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No achievement is as few and far between as becoming the youngest passenger in a commercial airline's history. Ben Lee has carried the honor for Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian Airlines since December 1929, when at 11 months old, he was brought onboard an Inter-Island Airways flight by his mother to experience its new passenger air service, which made a historic launch just weeks before on Nov. 11. 

Photo provided by Ben Lee
Lee is photographed on the wing strut of the Bellanca with his mother in December 1929.


Lee, of course, doesn’t recall seeing the crystalline blue waters of Waikīkī from the cabin window or posing for a photo afterward on the wing strut of the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker, Hawaiian's first aircraft, but archived newspapers and personal photographs cement the milestone.

A newspaper article from the week Lee took his flight over Honolulu and was deemed the youngest aviator.


Now a 94-year-old veteran, father and grandfather, Lee has lived a rich life parallel to Hawaiian Airlines (the new alias of Inter-Island Airways starting in 1941). While the company navigated the impacts of World War II and the Korean War, Lee was finding his bearings in wartime as a civilian and, years later, a Navy captain. Lee also joined Hawaiian for historical celebrations as it grew and evolved over the decades, including a one-day remake of its first Neighbor Island route – Honolulu to Hilo, with a stop at Maʻalaea Airport on Maui – for its 55th anniversary.

Photo provided by Ben Lee
Lee looking out at the ocean from the Hilo coast after Hawaiian Airlines flew him and his wife on the company's 55th anniversary of its inaugural Honolulu-Hilo flight (with a Maui stop).


Hawaiian recently reconnected Lee with a token of his past, welcoming him onboard the same Bellanca CH-300 he was photographed on with his mother 94 years ago. On a calm Saturday morning, Bellanca Captain Merle Clawson took Lee and his grandson Ian on a sightseeing tour over Oʻahu.

Voice-over credit: Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, director of community and cultural relations at Hawaiian Airlines

The Bellanca began offering sightseeing tours of Oʻahu on Oct. 6, 1929, to get people accustomed to flying at a time when interisland travel was done by ship. On the morning of Nov. 11, the Bellanca passed the torch to the Sikorsky fleet and joined a convoy of military aircraft over Honolulu to send off the carrier's two new amphibious planes, each carrying eight ticketed passengers. Thanks to multiple major restorations, the Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker continues to fly today and remains the crown jewel of Hawaiian's fleet.

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Bellanca Capt. Merle Clawson, Ben Lee and his grandson Ian Wong pictured in front of the Bellanca at Honolulu's Castle & Cooke Aviation hangar.


As we celebrate the reunion of Lee and the Bellanca, we are reminded of our roots and the kuleana (responsibility) that comes with serving Hawaiʻi for nearly a century. Please join us in honoring the pioneering legacies of Ben Lee, Hawaiʻi’s youngest aviator, and our beloved Bellanca.