First west coast flight to Hawaii

Just a few short months after Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flights, two air force officers prepped to try something similar in the Pacific, flying from California to Hawaii. Both men were carefully selected by the service: Lester J. Maitland, the pilot, had set a world record in speed (236 mph) four years earler. His navigator, Albert Hegenberger, was a graduate of MIT and helped develop navigational instruments used by pilots of that era. They could have flown from Hawaii to California, but that would prove little: Lindbergh had already done it, and besides, this flight was about navigation, reaching a tiny island in the vast ocean, rather than about longevity.

On this day, June 29, in 1927, the Bird of Paradise, piloted by Maitland with navigation by Hegenberger, landed in Wheeler field, O’ahu, making the first success flight from California to Hawaii.

Ships were stationed along the route to provide radio contact and guidance along the way, and the crew of the Bird needed it: their compass failed shortly after takeoff, forcing Hegenberger to rely on the old-fashioned dead reckoning and navigation by stars. Briefly, to chart the stars, the plane ascended above cloud cover to 10,000 feet, which froze up one of the engines. Once they went back into warmer air, the propeller started turning again. Maitland safely landed the plane at 6:29 am the next morning, after 25 hours straight aloft.