One day in the early 1930s, Padraic Evans stood at the edge of an airfield and watched a six-seater Bellanca Pacemaker airplane as it took off.
"In those days, at 12 years old, I thought that was a big airplane," said Evans, who later flew commercial planes for Hawaiian Airlines for 33 years before retiring in 1982. "I’ve forgotten how much muscle pressure you put into those things."
He was one of about 60 former employees of Hawaiian Airlines who got to fly in a restored 82-year-old Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker yesterday at Dillingham Airfield. The event was organized by former pilots and supported by the company.
"It’s kind of a way the company wants to celebrate its longevity," said Rick Rogers, company historian.
Hawaiian Airlines’ founder, Stanley Kennedy, bought the Bellanca CH-300 brand new from a factory in Delaware in 1929, starting the company then known as Inter-Island Airways. It was used for sightseeing tours to promote air travel before it was sold in 1933.
It went through several decades of heavy use in the Pacific Northwest, in Canada, and as a bush plane in Alaska. It crashed in the 1960s, was repaired in the 1980s and then placed into storage in 2000. In 2009, it was returned to Hawaii, restored with a coat of maroon paint for Hawaiian Airlines’ 80th anniversary.
Keoni Wagner, Hawaiian Airlines spokesman, said the company allows employees, retirees and their families to ride on the plane for free by booking a spot on a monthly schedule. The public might get a chance to ride in the plane during fundraising or promotional events starting this year or next, he said.
The plane brings back memories and boosts morale for former employees, those at yesterday’s reunion said.
In 1940, a company on Oahu was offering rides in a Bellanca Pacemaker for 1 cent a pound. Because Dave Lung, then 8, was the youngest and smallest of four children, his father bought a 50-cent ticket for him to ride. The pilot placed two wooden soda crates on the front seat and covered it with padding so a tiny Lung could see over the instrument panel.
During that 15-minute flight circling Diamond Head, the pilot let Lung make some shallow turns and descents.
"I was determined after that flight that I would become a pilot," Lung said yesterday.
Lung, now 77, served as a fighter pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars and flew commercial planes for Hawaiian Airlines for 20 years. He said he looked forward to a ride on the plane that started it all for him and brought his whole family to ride in it.
Retired Hawaiian pilot William Noyes III, one of the event organizers, was among the pilots giving the passengers rides yesterday.
He said the company’s attention to the former employees is invaluable.
"The spirit, the love that (former employees) feel, the support, just the emotional support that they give to the company in return, it’s almost palpable," Noyes said.