9 - Early 1930s
Aircraft manufacturers, by 1929, had obtained a solid footing in American business and were producing bigger and better commercial aircraft. Aviation had nudged its way into big business. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart christened a Ford Trimotor airplane in New York (July 7, 1929), launching the first coast-to-coast airline. Another woman came into the air scene (July 28) when Britain’s Lady Mary Heath, co-pilot for the Dutch airline KLM, became the first woman pilot in passenger service (on the London to Amsterdam route). The world’s first airline hostesses were introduced. Navy Lieutenant Ralph S. Barnaby set a soaring record of 15 minutes and six seconds in a German Pruefling glider (Cape Cod on August 18). Later, he was launched from the underside of Navy Dirigible LOS ANGELES, 3,000 feet above Lakehurst, New Jersey. Richard E. Byrd had flown over both Poles. Precision aerobatic flying replaced the previous decade’s wing walkers.
In 1929, German war ace J. K. von Althaus shipped his Stinson cabin monoplane to Hawaii for an attempt to reach California by air from the Islands. However, the flight was not made. Olen V. Andrew, a Honolulu linotype operator, purchased the plane at a sheriff’s sale (Andrew took his first plane ride with Martin Jensen, later receiving flying instructions from Charles Stoffer. “I cracked up on my solo flight,” Andre recalled, “completely demolishing Charley’s Jenny. When I bought an open cockpit Travelair, later, a student cracked up on me.”) With the Stinson, Andrew founded the Andrew Flying Service and started barnstorming. He carried sightseers for one cent a pound and half cent more for inter-island flights. With barnstorming earnings, Andrew bought more airplanes and started a flying school.
FUTURE MILITARY AIR GREATS
Word spread about the pleasant duty in the Hawaiian Islands. Military aviators clamored for the assignment. One such officer was Second Lieutenant Oliver S. Picher who arrived at Wheeler in March, 1930, for a two year tour. Now a retired lieutenant general living in Honolulu, Picher recalled: “We had three squadrons at Wheeler—two pursuit squadrons, the 6th and 19th; and one attack squadron, the 26th. The C.O. of the 6th Squadron was Lieutenant Vanderberg, who later became Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The C.O. of the 26th Squadron was Lieutenant Twining, who later became Chief of Staff and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. By that time flight activity had become routine in the islands. We flew every day, formation and gunnery or bombing, and once a year went to gunnery camp at Waimanalo, which is now Bellows Field. Our flights to Maui, Molokai and Hawaii were timid and infrequent. Pioneering had been effective, although the waters were still dangerous.”
An impressive mass inter-island flight was made by the Army on May 14, 1930. Flying from Luke to Hilo were nine DeHavilland planes, four Keystone LB-5A bombers and three Loening amphibians. (OA-1s with inverted Liberty engines). One of the flyers that day was Second Lieutenant Tallmidge Boyd. Between the islands of Maui and Lanai, Boyd’s plane suddenly rolled over. The pilot and co-pilot bailed out but the crew chief didn’t jump clear. (The sergeant once said he’d never bail out and he didn’t in this instance. It cost him his life.) Two Navy PBYs joined us on the Big Island. They and our Loenings were battered by the rough sea. The ship sent to the scene by the Navy started to tow the planes to safe water, but they sunk very rapidly.”
Fig. 55. Lt. Nathan F. Twining stands beside his Curtiss A3 Falcon in 1929 at Wheeler AFB where Lt. Twining was Commander of the 26th Attack Squadron. Twining achieved the rank of full General during his Air Force career. He retired in 1960, then Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Fig. 56. Seven Keystone LB-5 Bombers of the 72nd Bombardment Squadron are shown
In this 1932 photo flying seaward of the Aloha Tower in Honolulu.
Stanley had the distinction of being the last man to fly the BIRD OF PARDISE. Assigned to Ford Island as Chief Test Pilot for the Hawaiian Air Depot (1931, the pilot was surprised to find the famous Fokker being readied for dismantling. “Before mechanics could do their jobs, the plane had to be defueled,” he recalled, “and I chose to fly the fuel out.” One of 14 graduates from the same flying school who went to Hawaii, Stanley remained at Ford Island 19 months. When he departed, six had been killed. “The mortality rate was high, those days,” Stanley remarked. “Interisland flying took its toll. The rule became formation flying only over the water. When a man got killed, we called it getting a ‘wooden overcoat’ and his best friend would get to accompany him back to the mainland.” (Stanley came back to Hawaii to command Hickam in 1956-57.)
Army aviators at Luke and Wheeler were given instructions to develop an ability to swim at least 200 yards. That year (1931) Air Corps pilots began to fly “blind,” their aircraft fitted with light-proof canvas covers for the first time. An Army flyer from Wheeler broke a world glide record, remaining in the air 16 hours and 38 minutes. A splendid manifestation of close cooperation between military aviators and the Territory of Hawaii was the reforesting by air of normally inaccessible areas. Army planes, including the BIRD OF PARADISE sporadically dropped tree seeds on Oahu, Kauai and Maui. This resulted in forests of thriving trees of value to the islands.
