Flyin' high


POSTED: Friday, October 09, 2009

Eight decades ago this week, a startup aviation company dubbed Inter-Island Airways began flying a Bellanca Pacemaker cabin aircraft around Hawaii to convince skeptical customers that flying was the future of transportation.

Yesterday, amid the regular scream of passenger jets taxiing by, that same Bellanca came home. Although Inter-Island Airways later became Hawaiian Airlines, and John Rodgers Field became Honolulu Airport, the experience of aerial transportation remains the same.

The guests at Hawaiian's unveiling of the restored classic airplane included Patricia Kennedy, daughter of Inter-Island founder Stanley Kennedy. She flew in the Bellanca when she was 3 years old.

“;This is quite a machine here!”; enthused pilot Willie Schauer, who builds his own flying machines. “;Get up close and smell it!”;

Inter-Island began the tradition of introducing its flying machines to the public with a Hawaiian blessing and party in 1929, and Hawaiian personnel were dressed yesterday in pilot uniforms and coveralls of the period.

President and CEO Mark Dunkerley noted that “;our company has made a lot of history in Hawaii ... and it all began with a single airplane, beautifully and lovingly restored to its former glory. Once we heard the Bellanca was languishing, it was immediately clear where it belonged — this is our ancestry.”;

The Pacemaker CH-300 was one of Giuseppe Bellanca's classic designs of the 1920s, a six-seat monoplane featuring an enclosed cabin and Bellanca's patented “;lifting struts.”; Imported into the islands by Kennedy as a public-relations effort, the Bellanca made more than 12,000 sightseeing flights over Oahu in two years, selling the novel experience of air travel at $3 a seat.

The Bellanca wound up in Alaska and Canada as a working bush plane, often on floats. In 1963 it caught a wingtip, cartwheeled and was ripped to pieces. The wreckage was purchased for $150 and rebuilt, eventually flying again in 1980.

After the plane was hangared in 2000, Hawaiian Airlines learned of its existence and hired aircraft restorer Joe Pritchard of Snohomish, Wash., to oversee rebuilding it back to 1929 flying condition.

The Bellanca looks much like it did then despite modern instruments and radios; an enlarged, balanced rudder; a bush-sized tail wheel; and the elimination of Bellanca's exhaust collector and Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine fairings.

Hawaiian pilot Rick Rogers is more used to flying passenger jets than aircraft made of wood and linen. Rogers has been sorting through Hawaiian's “;archives,”; rooms of boxed documents, getting the company history in order.

“;Not only is this the only surviving Bellanca Pacemaker still flying, it's good she's come home to celebrate the birthday of the oldest airline in the U.S.,”; said Rogers. “;It's an icon of stylish aviation.”;

Plans for what to do with the plane are still in flux, although it will certainly be flown on occasion.

Ken DeHoff, director of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, wouldn't mind if the Bellanca eventually “;made its final flight to Ford Island to be the centerpiece of a Hawaiian aviation exhibit. It's a wonderful historic-aviation artifact returning home.”;