Little Bits of History

Reaching Hawaii

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 29, 2014
Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

June 29, 1927: The Bird of Paradise arrives in Hawaii. The plane was an Atlantic-Fokker C-2 and crewed by 1st Lt. Lester Maitland and 1st Lt. Albert Hegenberger. It was the first transpacific flight from the mainland to Hawaii. The hope to fly across the Pacific began in February 1919 at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio. Members of the Air Service, forerunner of the Air Corps, included then 2nd Lt. Hegenberger, an MIT-trained aeronautical engineer. The purpose of the flight was to subject navigation instruments to a systematic test with unusual conditions. Traveling over 2,400 miles over water was a great test.

The Instrument Branch within the Air Service Engineering Division created new instrumentation including  compasses, airspeed meters, driftmeters, and sextants. They also upgraded maps. Hegenberger attended a flight school put on by the Navy in Pensacola, Florida where he learned about over-water flight. He flew over the Gulf of Mexico and practiced both dead reckoning and celestial navigation. The new instrumentation was essential not just for the military, but for civilian aviation as well. The men in Dayton collaborated with many outside groups to develop the best set of instruments not just for over water, but for all weather conditions and night navigation.

To help with funding, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell supported the use of air shows, flight demonstrations, and encouraged setting aviation records. One of the participants in these events was 1st Lt. Maitland who had been stationed in Hawaii for two years beginning in 1919. Maitland asked to be part of the transpacific crew for a two-engined Martin NBS-1 bomber’s flight. The request was denied. Even with proper instrumentation, the plane itself needed upgrading. The Fokker was that upgrade. It survived flying several endurance missions and set a record of 36 hours aloft (and seven other world records). This was the plane used for the first non-stop transcontinental flight, about the same distance as a transpacific flight.

After more testing of the plane and the crew, it was deemed possible and on Tuesday, June 28, 1927, with favorable weather and thermos full of soup, some chicken sandwiches, and coffee, Maitland and Hegenberger boarded the Bird of Paradise bringing with them water and chocolate bars. The three motors started without problem and at 7.09 AM local time, they took off. They became airborne at 93 mph and climbed to an altitude of 2,000 feet. They were escorted by other Army aircraft as they passed the Golden Gate Bridge. Cruising speed was 108 mph and a compass failed shortly after takeoff. There were many difficulties with the actual navigation and ships along the way offered some help. At sunset, they climbed to 10,000 feet to tope the clouds and navigated by the stars. About 19 hours into the flight, the middle engine failed but after dropping altitude and melting ice accumulation it started up again.  After 25 hours and 50 minutes, the Bird of Paradise landed safely at 6.29 AM, local time.

A month after Charles Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris…(Maitland and Hegenberger)…flew…some 2,400 miles (3,900 km) from Oakland [CA] to a landfall on the island of Kauai, then to a safe landing on Oahu.

The flight…tested not only the reliability of the machine, but the navigational skill and the stamina of the two officers as well, for had they strayed even three-and-a-half degrees off course, they would have missed Kauai and vanished over the ocean. – from the official history of the United States Air Force

The flight is unquestionably one of the very greatest aerial accomplishments ever made. – Trubee Davison

The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Also on this day: I Love You Lighthouse – In 1860, the last stone to the I Love You lighthouse was placed.
Sound Recording – In 1888, a wax cylinder was used to record music.
Pygmy Mammoth – In 1994, the first near-complete pygmy mammoth fossil was found.
Globe Gone – In 1613, the London theater burned down.

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