Hawaii was a breeding ground for future air greats. One example is Nathan F. Twining who served at Wheeler between December 1928 and April 1932. Twining advanced to the rank of general, becoming Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now retired, General Twining recalled some highlights from his Hawaiian tour of duty.
Fig. 57. Lt. Henry R. Spicer swam away from the scene of a watery crash during maneuvers over Hawaii.
“I was assigned to the 18th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Field which at the time consisted of two pursuit squadrons, the 6th and the 19th, respectively. They were then equipped with Curtiss F-W-9 fighters, which were later replaced with the Boeing P-12. Major Carlisle H. Wash commanded the 19th Squadron.”
“One of the missions of the 18th Pursuit Group was to work in support of the Hawaiian Division, which was a full strength Infantry Division at that time.”
“Because of the close work with the Hawaiian Division, a new squadron, the 26th Attack Squadron was assigned to the Group. I was put in command of this squadron which was equipped with the Curtiss A-3 Falcon, a single engine, two-seater attack type aircraft. This airplane was also used by the 3d Attack Group in the U.S. at that time. The airplane had four forward firing machine guns and twin machine guns mounted in the rear cockpit, and, of course, was used in low level bombing.”
“The group was most active as we flew every day and established a very excellent operating record. The highlight of our flying training, of course, was flying to the various islands in the group, and we all looked forward to these occasions as they were most interesting from the flying angle as well as meeting the fine people in the island chain. Maneuvers were frequently conducted with the Hawaiian Infantry Division and together with the bombers from Luke Field in Hawaii we had quite a variety of operations. However, the most interesting maneuvers were those held with the U.S. Fleet which occurred each year. The U.S. Fleet would approach Oahu from the U.S. with the general mission of attacking the Island and, of course, our mission was to defend against the attack. The ground rules were somewhat varied each year and made the maneuvers very interesting. We went to great length to disperse our airplanes all over the island of Oahu and camouflaged them very excellently making it difficult for the attacking forces to locate them.
“Umpires were assigned for the exercise and they came from the U.S. In this way the maneuvers were made quite realistic as we had to operate in accordance with the rules. I recall that one fighter squadron removed the machine guns from their P-12’s to lighten the load so they could perform better in the take-off and climb and the Umpire on learning of this ruled them out of the battle completely until the machine guns were installed. This required the squadron to return to Wheeler Field in the middle of night to get the machine guns installed.”
“On one of our flights to the Island of Hawaii we had quite a serious operational accident. In the middle of the channel between Maui and Hawaii, one of the bombers, AB-6, lost its tail over the channel and went down. We had float planes accompanying the formations to meet such emergencies but the water was so rough that the float planes on landing were also lost. I recall we lost several airplanes that day in an attempt to save the people who went down with the
Fig. 58. Patrol bombers skirting Molokai’s rugged coastline.
Fig. 60. U.S. Navy PK-1 seaplanes from Ford Island, 1933, such as made
first mass airplane flight from Hawaii to French Frigate Shoals.
bomber. At least this indicates there have been a great many improvements in aviation since those days.” On February 1, 1943, Major General Twining, in command of the 13th Air Force and 14 other men were rescued by PBYs near New Hebrides Islands, after having ditched on a flight from Guadalcanal to Espiritu Santo, and after having spent six days in life rafts.
WOMAN CONQUERS THE ATLANTIC
Having accomplished a notable feat by winning third place in the 1929 Woman’s Air Derby, two years later Amelia Earhart climbed to 18,412 feet in an autogiro to set a new record. Later in 1931 she crossed the United States by autogiro. On the evening of May 20, 1932, she set off in a single engine land plane from Newfoundland on a non-stop flight (solo) to Paris. Encountering weather troubles and a malfunctioning engine, Miss Earhart landed her Lockheed monoplane in Ireland, instead. Making the flight in 13 ½ hours she became the first woman to fly solo across an ocean; she also broke the woman’s distance record. The amazing aviatrix then flew non-stop from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 19 hours and 15 minutes, making the return trip (August 21) in even faster time.
MILITARY AVIATION ROLES DEFIED
In an agreement between the Army and Navy (January, 1931), the Army was given responsibility for land-based air defense of the United States coasts and overseas possessions. In January, 1933, the Army’s role in the air was altered to include long range reconnaissance and operations “to the limit of the radius of action of the airplanes.” This heralded high level acceptance of long range bombers. Acquisition started. Massive experimental models were programmed. Stipulated was the requirement for a bomber to have the ability “to reinforce Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska without the use of intermediate servicing facilities.”
