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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 9, 2009

Hawaiian Air's first plane returns

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawaiian Airlines held a homecoming ceremony yesterday to welcome back the actual airplane that launched the company 80 years ago.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaiian Airlines yesterday held a coming-out party for a fully restored 1929 Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker a maroon-red airplane with big doughnut tires that was the actual first aircraft flown by the company that would later become Hawaiian Air.

Hawaiian acquired the plane, which had been grounded since 2000, early this year from an aviation buff in Oregon.

The plane was meticulously refurbished at the Port Townsend Aero Museum in Washington state.

Black lettering along the plane's fuselage identifies it as belonging to Inter-Island Airways, which was renamed Hawaiian Airlines in 1941.

"For everyone who has ever worked for Hawaiian, the Bellanca is our ancestry and the history of pioneering aviation is in our DNA," Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian Air president and CEO, said in a news release. "It's part of what makes Hawaiian special, and a big reason why we are celebrating our 80th anniversary this year, a milestone that many of the world's iconic airlines never reached."

Dunkerley described company founder Stanley Kennedy, who bought the airplane new in 1929 from a factory in Delaware, as an "aviation visionary."

"Today, we take air travel for granted. But imagine, in 1929, for most people, the thought of climbing into an aircraft heavier than air was terrifying," Dunkerley said.

In October 1929, Kennedy began offering sightseeing flights over O'ahu. During the next two years, the company continued to use the Bellanca for sightseeing tours to promote air travel, carrying more than 12,000 people who paid $3 each for the experience.

The stubby "tail-dragger" never was used for interisland travel, but on Nov. 11, the company began offering interisland service using two Sikorsky S-38 amphibian planes. Each plane carried eight passengers and two crew members, had a cruising speed of 110 mph and took three hours to fly from Honolulu to Hilo, including a stop on Maui.

By 1933, the Bellanca was not being used much and was sold. It was moved to Alaska where for 30 years it was used to ship cargo to hunters and remote villages.

It was moved to Oregon in 1964, and last flew in 2000.

Dunkerley said it's not possible to put a price on the cost of the restoration work done at the museum in Washington.

"They have a program there where expert restorers work with students. We had too many people contributing to the project or providing assistance in kind, (and) it's impossible to put a price on the plane other than to say the result is a priceless artifact," Dunkerley said.

Every inch of the plane, inside and out, was restored and the plane now is "completely airworthy," Dunkerley said.

A pilot himself, Dunkerley taxied the Bellanca around the airport twice this past week and is looking forward to flying it after he is certified to operate it.

"It's loud and it rattles quite a bit, but in its time, it was on the cutting edge of technology," Dunkerley said.

The airplane is powered by a nine-cylinder Pratt and Whitney radial engine that can produce up to 450 horsepower, enough to propel the plane at a top speed of 165 mph. It can carry a pilot and five passengers.

The restored airplane is believed to be the only remaining Bellanca Pacemaker in the world that still flies.

Dunkerley said Hawaiian is still working on plans on how to use the airplane.

"What we're hoping to do is fly it around the state to give people the experience of what aviation was like 80 years ago," he said.