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Vol.12, No. 5
October/November 2009


Return Flight 

story by Ken Scott

photos courtesy Hawaiian Airlines archives

There’s a small airport on Puget Sound, just south of the waterfront town of Port Townsend, Washington. Except for the planes lined up in front of the restaurant, you’d think it was a park. Flags fly, the grass is neatly mowed and tidy hangars stand in rows. In one of the larger hangars, a group of teens listens intently to a stocky man lecturing in front of the graceful, curving wing of a very old airplane. As he speaks, three young men painstakingly stitch fabric onto the wooden skeleton with a foot-long needle. There are thousands of these stitches, each one tied with a special knot.


“Now look,” Jerry Thoutte says. “A brilliant man named Giuseppe Bellanca designed this airplane, and his employees—people like you—built it eighty years ago, in 1929. When you work on it, you need to remember and respect these things.” When this airplane was built, Thoutte tells the kids, powered flight was only a little older than they are now. The Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and only twenty-six years later, airplanes had gone from fairground novelties to realistic means of transportation. In fact, the Bellanca that Thoutte and his crew of young apprentices are restoring has been flying for three-quarters of the time there have been airplanes. 


A number of airplanes this old are preserved in museums, but very few still actually fly. When the young people at the Port Townsend Aero Museum finish their work, not only will the plane fly again, it will fly from the same airport—for the same company—as when it was new. The Bellanca is the first airplane Hawaiian Airlines ever flew, and to celebrate the airline’s 80th anniversary, it’s coming home.