MASS FLIGHT TO HAWAII
Once again, the U.S. Navy was to step boldly into the Pacific’s air space. The first mass seaplane flight from Hawaii to French Frigate Shoals, 759 miles distance, was made by 12 PK-1 seaplanes from Patrol Squadron One stationed at Ford Island, on April 19, 1933. One of the pilots was Alexander A. Sproule. Commenting on it many years later, he said: “We returned to Pearl on April 29, 1933, and my log shows we came back by way of Gardiner Pinnacle and required eight hours and 10 minutes to get back home. I remember the operation vividly. First, we anchored in the lagoon at French Frigate and were serviced by the old USS OGALALA which at last report was rusting in West Loch. Secondly, it was the first and last time I ever rode a turtle! We would find a big turtle on one of the beaches, chase him into the water and jump aboard as he started to swim away. Strangely, they would frequently swim straight out and at a depth of only two or three feet so we would cruise along with our heads sticking up like a periscope until he decided to sound.” Sproule’s sister, Jean, is presently Hickam’s historian.
Another of the pilots that day was Lieutenant Junior Grade Harry E. Day, of plane #1P9. Now retired in the grade of captain, residing in Honolulu, Day recalls: “One of the planes (Keystone Patrol Bombers) went to Johnston Island, making the first landing on that island. On the way back to Pearl Harbor one plane’s hull was ripped when it touched a coral head and, landing at Pearl, began to fill up with water. It took fast work to keep it from sinking.”
Also in 1933, Patrol Squadron Ten made a non-stop formation flight from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego via Colo Solo, Panama. Encouraged by this achievement, the Navy put into effect a plan to send the same six P2Y-1 flying boats to Pearl Harbor from Paradise Cove, San Francisco. Confident in its aircraft and personnel, the Navy defied tradition by selecting six regular crews who were not especially prepared for such a trip. Revving up their engines, the six gray seaplanes reacted to Commander Knefler McGinnis’ order and were soon airborne along the route of Rodgers and Snody. As in 1925, emergency facilities were available in the form of guard ships below. Flying between 500 and 5,000 feet altitude, the seaplanes soared over the steaming ships in steady succession. Time droned by almost monotonously, as the recognized genius of American aviation produced an uneventful flight. One-by-one, the triumphant seaplanes settled in the placid waters of Pearl Harbor 24 hours and 26 minutes after the over water flight’s beginning, 12:30 p.m., January 11, 1934. The first mass flight to Hawaii was a splendid feat. Averaging 98 mph, their fuel load allowed them an additional 1,200 miles of flight. One year later, the Navy dispatched a squadron of planes from Pearl Harbor to Midway on maneuvers.
Aviators in Hawaii went out of their way finding uses for airplanes. Mosquitoes, introduced by a whaling vessel during a visit to Lahaina, Maui, in 1826, had become both a nuisance and health problem throughout the Islands a century later. An Air Corps flight surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Murphy, observed during his flying hours that areas surrounding both Wheeler Field where he was stationed, and adjacent Schofield Barracks, were dotted with ponds and marshes which served as ideal breeding grounds for the flying pests. He arranged for a flight to take his senior medical and sanitation officers up in 1933 for an aerial view of the source of the mosquito hordes annoying Schofield-Wheeler personnel. As a result of this aerial surveillance one of the earliest campaigns was launched to spray the stagnant pools nearby with larva-killing chemicals.
Fig. 62. Keystone Patrol Bombers, 1933.
Construction of Hawaiian airfields continued in the early 1930s. World War I flying hero R. Alexander Anderson, Chairman of the Hawaii Aeronautics Commission (1930-34) pressed for increased airfield facilities. He recalled, “We were successful in this pioneering effort, but it was a slow process. Prison labor was used to bring in coral, for the setting up and extension of so-called runways, at John Rodgers Airport, Kauai and Maui.” In 1933, five flying fields were named: Bellows, on Oahu; Buros Suiter and Morse, on the Big Island; and Putnam, on Oahu—all after Army lieutenants.
On February 9, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt cancelled all domestic airmail contracts and called upon Major General Foulois, Chief of the Army Air Corps, to perform the function. The Army’s first week of airmail flying was marred with disaster. Five pilots had crashed to their deaths, six more were seriously injured and eight airplanes were wrecked. In April, the service was returned to contractors. After 10 months of operation the Commerce Department studied a proposal to raise fees because most routes were operated at a loss. In Hawaii, Inter-Island Airways was excluded from this monetary change because three months prior they had been awarded an airmail contract (October 8, 1934).
Fig. 64. John Rodgers Airport, 1930 (Now Honolulu International Airport)
Fig. 66. Hilo Landing Field, 1932.
Fig. 67. Haleiwa Landing Field, Oahu, 1933.
Fig. 68. Upolu Point Landing Field, Big Island, May 1933.
