Aviation History in Hawaii

Aviation has existed in Hawaii long before the Wright brothers first flew their Wright Flyer airplane on Dec. 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  Here is a list of events relating to aviation in Hawaii.  Comments, suggestions, and corrections may be directed to the webmaster.

This list was compiled through the efforts of Burl Burlingame, George Read, and Robert Dixon.



Dec. 1879

Rufus Gibbon Wells gave a lecture on ballooning in Hawaii.  Said he could fly around the world in a balloon in 25 days.  However, he never flew a balloon in Hawaii.

Mar. 1889

Emil L. Melville attempted to fly a balloon from Punchbowl on Oahu. He did not get airborne due to strong  trade-winds.

Jul. 1899

The first records of any flight in Hawaii were in 1899 when Professor Melville launched himself in a hot air balloon from Punchbowl.  The balloon caught on fire and Melville dropped through a kiawe tree into a bog.  It was not very successful, but it was entertaining.

Nov. 1889

Joseph Van Tassell was soon to follow this flight in another hot air balloon from the slopes of Punchbowl on Oahu.  Drifting out to sea Van Tassell parachuted out of the balloon into Keehi Lagoon.  He was never found and was considered to be the first aviation accident in the Territory of Hawaii.

Feb. 1897

Professor James Price flew in a balloon ascending to 3,000 feet above "Remond Grove" on Oahu before parachuting safely back to earth.

Oct. 1910

Two teenage brothers, Malcom and Elbert Tuttle built and flew their homemade glider off the slopes of Kaimuki Crater.

Dec. 31, 1910

A promoter named Whipple Hall from the Curtiss Aircraft Company came to Hawaii with J.C. "Bud" Mars.  Mars was the first person to fly a fixed-wing aircraft in Hawaii.  He took off from Moanalua Gardens in a Curtiss P-18, circled the field four times and landed safely.

Jun. 1911

Clarence Walker took off in a bi-plane from Honolulu Park in Hilo.  He took-off, climbed over a fence and promptly crashed into a lauhala tree.  He walked away unhurt, but the aircraft was completely destroyed.  Considered one of the shortest flights in Hawaiian aviation history.

Jun. 1911

French aviator Didier Masson flew the first cross-country flight in Hawaii from Schofield Barracks to Kapiolani Park, covering 19 miles in 22 minutes.

Dec. 1911

Barton Dryer flew the first homebuilt airplane designed and built by Gus Schaefer.  Flew to 400 ft but crashed when he attempted to turn the airplane.  Dryer survived, but ended up in the hospital.

Oct. 1913

Tom Gunn, a Chinese man, took the first "paying passenger" aloft in a seaplane flight from Honolulu Harbor.


The Army came to Hawaii was located at Ft. Kam.


R. Alexander Anderson flew for the Royal Flying Corps.  Also, one of Hawaii's noted song writers: Haole Hula, Coconut Island, I Will Remember You, Lovely Hula Hands, The Cock-Eyed Mayor Kaunakakai, and Mele Kalikimaka.  Andy died shortly before his 101st birthday.


Carl Dolan flew with the Lafayette Escadrille.


2/Lt. Frank Bellows was killed flying in the last great battle of World War I, the St. Mihiel salient.  Bellows Air Station was named after him.


Major Harold Clark flew the first inter-island flight from Oahu to Molokai and return.

Jul. 1919

First official airmail goes form Honolulu to Hilo in Army airplanes.


The Navy comes to Hawaii and located their airplanes at Ford Island which was then named Luke Field and jointly used by both the Army and the Navy.


Ben Stoddard

Feb. 1, 1920

Charles Fern carries the first paying passenger on an inter-island flight.  The trip was to be direct from Kapiolani Park to a polo field in Makawao, Maui.  However, a malfunctioning gas gauge forces Fern to land in a pasture near the Cooke Ranch office on Molokai.  He then refuels and goes on to Maui, but is unable to locate the polo field and lands instead in the fair grounds at Kahului.


Wheeler Field was activated and named after Maj. Sheldon Wheeler who had been killed in an aircraft accident.

Oct. 1923

Aviator Charles Stoffer in "Charley's Crate" delivers the Sunday morning Honolulu Advertiser to Molokai and Maui.

Aug. 1925

Commander John Rodgers and his Navy crew attempt to make the first Trans-Pacific flight from California to Hawaii.  However, due to a fuel shortage problem the plane lands in the water off Maui and the crew then sails the plane to Ahukini Harbor, Kauai.  The airplane was a Curtiss PN-9.  Rodgers was the navigator and Lt. Byron Connell was the pilot.


