You are here: Home > Aviation Pioneers > Lt. Albert F. Hegenberger > Fly by Stars When Radio Beam Lost

Fly by Stars When Radio Beam Lost

Reprinted from the Honolulu Advertiser, January 30, 1927

Dramatic Story of Big Flight Simply Told by Aviators

NOT EXCITED BUT GLAD TO BE HERE

Hop Into Waikiki Surf After Historic Hop From Coast

 

Honolulu Advertiser
January 30, 1927

             A great winged monster, somber and fearfully impressive, crashed with a mighty roar through a wall of clouds at Schofield early yesterday, bringing to Hawaii the Magellans of the Pacific—the first men to cross the Pacific—the first men to cross by air, the span of dreary salt water between San Francisco and Hawaii.

            “The Lord rode with us—and all was well!” exclaimed two smiling airmen.

            Then the diminishing throng galvanized into the wildest applause—staging a welcoming demonstration that bordered on insanity—claimed them as their own and crowned them the newest heroes of the uncharted air lanes.

GUESTS OF CITY

            And today Lieut. Lester Maitland, pilot extraordinary, and Lieut, A. F. Hegenberger, navigator incomparable, are Honolulu’s honored guests.

            They are to be feted and acclaimed and taken into the innermost heart of our community—and that’s as it should be.

            Although they flew to glory and fame—accomplished what no other humans before them had accomplished—they took their honors lightly and simply.  The trip from San Francisco to them, was “merely in the line of duty—and why such noise about it?” they wanted to know.

 JUST A JOB

            Did they have any emotions—such as anxiety, or nervousness or a great, pulsing desire to do the trip completely and well, they were asked.

            “No emotions whatever,” they answered in unison.  “It was a job that had to be done—we were assigned to do it—and we would be greatly disappointed if we had failed.”

            And there you have Maitland and Hegenberger—heroes of the traditional school—men who do things and count their accomplishments as but a matter of the day’s routine.

SWIM AT WAIKIKI

            When they had slept only half of their allotted twelve hours, they left the Royal Hawaiian hotel for a swim at Waikiki. That was at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

            “A swim at Waikiki is as good a tonic as sleep,” they said—and they plunged into the surf.

            Back to the beginning and the end of the flight.

            Wheeler Field had just emerged from the darkest night imaginable—a night of swirling clouds and intermittent rains.  Great beacon lights and the flare or floods only seemed to heighten the gloom out on the rim of the field.  The sky overhead was somber and moody.

            Then came dawn—and with the dawn twelve Wheeler Field planes took to the air, with a roar like as many Niagaras tumbling into the Grand Canyon. It was scarcely light enough for the spectators to observe the fleeting planes.  Like angry shadows they circled the field—a swarm of vibrant energy and power.  Then off to the east—and out of sight.

 FALSE HOPE

            The light quickened. A faint, aluminum etching crept along the cloud rim. Far down the horizon towards Pearl Harbor a speck appeared in the sky.  It was alone.  It was an airplane.  Sharp eyes had detected it—and whispering tongues spread the information.  The speck grew.  The excitement increased.  Two wings instead of one were silhouetted—and the dream of the incoming monoplane was shattered. A navy plane landed on the field.  It had come over to inform Wheeler Field officials that the navy was co-operating to its fullest extent in trying to locate the San Francisco fliers.

 CROWD RESTLESS

            Now the clouds were rimmed with gold.  The sun was trying to break through.  Another speck appeared—and there was more excitement. Then a second plane from the naval air station had arrived.

            Daylight was now in its ascendancy. The time had moved on to 6 a.m.  The waiting throng became restless, milled, and spread fan-like away from the field. It was disintegrating—vanishing—diminishing.

            Major General Edward M. Lewis, commandor the Hawaii department, U.S.A; Admiral John D. McDonald, commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, and Governor W. R. Farrington were in the little reception stand, watching the crowds and informally discussing the San Francisco-to-Hawaii flight.

            Photographers were hurrying about restlessly, and reporters were scanning the skies, fearful lest a good story might be waning.  All were looking to the east or toward Diamond Head. 

‘THERE THEY COME’

            There came an exclamation of surprise and wonder.

            Somebody had seen the great black one-winged creature sliding through an inky cloud bank hovering over Schofield.

            It bore down directly upon the field.

            It resolved itself into tangible form.

            It was a monoplane.

            It was Lieutenant Maitland’s and Lieutenant Hegenberger’s monoplane.

            There was a wild cry of delight.  The ship zoomed with a mighty roar down close to the ground, and swept along in majestic triumph before the throng.  The occupants waved gaily in reply to the frantic demonstration of welcome.  Circling the field and banking beautifully the monoplane settled to the ground and rolled easily down the field  The pilot turned it sharply to the right about one-third of the way down and taxied to within 50 yards of the reception stand. 

TIRED BUT SMILING

            General Lewis and Lieut. Col. John H. Howard, with staff members, representatives of the Aloha committee and the press and the photographers went  out to meet the machine.  The military police held back other would-be greeters.

            Both men climbed through a little door and were instantly surrounded.  Congratulations were showered upon them, and they replied smilingly, their faces radiating the happiness that was in their hearts.  Both looked fatigued, but not necessarily tired out.

            “Now that you have done it, I guess you are very happy,” said General Lewis to Maitland. 

A DREAM COME TRUE

            “It is a dream of the last seven years come to full realization,” he replied.

            “When the photographers had finished, the reception continued.  General Lewis introduced the two fliers to Governor Farrington and his party—and a few appropriate words of welcome were said.  Lei were placed about them—and the next thing the throng knew they were on their way from the field.  But not until the crowd still remaining had voiced its absolute approval of them and of their great feat.