A KNIGHT AND HIS LADY
The illustrious aviation name of Kingsford-Smith was to appear again to the world, in 1934. Following their 1928 flight across the Pacific, Sir Kingsford-Smith (now knighted) and Charles P. T. Ulm had formed and operated the original Australian National Airways. Their aircraft were the SOUTHERN CROSS and replicas of the Fokker, built by A. V. Roe, called Avro 10. Among pilots hired to fly with ANA was Patrick Gordon Taylor, World War I combat flyer, also an Australian. Following the tragic disappearance of an ANA airplane (1931), the pioneer airline folded due to heavy financial losses. Sir Kingsford-Smith and Taylor pioneered flights across the Tasman Sea, from Australia to New Zealand, in the SOUTHERN CROSS (during 1933 and 1934). Four flights in all were made and then the pair embarked on a great adventure: making a flight from Australia to North America, via enroute islands. By it, they hoped to create interest in the establishment of a regular trans-Pacific air service between the two continents. A single-engine landplane was selected for two reasons. With only one engine, there was half the risk of a forced landing at sea, in case of engine failure; it would inspire confidence in regular passenger and mail service by the four-engine flying boats projected for the route.
The selected airplane was a Lockheed Altair, named LADY SOUTHERN CROSS. During an exploratory flight they discovered excessive fuel consumption at recommended power settings, ruling out safe flight from the first stop—Fiji to Hawaii. Performing tests of different settings, one was selected which would give them an extra two hours’ flying time against a 20-knot headwind.
Fig. 69. Australia’s Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and P. G. Taylor arrived in the LADY SOUTHERN CROSS at Wheeler Field (October 29, 1934),
en route to California on the world’s first west-east trans-Pacific flight.
Mid-October, 1934, the flyers were ready for their 7,000-mile journey. From out of the crowd of well-wishers at the Brisbane airport rushed a woman with a white rose in her hand. She gave it to Taylor and he promptly placed it in a buttonhole of his coat. Then Sir Kingsford-Smith powered his airplane to a fine take-off on a track for Fiji. Except for rainy weather east of New Caledonia, during which the wing became damaged, the flight went smoothly. The Altair was brought to a landing in Albert Park, Suva, where the Cricket Field allowed only a 300-yard run. They then flew to Naselai Beach, 20 miles away, for a safer take-off of their heavily loaded airplane. Strong cross winds persisted for a week. Not until October 29 did they get off.
During the night they encountered heavy rains and turbulence. To better see if the rains were easing up, the pilot turned on his landing light. After switching off, both men were appalled to note a decrease on the airspeed indicator from a normal cruise of 125 knots to 90. Within seconds, the plane fell into a stall then began to spin. Sir Kingsford-Smith worked feverishly but was unable to right the airplane. Turning to his navigator, he said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t get her out.” Taylor asked, “Do you mind if I have a go at her?” Permission granted, Taylor called on all his skills and experience but was not able to stop the persistent spinning.
Returning the controls to his pilot, Taylor noted they had dropped in altitude from 15,000 feet to 6,000. Suddenly, the Altair was smoothed out to normal flight attitude. Sir Kingsford-Smith then revealed that the flaps had been inadvertently switched to the down position when the landing lights were turned on, which brought on stalling conditions.
Now relaxed, the pair managed the remaining flight to Hawaii without incident. There being no radio aids between Fiji and Hawaii, Taylor relied completely on his astronomical navigation abilities. They proved to be excellent. At dawn, the Hawaiian Islands came into view. Taylor recalled, ‘I just sat there, filled with a curious sense of gratitude that we had been given the conditions to find these islands, that the engine had never shown a sign of failure in the 25 hours of flight, and the most wonderful sense of anticipation for arrival at Honolulu.”
When Pearl Harbor was reached, a formation of United States aircraft joined the LADY SOUTHERN CROSS on its final Hawaiian run. The landing on Wheeler Field’s green grass was executed perfectly. On hand to greet the pioneers were excited crowds of friendly and happy people. Among them was John Stannage, their radio operator from Tasman Sea flights made earlier. Stannage feigned disgust at Taylor’s dilapidated World War I flying helmet. But the latter refused to surrender his “heirloom.” Being the first international aircraft ever to land in Hawaii, Altair VH-USB was processed by United States Customs and was cleared. Then the heroes were whisked off to Waikiki Beach and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.
The pair had not slept for 30 hours; they underwent a harrowing experience and were feeling the effects of strain. Nevertheless, Sir Kingsford-Smith invited Honolulu’s mayor for a flight over the city. Back to Wheeler went the trio. Taylor stood by as the sleek airplane was lifted into the air by the skillful pilot. Not three minutes had passed when at 2,000 foot altitude the engine suddenly became silent and the propeller began to windmill uselessly. LADY SOUTHERN CROSS was quickly nosed down and banked for a downwind landing on the field. Pilot and passenger dismounted. Investigation revealed that the airplane was completely out of fuel. Army Air Corps technicians dismantled the fuel system and removed the fuselage tanks. A large crack was found in one tank, though which the extra fuel had leaked out.
The Australians remained in Honolulu four days and nights while the Altair was made ready for flight. On November 3 the final leg of the first west-east flight across the Pacific began. Fifteen hours later, the Altair was at Oakland Airport being swarmed upon by admirers and newsmen. The beautiful white rose came to Taylor’s mind and he was pleased to find it still in his buttonhole. Out of the happy crowed he picked a small boy and presented the flower to him for good luck.
