of the Aero Club of Hawaii; that no permission to take as passengers one or more persons granted application through the Club shall serve as authority for taking up as passengers any person who is not an American citizen.”

1917 (13 March)
The first air unit, the 6th Aero Unit, Aviation Section, Army Signal Corps, under command of Capt. John Brooks, with 3 N-9 seaplanes, arrived at Fort Kamehameha from San Diego, California.

1918 (20 Apr)
Army Aeronautics was removed from the jurisdiction of the Army Signal Corps and two air departments were created: the Bureau of Military Aeronautics and the Bureau of Aircraft Production.

1918 (9 May)
Maj. Harold M. Clark Jr. and Sgt. Robert P. Gay made the first interisland flight in Hawaii. They flew from Fort Kamehameha to Maui. Then they flew at an altitude of 8,000-feet to the Big Island where they crashed into the slope of Mauna Kea in heavy clouds and darkness. They weren’t injured and spent a week wandering the Big Island before they found help.

1918 (25 Sept)
The 6th Aero Unit consisting of 10 officers and a small group of enlisted men was moved to Ford Island. Ford Island was named after Dr. Seth Ford, a Boston physician who practiced medicine at the Hawaiian Insane Asylum.  The U.S. Army purchased Ford Island during World War I for $236,000. It was transferred to the Navy in 1923.

1919 (29 Apr)
The Ford Island Air Station was officially designated Luke Field (named for “balloon buster” Lt. Frank Luke, who fell in action on the Western Front September 18, 1918.

1919 (4 Nov)
Maj. Sheldon Wheeler assumed command of Luke Field.

1919 (Dec)
The first Naval Aviation Unit in the Pacific was designated The Pacific Air Detachment and was established at the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor. It was commanded by LCDR R. D. Kirkpatric, USN.

1919 (Dec)
By the end of 1919, Luke Field had 150 planes and the expanding base was under the command of Army Maj. Sheldon H. Wheeler.

1919 (30 Dec)
Charles J. Fern began carrying paying passengers for $10 a hop with $25 for stunt flying. His base of operations was Kapiolani Park.

1919
The War Department purchased the remainder of Ford Island from the John Ii Estate “to be used jointly by the combined aerial forces of the Army and Navy”.


Hawaii Aviation is brought to you courtesy of the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation, Airports Division.