            They were escorted to the home of Maj. Henry J. H. Miller, commander of Wheeler field, where each had an orange and a cup of coffee. They met the newspapermen with big smiles—and asked us to talk louder.  Their ears were still humming from the constant roar of their motors. 

SLIGHTLY OFF COURSE

            They alternated in telling their story.  When it was a question of navigation, Hegenberger replied to questions.  For descriptions of the flight, Maitland spoke.  Their combined story was briefly, as follows:

            “We were off our course slightly when we sighted Kauai this morning at 6 o’clock.  We had come all the way almost exclusively by dead reckoning and celestial observation.

            “The Maui radio beacon guided us for awhile—and I think the beacon has tremendous possibilities for the future.  But our receiving set went out of commission and we lost the beacon. 

ABOVE THE CLOUDS

            “During the day we flew at an altitude of 300 feet in order to be below the clouds.  We encountered cross winds during the first 500 miles, with much rain.

            “When night came we climbed to an altitude of 10,000 feet and above the clouds, so that we could see the stars.  The weather up there was fine, but very cold. At 2 a.m. this morning our center motor developed trouble and worried us.  We descended through three cloudbanks to an altitude of 4,000 feet and the motor picked up and started working perfectly again.  We rose to 12,000 feet and remained there until we were off Kauai. 

GUIDED BY STARS

            “The rains coming down were very frequent, and we decided to get above them as much as possible. The ship is so equipped with all facilities for navigation, for determining altitudes and so forth, that one can drive it in the dark as well as in daylight.  But the aid of the stars was not ignored--and we sought that aid.

            “We finished with 250 gallons of gasoline, sufficient fuel to have taken us 800 miles farther.

            “There was never a moment but that we knew where we were.  Approaching the islands we knew we were north of our course, but that didn’t worry us—and it was no surprise when we picked up a Kauai light just before daybreak.  The island was covered with clouds and afforded us one of the most vivid spectacles at sunrise we have ever witnessed. 

HUNGRY, NOT SLEEPY

            “We did not eat anything after we left San Francisco for the simple reason that our sandwiches became misplaced somewhere in the machine, and we concluded they had not been placed aboard.  When we got here we were hungry.

            “Sleepy?  Oh, not much.  We were too busy following our course and outwitting the clouds for thoughts of sleep.

            “Emotions?  None whatever.  Our sole aim was to get here—and now that we are here, we are happy.

            “We traveled approximately 2,500 miles.  When we sighted land we had been out just exactly 23 hours.  The duration of the flight was 25 hours, 49 minutes and 30 seconds.  Our average speed was 115 miles an hour.  The Fokker is a marvelous plane, and our monoplane is so constructed that one does not suffer from adverse weather while in it. 

FIELD LOOKED GOOD

            Asked if they would sail the plane back to San Francisco, Lieutenant Maitland replied:

            “We have nothing to say about that.”

            “How did you feel when you broke through those clouds, saw Wheeler field and the big crowd awaiting you?  He was asked.

            “Wonderful.  Everybody looked good to us.”

            They were escorted to the Royal Hawaiian hotel, where a suite of rooms was provided for them.  A flood of cablegrams of congratulations, movie offers, contracts from news syndicates awaited them.  Both took turns at answering the many inquiries and replying to congratulatory messages.

            Shortly after 6 o’clock they granted another interview to the press, relating the story as originally told by them in Major Miller’s house at Schofield. 

NOW FOR THE EATS

            Breakfast was served, consisting of boiled eggs, toast and coffee—with some Hawaiian fruits, butter, etcetera.

            Colonel John Howard, who had charge of the plans attending their arrival at Wheeler Field, was present and gained the second audience for the newspapermen. No man could have been more courteous to the fraternity, or could have assisted us more in covering the details of the preparations for the reception, and the actual arrival, than was Colonel Howard—for which courtesy, all the newspaper men thanked him.

            General Lewis was equally as fine as well as generous when he came on the field yesterday morning, as was Major Miller, commander of the field.   Every facility was placed at the hands of the press for obtaining and giving to the world a complete report of the historic event. 

QUIT BEDS FOR WATER

            After breakfast had been served to the newest air heroes, they retired for a scheduled 12-hour sleep.  However, about 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon they decided that surfing at Waikiki was as exhilarating as sleep—in fact, even more of a tonic.

            They slipped out upon the sands and were in the water before many people recognized them.

            Last night they received calls from close personal friends, both air officers having previously seen service in Hawaii.

            General Lewis, in commenting upon the feat accomplished by the two fliers, characterized it as “marvelous”, and “significant from a military standpoint.”  He was enthusiastic in his congratulations.

            Colonel Abraham O. Lott, chief of staff, pointed to the feat as demonstrating what a fleet of such planes might be expected to do in an emergency.

            Lieutenant Maitland was born in Wisconsin, February 8, 1898, and he entered the army from Wisconsin. He arrived in the Hawaiian department May 13, 1919 and was assigned to the sixth area squadron at Luke Field.  He came here from the Wilbur Wright field, Fairfield, Ohio.  He was commissioned first lieutenant July 1, 1920.  He left the Hawaiian department May 15, 1921, and was assigned to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C.

            Later he was assigned for duty in the office of F. Trubee Davison, assistant secretary of war, aviation section.

            Lieutenant Hegenberger was born in Massachusetts, September 30, 1895.  He was on duty with the engineering division, McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, where he was recognized as one of the army’s leading experts on compasses and other instruments.  Upon arrival in the Hawaiian department on October 1, 1923, he was assigned to the 72nd bombardment squadron at Luke Field.  He left this department May 6, 1926, for duty at McCook field, Dayton, Ohio.


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