Fig. 70. Aerial view of the welcoming scene.
This was Sir Kingsford-Smith’s second Trans-Pacific flight. For Taylor, however, it was the first of many transoceanic flights to follow during a brilliant 35-year flying career. On this occasion thoughts brought him back to a day in 1917. He was heading for home base in France after shooting down (his Royal Flying Corps unit’s first to fall on the Allied side of the lines) a German plane. This is Taylor’s reflection:
“Flying westward in the stillness, I fancied myself going on with the rhythm of the LeRhone spinning a way of life around the world, a way of peace and understanding instead of a way of war and destruction. Three hour endurance. Three hundred mile range. Not long ago it was a feat for Bleriot to cross 20 miles of the English Channel from Calais to Dover. If my airplane could fly 300 miles it must be possible some day to fly 3,000 miles to join the continents across the oceans.”
Fig. 71. P. G. Taylor (left) and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith (right).
Fig. 72. Repairs to LADY SOUTHERN CROSS in Wheeler Field hangar November 2, 1934.
Fig. 73. Navigator P. G. Taylor l) with Sir Charles
Kingsford Smith in front of LADY SOUTHERN CROSS, November 1934.
Fig. 74. Aviation Day formation over Hawaii’s waters, December 17, 1934.
ULM IS LOST
Intent upon making the second United States to Australia flight, Captain Charles P. T. Ulm and two companions name Littlejohn and Skilling took off from Oakland at 3:43 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time), December 3, 1934. Their aircraft was the small, twin-engine Airspeed Envoy STELLA AUSTRALIS. Heading for the first stop the plane, having missed the Hawaiian Islands, ran out of fuel in bad weather. A message was received from the stricken crew, “We are now landing in the sea. Please come and pick us up.” A massive air and sea search was conducted but neither airplane nor crew was found. On December14, almost 100 Army and Navy planes flew over Honolulu and dropped flower leis off Diamond Head to honor their memory.
That month, Pan American Airways announced a decision to build four Sikorsky transoceanic Clipper airboats at a cost of $1 million. They were to be used for experimental air transport flights to speed up inauguration of the proposed West Coast-Honolulu-Manila-China route.
In 1934, Chula Vista, California, saw its K-T flying service open up a branch in John Rodgers Airport. The managers were Charles Knox and the Tyce brothers. Using two airplanes, they offered flying instruction with considerable success. Increased numbers of people took up flying in the Hawaiian Islands.
Four ocean liners arrived in Honolulu Harbor on December 27, 1934, bringing 400 passengers to the Islands. One was the LURLINE carrying 246 people aboard, including another famous flyer who would create one more aviation mark for the world though the use of Hawaii. Now married, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart Putnam came with her New York publisher husband, George Palmer Putnam. With them were friends Albert Paul Mantz, another well-known pilot, and his wife (also a qualified pilot). Sitting on the Lurline’s decks was a vivid red monoplane, a Lockheed Vega belonging to the intrepid lady pilot.
Reporters and cameramen followed Amelia Earhart (as she preferred to be called, for professional purposes) about the ship before debarking. Speculation was rampant that a Hawaii to Mainland flight was next on her list of spectacular aerial ventures, hence the reason for being in Hawaii with an airplane. Miss Earhart declined to comment on that probability, insisting that the plane would be used for vacation travel between the islands during the vacation. Leaving shipside, the group proceeded to Waikiki Beach and moved in with friends by the name of Holmes in the “Queen’s Surf.”
Newspapers in Hawaii published a picture of Miss Earhart and Captain Ulm taken before the Australian’s departure on his ill-fated flight to Hawaii, in which she bade him good journey. His tragic loss obviously failed to daunt “Lady Lindbergh” from a possible flight to California, likely whether or not she admitted it.
The plane was like the one she crossed the Atlantic with in 1932 (it carried the same engine), and as flown around the world recently by Wiley Post. A six passenger airplane, its cabin was modified to carry extra fuel tanks, leaving room only for one person. Instead of the normal fuel capacity of 210 gallons, it carried 520. The lone engine was a supercharged Wasp S1D1 NR9657, consuming between 25-30 gallons an hour, and providing a cruising speed of about 140-160 miles per hour. For communications, installed was a two-way radio like those used by transcontinental commercial planes. The monoplane was lifted to a large pontoon and towed to the fleet air base at Ford Island. The next day, Paul Mantz flew it to Wheeler Field. The Army pilot renewed acquaintance with friends stationed there and the huge airplane was put into a hangar for safe-keeping. In the meantime, the aviatrix and friends tried an outrigger canoe on the Pacific for over water travel. One of today’s senior civil service employees at Hickam, William L. Jackman (then a private first class at Wheeler), recalls, “The whole project was tightly controlled, security-wise. Most of us couldn’t even get to look at the airplane.”
