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The First Transpacific Flight

One month after Charles Lindberg's historic transatlantic flight, two US Army Lieutenants set out from Oakland Airport in a heavily modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2 named "Bird of Paradise".  Their intended destination was Wheeler Field on Oahu, crossing 2300 miles of Pacific Ocean with no possible landfall until the Hawaiian Islands .  The  Fokker C-2 airplane had three 220 HP Wright engines and had a theoretical range of 2500 miles.

In 1923, Lt Lester J. Maitland became the first pilot to exceed 200 mph, reaching the speed of 245 mph.  He was later assigned to the 6th Aero Squadron at Wheeler Field.   Maitland was designated the pilot for the flight.  Lt Albert F. Hegenberger, a World War I flight instructor and MIT graduate, was the navigator. 

The aircraft was outfitted with a radio direction finder which failed a few hours into the flight.  The original plan was to use the RDF to home in on a new radio beacon on Maui, thus greatly aiding the navigational task.   With the failure of the receiver, they were reduced to dead reckoning and celestial navigation in order to arrive safely.

Running low on fuel and with no sight of land, Maitland saw a flash of light off to his left, which turned out to be the Kilauea Lighthouse on the island of Kauai.  Circling the lighthouse waiting for the light of dawn, they finally oriented themselves and headed for Oahu.

They arrived at Wheeler Field after flying 25 hours 49 minutes and 30 seconds, flying 2416 miles in the process.   Both airmen were awarded the distinguished Flying Cross for their Feat. 

During World War II, Maitland, then a LtCol. was the commanding officer at Clark Field in the Philippines when it fell to the Japanese in 1942.  He went on to fly 44 combat missions in medium bombers in Europe, won another Distinguished Flying Cross, a Silver Star and five Air Medals.  He rose to the rank of Brigadier General and retired from the Army in 1943.  He became an Episcopal priest in 1955 and remained active until 1985.  He died in 1990 at the age of 91.

Albert F. Hegenberger rose to the rank of Major General, and won another Distinguished Flying Cross for the first solo "instruments-only" flight at Dayton, Ohio in 1932.  His work in developing blind flying instruments and techniques that allowed pilots to fly in any kind of weather, paved the way for today's modern aviation instrument flying.  He passed away in 1983 at the age of eighty eight.  

The "Bird of Paradise" never left Hawaii.  It flew as an inter-island transport until the late 30s, when it was dismantled and shipped to Dayton, Ohio to be put into the Air Corps Museum.  It was destroyed in 1944 because of a "lack of space", supposedly caused by the war effort.



The pictures on the gallery below are from the 15th Airlift wing History Office collection, unless noted otherwise in the caption


The famous photo of their arrival at Wheeler on June 28th

Being guided in to the hangars

A celebrity greeting

Maitland in the cockpit

Generals & Politicians greeted them adorned with flower leis.

Wives and children at the airplane

Adorned in feather cloaks reserved for Hawaiian royalty

Another view with feather cloaks

On the gangplank for the trip home

Boarding the ship for home

All that remains of the "Bird of Paradise", plus a navigators sighting stool.

Source USAF Museum

Fokker C-2 on the grass

Source USAF Museum

Fokker C-2 on the grass at Crissey Field, San Francisco

From the collection of Robert E Burness, Jr

Fokker C-2 at Crissey Field, San Francisco

From the collection of Robert E Burness, Jr