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Hawaiian Airlines Bellanca

The Bellanca Pacemaker was one of the first of the great North Country single-engine utility airplanes, a tradition continued by the Noorduyn Norseman, de Havilland Beaver and various Fairchilds and Fokkers. Many Bellancas flew out their days, often on floats, in Canada’s Northwest Territory and Alaska, so it might seem odd that the only flying Pacemaker CH-300 in the world now lives in subtropical Hawaii.

There’s a good reason, though: This very aircraft, a six-seat, 300- hp, 1929 monoplane with Bellanca’s characteristic “flying struts”—broad, airfoil-shaped wing struts that, one hopes, contributed perhaps as much lift as they did drag—was Hawaiian Airlines’ first airplane. Eighty years after having been first put into service in Honolulu, it was shipped back to the islands by Hawaiian, totally restored and ready to again fly for the line (at least on PR and educational missions), in a remarkable example of one farsighted, 80-year-old airline taking pride in its history in an era when many carriers were born yesterday and most prefer to forget those troublesome days before airliners were called “airbuses.”

Few U.S. airlines are older than Hawaiian, originally named Inter-Island Airways. The Bellanca was bought new in 1929 by Inter-Island founder Stanley Kennedy, who used it not on the line but as a $3-aride sightseer, making endless fair-weather circuits over Honolulu to introduce Hawaiians to the idea of traveling by air. At the time, interisland travel was rare, but Kennedy and 12,000-plus awed Hawaiians who rode the “Bellyanchor” over Diamond Head created a market. Later that year, Inter-Island bought two Sikorsky S-38 amphibians and launched scheduled service, eventually between all five main islands.

Inter-Island’s Bellanca, having fulfilled its mission, found its way to a productive career in, yes, Alaska, hauling freight. In 1967 it was bought for $150 as a wreck by an Oregon vintage-aircraft restoration company, Big Sky Stearman, and was largely rebuilt and flew actively through the 1980s. Big Sky completed the full, impeccable restoration for Hawaiian in 2009.

-Stephan Wilkinson

The Ultimate Upgrade

There’s a small subset of airliner enthusiasts who build mock cockpits—homemade flight simulators—in their basements or garages, but there’s an even smaller number who carefully craft replica passenger cabins, a rare hobby perhaps because traveling in an aluminum warehouse has become the 21st-century equivalent of taking the bus. After all, who wants to be reminded that getting there is no longer half the fun?

Anthony Toth, a 43-year-old air travel enthusiast, begs to differ. He has created a remarkably authentic replica of a 1970s Pan Am 747 first-class cabin in his Redondo Beach, Calif., garage, where he and his friends do their best to duplicate the heady experience of flying during jet travel’s golden age, when flight attendants were still called stewardesses and Pan Am international captains had one of the most envied careers on the planet.

Toth’s cabin reproduces the upper deck of a 747—the jet-set hideaway inside the hunchback behind the cockpit—that was accessed by a red-carpeted spiral staircase. (Toth has the staircase, but he needs a taller garage to fit it under the cabin.) Pan Am headsets play recorded Clipper Class audio tracks. Drinks are poured into real glasses, not plastic cups. Authentic-looking salted almonds and peanut packs are served, and for special friends there’s even a meal on heavy Pan Am dinnerware and silver, while a vintage movie unreels on a modern flat-panel screen. Toth traveled to Bangkok to buy the earphones after hearing that a trove of them had been found in Thailand, though he had to create the plastic-packaged snacks himself. He estimates that his ground-bound cabin has cost him a good $50,000, and it’s still a work in progress.

Toth’s airline obsession has been a lifelong hobby. He collected throwaway artifacts from every flight he took as the child of a well-traveled family, and saved headset sounds on a tape recorder. When he was 10, he subscribed to the Official Airline Guide, a pulp-paper collection of all the world’s airline schedules about as thick, and as interesting, as the average phone book. So what does Toth do for a living? He’s the director of global accounts for United Air Lines.

-Stephan Wilkinson

American Air Museum Poster

For the past 12 years, aviation photographer Philip Makanna has been donating his time and talent to create a yearly limited-edition collector’s print to benefit the American Air Museum in Britain (located at famed Duxford Aerodrome). The 2009 print features the North American P-51D Mustang Jumpin Jacques. It’s available for a donation of $35 or more to the American Air Museum in Britain (Attn: Phillippa Wray/Collector’s Print), Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridge, CB22 4QR, Great Britain.