That same day, December 29th, headlines in local papers announced that 100 ships and 50,000 men would arrive in Hawaii for war games in April or May, with Pearl Harbor as the center of activities, further attesting to the Island Group’s increasing importance to America. According to a trade magazine, Miss Earhart was about to make a Hawaii-to-mainland solo flight as a publicity stunt to focus attention on the Territory of Hawaii. In immediate reaction, both the aviatrix and her husband issued denials, explaining that they were on vacation and the plane would be used for local travel or for whatever purpose they chose; however if such a flight were to be made advance publicity would deter the effort, as inadvertent take-off delays were frequent those days. To announce such a flight attempt, then not accomplish it, would mislead the public, they stated. This was the first real indication from the visiting group that the record breaking flight might be undertaken. The Army kept silent.
Publicity on accusations and denials continued. One writer questioned airplane suitability (single engine, land type), extent of the Army’s role at Wheeler Field in a private venture, relationship of the flight to the impending commercial service between the mainland and Hawaii, the government’s expense at sea rescue if forced down, and advisability and contribution of the flight at all, following on the heels of Ulm’s recent tragedy over the route. Miss Earhart said little more. She announced an engagement to speak at the University of Hawaii’s Farrington Hall on the subject of “Flying for Fun.”
The Commerce Department stated no attempt would be made to stop but to help the flight. J. Carroll Cone, Assistant Director of the Aeronautics Bureau, added that Miss Earhart asked for no assistance. The word was spread that local “authorities” were planning to interfere with the flight, to which Miss Earhart reacted by indicating she was not interested in a controversy.
Aviation experts and radio men came to her defense refuting the allegation while she, Paul Mantz and party proceeded to the hangar at Wheeler Field to groom the airplane for whatever flying activity was intended.
Local experts covered each point of contention, entirely supporting Miss Earhart’s position. About the use of a single engine land plane, it was the same type used by Kingsford-Smith, whose flight was without protest. The larger fuel capacity was significant, as was the ability to take off more easily. The question of Miss Earhart having to navigate by dead reckoning was not considered a matter of concern. She flew solo across the Atlantic by this means, plus three crossings of the continent non-stop (at least one at night) with accuracy. The possibility of life-saving coverage at sea was considered a matter of public concern over a human life. As for the statement that such a flight would prove nothing, a great deal was expected to be achieved, including data assimilation on weather and other atmospheric conditions, information for the making of facilities charts (as was done with seafarers’ reports for nautical charts), as well as other aviation benefits to be gained from her experience.
Fig. 76. The plane flown from Honolulu to the coast by Amelia Earhart, January 8, 1935.
The air was noticeably tense for the next few days, unlike the gay excitement and speculation which existed before the controversy. On January 2, 1935, Paul Mantz flew Miss Earhart’s airplane in a test of its modified radio set. Flying at 14,000 foot altitude in Honolulu he was able to maintain two-way radio voice communication with land stations as far west on the mainland as Kingsman, Arizona. This was a new trans-Pacific record and an item of great relief for the lady pilot who would come to rely considerably on the set’s operation during her flight to Oakland.
Three days later Amelia Earhart and party, as guests of Stanley C. Kennedy of Inter-Island Airways got aboard a company amphibian plane for a sight-seeing tour of Maui and Hawaii. Under the command of Captain Charles I. Elliott, original company pilot, a slow and easy flight provided an excellent view of Oahu’s neighbor islands. Miss Earhart was delighted, and wished the company well in its operation. Cynics wondered why she hadn’t used her own airplane as promised. When the story came into publication the following day, very little was to be heard from the quiet aviatrix for a number of days afterward.
The January 11, 1935 issue of the Honolulu Advertiser carried the next news of her whereabouts, announcing in large bold print that Amelia Earhart took off from Wheeler Field unheralded on a solo flight to Oakland, California. Take-off time was set at 4:40 p.m. Only slightly over 100 people looked on. It was just one year prior that Commander M. Ginnis led his flight of six seaplanes from the West Coast to Hawaii. Now a woman was doing it in reverse, flying in one airplane, with one engine, and no other person aboard.
It was about noon on January 11th when Miss Earhart and her husband were delivered to the home of Lieutenant George Sparhawk. Everything was unhurried at Wheeler Field. Bringing along the course plotted before she departed for Hawaii by Commander Clarence Williams, US Naval Reserve, of Los Angeles, who had also plotted the course of her other famous flights except the Atlantic crossing, she reported to Wheeler’s aerologist, Lieutenant E. W. Stephens to discuss the weather. Conditions didn’t suit her for takeoff but there was hope for improvement in a few hours. To people in the vicinity, she explained that if the weather improved she was going to make a test flight. Hint of a long trip didn’t exist. She had with her no luggage or other indicators; clad in a dark brown flying suit of her own design, made of Grenfell cloth, the amazing flyer further dispelled any suspicions of flying over 2,000 miles non-stop by taking a nap “until the weather lifts.”
