by Peter N. Forman
8:30 a.m. November 11, 1929. Honolulu’s John Rodgers Field. Outside the hangar of Inter-Island Airways, two Sikorsky S-38s sat nose to nose, awaiting their christenings. The sun glinted off the planes, odd-shaped crafts that each carried eight passengers and had wheels to touch down on land and hulls to land on water. Though it was early in the day, thousands were in attendance. Honored guests took their seats facing the podium where Governor Lawrence Judd would soon address the crowd. Off to the side, greeting well-wishers, stood the man who had the most at stake this day. A little over six feet tall with a trim frame, he could have been mistaken for someone younger than his thirty-nine years if it weren’t for the scarcity of hair on his head. His name was Stanley Kennedy, and within a couple of hours he would launch Hawaii’s first scheduled air service—and the company that is today Hawaiian Airlines.
Stanley Kennedy, pictured here
on the day Interisland Airways
launched itself skyward
(photo: Hawaiian Airlines Archives)
It had been nineteen years since a daredevil named Bud Mars became the first person in Hawaii to take flight, soaring skyward from a polo field northwest of Honolulu in 1910. A few months later, a young Kennedy, home in Hawaii on break from studying business at Stanford, watched aviator Didier Masson overfly Honolulu and arc down to land on the soft grass of Kapi‘olani Park before a cheering crowd of 10,000. Kennedy also saw Tom Gunn fly the territory’s first seaplane. He was hooked. When he realized, a few years later, that America would soon enter World War I, Kennedy signed up for pilot training in the Naval Reserve. He captured a wartime assignment flying H-16 flying boats over the North Sea, searching for submarines. Aloft over water and land day after day, it occurred to him that air travel would work perfectly in the Islands. And so, on this November day a decade later, Governor Judd’s daughter Betty broke a bottle of champagne on the nose of Sikorsky Hawaii, the Maui received a similar blessing, and the two S-38 amphibians lifted into the air and headed east for Hilo—accompanied to Diamond Head by a noisy formation of forty-nine Army and Navy planes.
Former naval aviator Charles Elliott—or "Captain Sam," as he became known—commanded one of those inaugural flights. A tall, slender man, Elliott was one of the first pilots in the history of the U.S. Navy; he had come to Hawaii when he was stationed at Pearl Harbor in the 1920s. Now he had taken a huge personal risk by leaving the Navy to become chief pilot for a private airline, a questionable enterprise at best (this was, remember, 1929). But by 1930, Captain Sam’s decision looked like a good one. Inter-Island Airways’ fleet had grown to three S-38s. Flights to Hilo operated daily except Sunday and Kauai trips departed three times a week. A typical Hilo trip departed Honolulu at 8 a.m., stopped at Maui’s Maalaea Field to drop off or pick up passengers, and arrived into Hilo before noon. Landings on Moloka‘i or Läna‘i were by prior arrangement only.
Charles Elliott, pictured
with a five-passenger Bellanca
(courtesy Charles Elliott collection)