Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Flight in Hawai‘i – 1910

Bud Mars was the first man to fly an airplane in Hawaii on December 31, 1910.

Piloting a Curtiss B-18 biplane, he flew to 500-feet over Moanalua Polo Field, Oahu.  He repeated the flight the next day to the thrill of thousands of spectators.

On December 19, 1910, a “real birdman” arrived in Honolulu aboard the Manchuria.  Whipple Hall, agent for the Curtiss Aircraft Company, debarked with an excitingly strange proposal.  He announced that within a week two airplanes and men to fly them would arrive by ship.

Hawaii was to be the first stop on the group’s 30,000-mile demonstration tour which included Japan, China, the Philippines, Siam, Singapore, Java, Persia, Africa, the Holy Land, Egypt, Spain, France, England, and “anywhere else bird men had not been seen before.”

The Curtiss agent proceeded with arrangements for the entourage’s arrival and the exhibition flights.  During an interview, Hall explained that his Curtiss flying machine was a speedster, requiring 35 miles per hour to stay off the ground, while the competitive Wright planes, with their greater lifting power, would go backwards and keep climbing in a strong wind.

Honolulu’s imagination was stirred by Hall’s words.  Residents looked forward to the arrival of the men and flying machines.  Announcements continued in daily newspapers, plus features on flying.

On December 27, 1910, J. C. “Bud” Mars, pilot for the demonstrations, arrived on the Wilhelmina.  Their strange looking metal birds were taken to Samuel Damon’s Moanalua polo field for assemblage.  Each was a pusher craft with propeller and engine behind the pilot; there was no cabin or compartment for the man.

Bud Mars had the reputation of being the most daring flyer in the United States.  A case was cited to the press of him swooping under the bridges across the Mississippi River. 

Tickets for Honolulu spectators went on sale at the Empire Theater, the M.A. Gunst cigar store and the Alexander Young Hotel, at one dollar each.  One airplane was assembled by December 29th, two days later, all was in flight readiness.

People arrived on the scene by auto, bus, carriage, drawn by horses, bicycles and afoot.  Most of the 3,000 fans that paid admission charges were in full attendance at Moanalua polo field.  Hundreds more gathered on surrounding hilltops.

The tent hangar was filled with curious people observing the plane’s odd assemblage of spruce, ash, bamboo, steel tubing, and rubberized silk wing covering (an invention of Baldwin).  Several feet wider than the ordinary Curtiss biplane, Shiver’s design gave it about 30 feet of wing span, its wings five feet wide and the same distance apart.

Soon after 2 pm, December 31, 1910, the mainland group finished preparations and the slight young man, Mars, climbed aboard the biplane.  The marines who guarded the plane moved to one side and the manned box-kite made its way bumpily down the grass “runway.”

By Captain Baldwin’s watch, it took Mars nine seconds to get airborne.  Thousands of people burst into a yell of approval to see their first airplane flight.  They were watching history being made in a feat—unknown to them at the time—which would alter the destiny of Hawaii and, along with other places, the world.

Climbing to 500 feet, Mars flew to the hills then back over Moanalua field.  Within minutes, he brought the airplane to a standstill on the ground and the crowds gathered in close to see the new hero dismount his iron bird.  The test flight was a complete success.

The group then set up a christening ceremony, with the designer’s wife doing the honors.  There was no champagne available but someone went to get some by motorcycle. When it arrived, Mrs. Shriver christened the plane “Skylark,” as Mrs. Mars stood by elated at her husband’s performance.

Now more relaxed, the young pilot mounted his Skylark and proceeded to make another flight.  This time he flew higher and farther.  His route was to Red Hill, which commands a superb view of Pearl Harbor and the military plains of Leilehua beyond.  A third time, he pleased his promoters by dropping paper souvenirs over Moanalua field.

The following day, Mars’ statement appeared on the front page of the Sunday Advertiser: “I am proud to have been the first man to fly over the soil of these beautiful Islands.”

Then added, “I am proud to hold the pioneer air record for Honolulu and I am glad, too, that the new Skylark has taken her maiden flight here.  She is after this the Honolulu Skylark and I will call her that wherever we go on our trip towards the Far East.  I find your Hawaiian air currents rather tough ones, but everything else was lovely.”

Watching the flight activity, one local boy referred to Mars’ airplane as “Pinao” (Hawaiian for dragonfly.)  Another cried out, “Aloha, Mokulele!” (sky-boat, aircraft).

This summary and photos were summarized from  I have added additional photos to a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page.

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