The Honolulu Chamber of Commerce raised $20,000 and the City of Honolulu appropriates another $45,000 for airport construction.


The city of Hilo identifies 100 acres of land and sets aside $10,000 for construction of an airport.

Jun. 1927

Lt. Lester Maitland and Albert Hangenberger flew the first successful non-stop flight from Oakland, CA, to Hawaii.  The plane was a U.S. Army Fokker C-2-3 with three Wright 220 Tri-Motor engines.  The airplane was named "The Bird of Paradise" and landed at Wheeler Field on June 29, 1927.

Jul. 1927

Ernest Smith and Emory Bronte (2 civilian pilots) followed this flight within a month and were the first civilians to fly from the mainland to Hawaii. Their airplane was named "The City of Oakland" and was a single engine Travel Air.  They ran short of fuel and crash landed their airplane on the south shore of Molokai.  Neither pilot was hurt.


Lewis Island Tours is formed and begins flying tours over Hawaii.

Aug. 16-17, 1927

The Dole Derby, an aviation race from Oakland to Hawaii turned out to be a disaster.  There were 15 airplanes entered and only two finished the race!  Art Gobel and Bill Davis flew the winning airplane named the Woolaroc.  The second aircraft to finish the race was named the "Aloha."  Seven airplanes crashed and 10 lives were lost. Mahalo to Margaret Davis Martin (daughter of Bill Davis) for providing the correct date.


$15,000 is allocated for the construction of an airport on Maui.


Territorial land is set aside for an airport on Molokai.


The Waikiki Natatorium was built dedicated to the honor of the 101 residents of the Hawaiian Territory whom died in the Great War.


$15,000 is allocated for the construction of an airport on Kauai at Port Allen.

Jun. 1928

Sir Kingsford Smith, an Australian, flies his Tri-Motor Fokker "Southern Cross" into Wheeler Field.

Nov. 11, 1927

The first commercial inter-island air service was established by Inter-Island Airways (now known as Hawaiian Airlines) with two S-38 Sikorsky Amphibian airplanes.  Scheduled service included Honolulu, Ma'alaea Field, Maui, and Ho'olehua, Molokai.  The chief pilot was Captain Charles Irving nicknamed "Captain Sam".


Twice weekly flights initiated to Port Allen, Kauai.


The Army moved its aircraft and equipment from Ford Island to Hickam Field.  Hickam was named after Lt/Col. Horace Meek Hickam, a distinguished aviation pioneer, who had been killed in a aircraft accident on Nov. 5, 1935 at Fort Crocket in Galveston, Texas.  Luke Field was deactivated and the name Luke was assigned to an air base in Phoenix, AZ.

Nov. 1929

The Navy opens a second Naval Field at Kaneohe Bay and construction of a seaplane airport was begun at Keehi Lagoon.


Inter-Island Airways begins service to Lanai.


Kalaupapa Airport opens and Inter-Island Airways begins service.

Nov. 1934

Sir Kingsford Smith made the first dual east bound flight from Hawaii to Oakland.

Jan. 12, 1935

Amelia Earhart becomes the first pilot to fly solo from Hawaii to the mainland landing at Oakland, CA.

Apr. 1935

The first commercial flight from the mainland to Hawaii was flown by Pan American Airways M-130 Flying boat in 17 hours and 14 minutes.

Nov. 1935

The first scheduled air mail and passenger service begins across the Pacific.


Mokuaweoweo erupts on the island of Hawaii.  Army airplanes drop bombs on the lava flow in hopes to redirect the flow away from the city of Hilo.


Pan Am begins using the Boeing B-314 airplane for flights across the Pacific.


Amelia Earhart attempts her around-the-world flight via the equator east to west.  Aborted take-off from Luke Field wipes out her landing gear.  She elects to make the flight from west to east.


The U.S. Army begins to move aircraft and equipment from Ford Island (Luke Field) to Hickam Air Field.


The U.S. Navy plans to open a second Naval Air Field at Kaneohe Bay.


During this year 1,153 people came to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland by air.  The flight took approximately 16 hours and the cost was $278 per person.

Oct. 1941

Inter-Island Airways changes its name to Hawaiian Airlines.  Hawaiian Airlines begins flying the Douglas DC-3.  The DC-3's were flown to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland in 13 hours and 55 minutes.

Dec. 7, 1941

Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japan.  Martial law is declared throughout Hawaii.