Liberator 586 Comes Home

More than 60 years after it first crash-landed in the wilderness outside of Goose Bay, Labrador, Liberator 586 is finally coming home. The Consolidated B-24, once part of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 10 Bomber Reconnaissance Group stationed at Gander, New – foundland, flew long-range reconnaissance and convoy escort missions from the Canadian coast to Iceland during the Battle of the Atlantic. With two submarine sinkings to its credit—U-341 in September 1943 and U-420 in October 1943—it was the most successful of the North Atlantic Squadron’s long-range aircraft.

Liberator 586 was returning from just such a mission in February 1944 with six men aboard when bad weather forced the bomber down in the woods 13 miles outside of Goose Bay. All five members of its crew survived; however, the plane’s lone passenger, a public relations officer, was thrown out of the aircraft and killed. Since then the wreck of Liberator 586 has rested on the spot where it landed: the wings sheared off in the crash, the fuselage open to the ravages of the elements.

Now the Avalon Historical Aircraft Recovery Association hopes to restore Liberator 586 either wholly or partially and return it for display at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander, just blocks from the base it once called home. The rarity of existing B-24s—most were scrapped after the war, and fewer than 15 complete examples are known to exist—and the historical significance of this particular airplane make the task especially meaningful to the organization. “This one is extra special because of its war record,” said Darrell Hillier, project director. “To be in a position to preserve an aircraft as rare and unique as this is a real opportunity.”

Parts of the wreck were originally recovered in 1989 by an American restoration company, which moved sections of the fuselage and cockpit to the airfield at Goose Bay. But the provincial government intervened, claiming that the historical value of Liberator 586 determined that it should remain in the province.

Yet without the funds to move the pieces already recovered or retrieve the parts of the wreck that remained at the original crash site, the bomber lingered in limbo for 20 years, until the Avalon group was able to secure transportation for the pieces already recovered to make the trip back to Gander. The bulk of the fuselage has already been moved back to the Gander airfield.

With plans currently underway to return to the original crash site, Avalon’s president, Robert Maher, says the group’s immediate objective is to recover the rest of the wreck, especially the wings, and then begin the long process of securing funding to undertake the restoration. When it’s complete, he hopes to be able to display the B-24 to the public, allowing aircraft enthusiasts and history buffs to get a firsthand look at this important piece of history from the Battle of the Atlantic.

-Rebecca Johns

Twin Mustang Tug of War Over

A longstanding dispute between the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and the Commemorative Air Force over ownership of an F-82B Twin Mustang was settled on November 2. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied an appeal by the CAF to retain ownership of the Twin Mustang, upholding an earlier ruling granting ownership to the Air Force Museum. The CAF took control of the Twin Mustang in 1966 and flew it until an accident in 1987. Since then it has sought funding to return the rare fighter to the air. In July 2009, following the original district court judgment, the F-82 was shipped to the museum in Dayton, Ohio. Earlier the CAF had offered to keep it grounded if the Air Force would drop its case, but the offer was rejected.

French Tribute to WWI Medal of Honor Airmen

On September 26, 1918, America’s largest battle of World War I—the Meuse-Argonne offensive—began. One of the biggest stories to emerge from the campaign was that of the famed “Lost Battalion.” This group of American soldiers, made up of units from the 77th Division, was trapped and surrounded on a woody hillside—and being slowly annihilated. Airmen of the U.S. Army Air Service 50th Aero Squadron took off from their aerodrome at Remi – court to try to supply and support the besieged men. On October 6, Lieutenants Harold E. Goettler (pilot) and Erwin R. Bleck ley (observer) took off on their second mission of the day to locate the trapped men and drop supplies. After flying back and forth at low altitude, scanning the terrain below and drawing heavy groundfire the entire time, Goettler was hit by machine gun fire and killed. Their Liberty engine de Havilland D.H.4 nosed into the ground just outside of Binarville, killing Bleckley. Both men were later awarded the Medal of Honor, two of only four USAS fliers to receive that award in WWI.

The small French towns of Binarville and Remicourt paid tribute to the memory of Goettler and Bleckley on October 6-7, 2009, when more than 200 people—including French and American dignitaries and military members, townspeople and representatives of the press—gathered to pay tribute to the fallen airmen and the squadron with which they flew. Also in attendance were the nieces of Goettler and Bleckley, Joan Starr of Wilton, Conn., and Nancy Erwin of Shreveport, La. A bronze plaque, provided by Jerry Hester of Winston-Salem, N.C.—the driving force behind the event—was presented to the town of Remicourt in a moving ceremony. As a finale, famed French airshow pilot Jack Krine performed an aerial display over Remicourt in a WWI S.E.5a replica, flying from the original field at Remicourt that the 50th Aero Squadron used in 1918.

-Steve Ruffin


Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here