Lieutenant Stuart Wright’s aircraft mechanics checked the plane’s mechanical condition then wheeled the red monoplane out of the hangar onto the apron for fuel servicing, Paul Mantz stood by. It was after 1 p.m. when it started to rain. Mantz ordered the plane back into the hangar to complete servicing. When the full capacity of 520 gallons was assured, Wheeler’s commander, Major Ernest Clark, checked the plane’s condition. Miss Earhart still slept peacefully. Major General Halstead Dorey, Acting Commander for the Hawaiian Department, also inspected it then announced with a smile that the airplane was ready for flight. Mantz directed its removal from the hangar.
At about 4:22 p.m., the flyer and her party arrived on the flight line. She signed her flight clearance then stepped toward the waiting plane which sat in puddles of water, reflecting its vivid red. Donning a life jacket, Amelia Earhart climbed into the cockpit. Mantz made a final check of instruments then moved out of the way.
With her was a package of letters, some unique covers, several envelopes she had carried while crossing the Atlantic. For food, she had sandwiches, boiled eggs, tomato juice, hot cocoa, chocolate and water. Engine already idling, Miss Earhart began a check of her panel, instruments and movable surfaces. Then she gave the signal and the wheel chocks were whisked away. Methodically, she moved out of position onto the wet grass beyond the apron and gunned the engine. The rain had its effect, as mud and grass clogged the tailskid. Mantz motioned to the lady pilot to level off, and quickly head into the wind to avoid the tailskid getting snagged. The helmet-less flyer signaled her thanks and taxied into position without further difficulty.
With little hesitation, Miss Earhart pushed the throttle forward and began the long take-off roll. Cumbersome under a 6,500 lb. load, the heaviest she had flown to date for take-off, the plane responded by lifting her from the muddy runway in less total space than Kingsford-Smith had used not quite a month prior. The crimson monoplane raised steadily into somber skies above the record-filled Army airfield, then arched decisively toward Diamond Head and open skies beyond.
Hours droned by but not without action. Miss Earhart kept busy giving half-hourly reports over her radio transmitter. Those with short wave radio sets in Hawaii heard her broadcasts direct, thrilling to the clear feminine voice stating, “This is KHABQ, everything is OK.” Honolulu’s radio station KGU passed messages to its listeners. The air was electric in the Hawaiian Islands as plane, equipment and aviatrix combined talents to produce a successful and unprecedented journey over treacherous ocean waters. The listening world through modern communications was kept aware of developments. Amelia Earhart’s dead reckoning abilities were proven once again, as she stayed quite on the course plotted by her trusted Los Angeles
friend. She flew at 8,000 feet most of the way, well above fog banks and thousands of puffy clouds. Passing over three steamers on the same route was heartening verification of her accuracy. Her biggest difficulty was the hard and steady stream of air rushing into Miss Earhart’s face through a ventilator which had blown open inadvertently at the trip’s beginning. The Wasp engine purred faithfully with the heartbeat of a magnificent lion as it brought the lady flyer safely across a second ocean, acting as her only “breathing” in-flight companion.
Fig. 77. Amelia Earhart receiving bouquet in the cockpit of her plane
upon landing at Oakland, California, January 14, 1935.
The scene at Oakland Airport was a contrast to the Wheeler point of departure, as 5,000 people lined the field to offer a tumultuous reception for the first human to fly solo and non-stop over one ocean and 2,000 miles over another. The West Coast appeared to the pilot twice in error, each time turning out to be cloud shadows on the water’s surface. The third time, however, was land. Her flying time lagging somewhat because of throttling back to save fuel at one point, had cut her airspeed from 160 to 140 mph. Then she sighted the landing field and the hundreds of honking cars. The time was 12:50 p.m., January 12, 1935. Some 2,090 nautical miles from “Wheeler Field, 18 hours and 15 minutes later, the scarlet colored Lockheed-Vega gloriously settled into a perfect landing in the California airport which shared so many record breaking honors with its sister air link, Wheeler Field.
A brilliant success, the flight was accomplished by a flyer whose only motivation was the love of flying, and a desire to contribute trail-blazing marks to the world. Of course, she was interested in recognition. No huge prize per se awaited her. She would be listed prominently among the women in history who contributed outstandingly to the world, thereby confusing the accepted picture of apron and saucepan-in-hand womanhood. She did her share to create for the “weaker sex” a new picture of strength, caring and importance, while retaining charm, dignity and femininity.
She was indeed a hero to the world. Men and women in every land looked upon her with awe and admiration. Her articulate intelligence permeated all readers, watchers and listeners as well. The flight drew attention to Hawaii, showing its importance and contribution to a non-isolated world. But Miss Earhart had other, greater goals in mind which were to be manifested in 1937. The year 1935 was to see more of Earhart. On 19-20 April she flew from Burbank, California, to Mexico City with one stop, in 13 hours and 32 minutes. She then made the first non-stop flight from there to Newark, New Jersey, in 14 hours and 19 minutes.