World War II

Dec. 7, 1941

The Ni'ihau Incident involving a Japanese fighter pilot named Nishikaichi who lands his crippled airplane on Ni'ihau.  Nishikaichi shoots Ben Kanahale three times before he is killed by Kanahale.


Wah Kau Kong becomes Hawaii's first Chinese American fighter pilot.  Flew 14 missions with two kills before he himself is killed in combat in Europe.


Hawaii Airlines resumes service after suspending operations during World War II.


Trans-Pacific Airways (Aloha Airlines) begins passenger service using WW II surplus Douglas DC-3 airplanes.


The John Rodgers Airport is renamed to the Honolulu International Airport.


Trans-Pacific Airways introduces the first in-flight entertainment on passenger airplanes.  They featured singing, hula dancing and ukulele playing flight attendants.


The Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai opens.


Honolulu International Airport and Hickam Field is linked by a 200 ft wide runway.


Air travel to Hawaii increased to 153,598.


Pan Am Stratocruiser ditched half way between Honolulu and San Francisco after losing two engines at the "point of no return."  Unable to safety return to Honolulu or to make it to San Francisco they contacted a Coast Guard ship and rendezvoused with it and circled the ship until dawn when they ditched next to the ship.  The crew and passengers were alls saved.


Trans-Pacific Airways is renamed to Aloha Airlines.


Pan Am begins Jet aircraft service to Hawaii on the Boeing 707 airliner.  This event more than any other made the Hawaiian Tourism Industry what it is today.

Jul. 1959

Qantas Airlines begins the first jet service across the entire Pacific ocean with a stop in Honolulu using a Boeing 747 airliner.

Aug. 21, 1959

President Eisenhower signs a proclamation declaring Hawaii as the 50th state of the United States of America.


A four-engine turboprop crashes at the Honolulu International Airport killing 27 people.  It becomes the worst civilian air carrier accident in the history of Hawaii.

Apr. 1966

Hawaiian Airlines offers the first pure-jet inter-island service in Hawaii with the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-10.


The Columbia spacecraft with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins lands in Hawaiian waters.


The Jumbo Jet service to Hawaii begins.


Construction begins at the Honolulu International Airport to build a runway on a reef (Reef Runway 08R/26L) just south of the airport.


The airlines in the United States are deregulated.

Mar. 6, 1979

Hawaiian Airlines becomes the first U.S. scheduled carrier to operate a flight with an all-female crew on the Shorts SD-330 aircraft.

Jan. 1986

The NASA Space Shuttle Challenger explodes during takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida with Hawaii local Ellison Onizuka on board.

Apr. 28, 1988

An Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 flying on an inter-island flight from Hilo to Honolulu experiences rapid cabin depressurization, blowing off a portion of the forward ceiling of the aircraft fuselage.  A flight attendant is swept away in the blast, but miraculously, the crew is able to maneuver the crippled aircraft to Maui where a successful landing is made.  This accident prompted industry-wide changes in the operation and maintenance of aging aircraft.


The Honolulu International Airport's Reef Runway (08R/26L) is chosen as one of several emergency landing sites for the NASA Space Shuttle.

Jul. 1993

The Inter-Island Terminal at the Honolulu International Airport opens its doors for business after more than 10 years of planning and construction.

Fall 1998

The Honolulu Community College launches its Commercial Aviation Training program at the Pacific Aerospace Training Center in partnership with the University of North Dakota Aerospace.

Feb. 2001

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters begins operating the revolutionary Eurocopter EC-130B4 "Eco-Star" helicopter as the official launch customer.  Blue Hawaiian assisted the aircraft manufacturer with the design process to create a new state-of-the-art helicopter model to follow the hugely successful Eurocopter AS350 "A-Star".

Mar. 2001

Hawaiian Airlines takes the delivery of the Boeing 717-200 aircraft.  Service on the Boeing 717 begins on March 15, 2001 with service between Honolulu and Maui.

Sept. 11, 2001

Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon at the U.S. Capitol takes place.  Airline flights are grounded for three days.

Dec. 2001

After losing money, Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines announce their intentions to merge into a single carrier.  The proposed new airline will be headed by former Continental Airlines CEO Greg Brenneman.

Mar. 2001

The proposed merger between Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines is called off when the two airlines could not agree on the terms of the merge.

Primary Source:

Yates, W. Paul. Aviation in Hawaii. Honolulu, Hawaii, Paradise of the Pacific press [c1936]

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