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Hawaiian Air's first plane in 1929 is returning home


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POSTED: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A plane that taught Hawaii residents to fly and set aloft Hawaiian Airlines' 80-year history is being restored and will return home in September.

The six-seat Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker purchased by Hawaiian precursor Inter-Island Airways in 1929 took residents on aerial tours over Oahu.

"The founders of the company started with this plane because they wanted to get people used to the concept of flying," said Keoni Wagner, vice president of public affairs.

"In those days not many people had ever flown, obviously, and the intention was to use it to train the market to accept flying as transportation."

Until then, flight was limited to birds and intrepid humans with bankrolls.

The aerial tours cost $3, a figure easy to dismiss now, but considering that the flights were initiated in October 1929, about the time of the great stock market crash, only the well heeled likely forked over the fare.

The Bellanca was joined the next month by Sikorsky S-38 amphibious planes as Inter-Island Airways introduced the first scheduled air service between the islands on Nov. 11, 1929. The Bellanca was in service for about four years, and Inter-Island eventually changed its name to Hawaiian Airlines in October 1941.

"The countless flights flown, the hundreds of millions of passengers carried and all the aviation 'firsts' our company has been responsible for started 80 years ago with this very airplane," said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian's president and chief executive officer, in a statement. "It is a source of tremendous pride to all of us at Hawaiian Airlines that we will be bringing this seminal piece of Hawaii's history back to where it belongs."

The plane was found in Oregon and it is being restored at Port Townsend Aero Museum in Washington through a largely volunteer effort, but also with some funding, including underwriting by Pratt & Whitney at an undisclosed cost.

The 85-year-old aircraft engine manufacturer built the propeller-driven Bellanca engine as well as the jet engines used by 14 of Hawaiian's current aircraft.

The Bellanca won't exactly arrive on gossamer wings, as it is being shipped over the ocean to Hawaii and will be reassembled by aircraft restoration experts from the mainland as well as "some of our own people," Wagner said.

Hawaiian is planning special flights and public appearances for the plane to commemorate its 80th anniversary.

It would seem natural to take passengers up in the restored plane, either at a price or as a prize in some sort of contest, but whether members of the public get to go for a spin at all "is being discussed," Wagner said.

 


Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).