Hawaiian Airlines enters uncharted airspace for a Hawai‘i-born carrier this month as it celebrates 90 years of service connecting the Islands.
On Nov. 11, 1929, Inter-Island Airways Ltd., the former alias of Hawaiian Airlines, carried its first ticketed guests aboard two amphibious Sikorsky-S38 aircraft flying from Honolulu’s John Rodgers Airport to Hilo Airport, with a stop at Ma‘alaea Airport on Maui. The flight inaugurated the Territory of Hawai‘i’s first air transport service, taking three hours and 15 minutes to complete (as opposed to 14 hours via steamship and two weeks via traditional voyaging canoe).
The opening day was a momentous occasion for the Hawaiian Islands and was kicked off with two smashed champagne bottles, hundreds of kama‘āina (locals) and visitors gathered in a hangar and an airshow of nearly five different military airplane types.
Join us as we relive the decorated moments leading up to our beginnings, and the two flights that started it all for Hawaiian Airlines.
Preparing for Our First Flights
Inter-Island Airways launched neighbor island operations with the two S-38s. However, our founder Stanley Kennedy had previously tested the idea of commercial air travel by offering sightseeing tours around O‘ahu using the iconic Bellanca Pacemaker CH-300.
The Bellanca, which first took to the skies on Oct. 6, 1929, had carried 76 passengers and logged nearly 50 flight hours in one month before Inter-Island Airways began service between the islands.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Several years later, the Bellanca was eventually sold to Star Airlines, the company now known as Alaska Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines re-acquired the aircraft in 2009 and embarked on several ambitious projects to restore the antique plane. Bellanca still runs today and is primarily used to give our employees a chance to relive history and get their sightseeing tour around O‘ahu.]
On the morning of Nov. 11, informally deemed “Air Day,” Kennedy and Territory of Hawai‘i Gov. Lawrence Judd gave a speech before hundreds of spectators packed into a hangar at the John Rodgers Airport. In the background, crews hustled to ready the Bellanca for its big moment: flying alongside an impressive convoy of military aircraft that were gathering for a celebration in the sky above.
The military fleet flew in formations for preparation of the S-38s’ departure. The first to pass over the airport were six Army amphibian planes traveling eastbound, followed by six da Havilland fighters and three massive Keystone Bombers. Above that formation were six more small pursuit planes, which would be joined by an even larger fleet of 27 large Navy amphibian planes.
The Navy planes circled over Honolulu Harbor with clock-like precision, while the Army fleet turned back westbound at Diamond Head, changing its arrangement from column to an in-line formation.
Sending Off Our First Commercial Fleet
Once the speeches were completed, our S-38s–named Hawai‘i and Maui–received a public christening in front of those gathered to witness the inaugural flights. After Judd recognized the momentous achievement in air travel, his daughter Betty famously broke a bottle of champagne on the nose of Sikorsky Hawai‘i. Sikorsky Maui received a similar farewell before the two aircraft took to the skies to join the aerial gathering.
According to an archived issue of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 16 passengers boarded the two S-38s.
Together, the planes were escorted to Diamond Head by the Bellanca and 48 Army and Navy planes. All but six of the Army Amphibians returned to their stations, while the others proceeded to Hilo to continue the Air Day celebrations upon landing in Hilo.