MILITARY FLIGHTS IN 1935
Later in 1935, Luke’s 23rd Bombardment Squadron took off from Ford Island and made an impressive unit round-trip flight to French Frigate Shoals. Next year, three bombardment planes of the 72nd Squadron at Luke flew to Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai to bring the remains of Father Damien, “The Leper Priest,” to Oahu. (The famed Belgian priest’s remains were later taken by Army transport to Panama where a Belgian man-of-war took them aboard for transport to his native land.)
Fig. 78. Olen V. Andrew with Honolulu students, April, 1935.
In 1935, a new Army pilot, Second Lieutenant Herbert R. Thatcher, was assigned to Luke Field. Thatcher was no newcomer to flying or to Hawaii. Thirty years later, commanding the United States Air Force’s Air Defense Command, Lieutenant General Thatcher recalled his time in Hawaii:
“While in Hawaii attending the University of Hawaii in 1927 and part of 1928, I was present when Maitland and Hegenberger flew into Hawaii and Art Goebel and Davis landed, as did Martin Jensen. As you know, they landed at Wheeler Field and I was one of the spectators at each of the events. Also, on the boat coming home from Hawaii we were thrilled to witness the flight of Kingsford Smith who was enroute from San Francisco to Australia.”
“I had my first ride in a military airplane at Luke Field in 1927 given to me by my tennis partner, then Lieutenant Milo Clark. We flew an LB-1, as I remember.”
“I returned to Hawaii in 1935 and was stationed at Luke Field on Ford Island in the 5th Bomb Group where we flew LB-3’s, 4’s and 5’s, the Keystones and B12’s and then just as I was leaving there two years later B-18’s. I was also in charge of the interisland airway facilities at that time and flew an OA-3, OA-4 and eventually the OA-8 on most of the inter-island trips. We landed at Hilo and South Cape, both on the big Island, at Maalaea on Maui, at Barking Sands on Kauai, at Kalaupapa at the Leper Colony on Molokai. On Oahu at that time we had in addition to Luke, John Rodgers, a strip at Barbers Point called the Mooring Mast, a small field at Haleiwa, a strip at Waimanalo and a not so good strip and seldom used at Laie near the site of the present Mormon Temple.
“Nothing particularly spectacular happened during our stay there as I recall, except one memorable flight to Hilo in an OA-3 with a load of Congressmen aboard. They were inspecting the Federal Prison at Hilo which . . . was located right on the sod strip. It was raining, the sod which was mostly moss was wet and my brakes had no effect whatsoever. I saw the fence at the Prison Camp coming up awfully fast, doing everything possible to stop the airplane—to no avail. I then tried to ground-loop. I succeeded in this and pulled up to a very sharp, snappy stop right in front of the gate of the Prison Camp and discharged my passengers at the gate. I do not know who stopped the airplane—I had nothing to do with it. However, they thought it was marvelous.”
Fig. 81. Flower “bombs” in Hawaii, April 1935. William Cross Jr., (l), Walter Dillingham Jr. dropped flower leis to passengers on incoming liners.
“As I was leaving Hawaii two and half years later, Hickam came in just 3,000 feet of the present north-south runway which we used on a few occasions on some live bombing missions we were doing in connection with some navy tests. I recall seeing Miff Harmon in the airplane in front of me clipping the tops of the trees at Kamehameha on the south end of the field, but fortunately, all he did was knock down a few coconuts. I made sure to miss the tree.”
“Those were happy days for the bomber pilots since all of us at Luke Field could out-fly anyone at Wheeler Field—they were still equipped with P-12’s and with our B-12’s we had no difficulty outrunning them. How time changes!”
“The list of generals and admirals who “cut their teeth in Hawaii as young pilots is as long as it is impressive. Not only were the Islands a breeding ground for future airpower leaders, the training they obtained during that formidable period was to prove invaluable. Probably the most impressive for today’s readers to recall is the case of General Curtis E. LeMay. LeMay retired February 1, 1965, as Chief of Staff, United States Air Force. Previously, he commanded the Strategic Air Command which served as America’s and the Free World’s major retaliatory force. LeMay became an Air Corps pilot in October 1929. From 1934 to the fall of 1936, the young lieutenant was assigned to Hawaii’s 6th Pursuit Squadron and the 178th Pursuit Group.
LeMay considers his Hawaiian tour as the first decisive milepost in his career. It was here that his bombardment ideas were formed.
The current USAF Chief of Staff, General John P. McConnell, too, served in Hawaii during his formidable years. Lieutenant McConnell joined the 50th Observation Squadron at Luke Field in June 1937. He later became Post and Group Adjutant of the 5th Bombardment Group (also at Luke), then moved to Hickam.
Other Air Force generals included General Walter C. Sweeney Jr.; Lt. General Robert W. Burns, Major General Don O. Darrow, Major General Albert Boyd, Major General H. R. Spicer, and Major General Brooke E. Allen. There are many more.