Sunday, December 16, 2001

‘Mr. Kauai’ pioneered flight in isles

During the early years of the air age, ushered in by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903, barnstorming was a highly popular activity. Pilots traveled about the countryside, appearing at county fairs, carnivals and other events to give exhibitions of stunt flying and parachute jumping and to take up passengers in the novel and exciting airplane.

Charles J. Fern Sr., from Madison Barracks, N.Y., a University of California graduate and World War I pilot, arrived in the islands in December 1919. He and a partner, Ben Stoddard, barnstormed in Honolulu at Kapiolani Park, where they took up passengers for $10 for 10 minutes. Fern's plane, a single-engine Jenny with a 20-gallon gas tank, had been brought to the islands on a Matson freighter. Fern made the first round trip between Oahu and Maui in it and then flew to Kauai where he landed on May 8, 1920.

On Kauai the daring young pilot again took up passengers for $10 each, flying out of Barking Sands beach and Kilauea plantation.

Fern, Hawaii's first commercial pilot, adopted Kauai as his home. He worked briefly for McKee Sugar Co., then joined the Garden Island newspaper. Through his newspaper and radio station holdings, Fern promoted air travel as the wave of the future and urged Garden Islanders to support interisland flight and tourism. A prominent business and civic leader, Fern became known as "Mr. Kauai," his career stemming from his early barnstorming days.

"The Hawaii Moment" was written by Helen G. Chapin for the Hawaiian Historical Society.

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