Amelia Earhart, First Ever to Fly Solo Hawaii to California

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Isn’t it funny how something can stick in your mind persistently?  In our last post, we wrote about our first trans-pacific cruise aboard the SS Mariposa in 1975.  We nostalgically recalled “the good old days” of adventure and exploration in that exotic tropical paradise.  But then for days afterward, we were bombarded with Google pop-up ads touting Hawaii sites and offerings; it seemed TV programs and magazine articles featuring Hawaii were everywhere; friends would wistfully share their own memories of travel and adventure in the Islands.  So, it was no surprise when a friend forwarded the historic information that January 11th – 12th was the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s historic 1935 solo flight from Hawaii to California!!!  Our memories of Hawaii remain strong, vivid and unabated!!! 

Today, Honolulu is a modern and bustling city.
But in the 1930s, the traditions and customs of the islands were coming to grips with the effects of progress. The Art Deco Exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art exemplified the move. This is R. Frederick Heckman’s “Where Progress and Romance Meet.”

So, let’s take a look at that history making event in 1935.

Amelia Earhart and her husband George Putnam arrived in Hawaii on December 27, 1934 aboard the SS Lurline.  They travelled with her technical advisor, Paul Mantz and his wife along with the mechanic, Ernie Tissot.  The small group also brought a Lockheed Vega 5C with them, strapped down on the SS Lurline’s aft deck tennis court.  Because the planned record-breaking flight was being kept secret, anyone who inquired was told the aircraft was brought along for day trips to outer islands.  You may remember the SS Lurline was one of the Matson Lines’ “White Ships” cruising between Hawaii and California on a regular basis.  The crossing took 5 days.  So, the compliment of aviation experts spent time running up the motor to ward off effects of the sea air; they tested the radio often to check and confirm its range. 

Amelia Earhart and her team arrived in Honolulu aboard Matson’s passenger liner SS Lurline on December 27, 1934. (U.S. National Park Service gallery WAPA 2505 photo; public domain)
So did her plane!!! The Lockheed Vega 5C is off-loaded to a barge in Honolulu Harbor. The plane will be transported to Wheeler Field where the Earhart team will spend two weeks in final testing and checking. (Pan-Pacific Press Bureau Photo)
Amelia Earhart and her team used their time during the 5-day voyage to review plans and fine-tune the plane strapped on deck. (CC-BY-2.0Flickr images reviewed by FlickreviewRPhotographs by the Pacific Aviation Museum)

Upon their arrival in Honolulu, Earhart and her husband went to the home of Christian Holmes, the Fleischman’s Yeast heir and owner of Hawaiian Tuna Packers on Coconut Island.  The Holmes beach house, named “Queen’s Surf” because of the nearby property of Queen Lili’uokalani, later became a popular beachside restaurant with the Barefoot Bar upstairs.  Sadly, it was torn down in 1971.  But in 1935, it was a beautiful, hospitable, and convenient spot in Waikiki.  No doubt, the Earhart team enjoyed a pleasant stay as they visited the sites of Honolulu and met local dignitaries.

Amelia Earhart and her husband George Putnam relax on a veranda at the Royal Hawaiian while listening to island musicians. (Matson Navigation Co. Archives. Pacific Aviation Museum – Amelia Earhart_Royal_1934. CC BY 2.0)
Photo of Amelia Earhart and Duke Kahanamoku in Hawaii, Dec., 1934 or Jan., 1935. ( Unknown author – Matson Navigation Company Archives. Public Domain)
The banyan tree planted by Amelia Earhart during a sightseeing trip on Jan. 6, 1935, still stands along Hilo’s Banyan Drive. (Jan Wouterloot, wikimedia commons)

The Lockheed Vega 5C went to Wheeler Field, an airbase adjacent to Schofield Barracks in the Wahiawa District of Honolulu.  It was built by the Army in 1922 on the former 17th Calvary Regiment drill grounds.  By 1940, Wheeler was the primary air base of the Army Air Corps responsible for the air defense of the Hawaiian Islands Territory.   The P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft were based there.  And that is why the attack on December 7, 1941 began with the bombing of Wheeler Field before the Japanese Zeroes crossed Kolekole Pass to attack Hickam Field and the ships anchored in Pearl Harbor.  Many of the planes were destroyed before the pilots could get them airborne.  The Secretary of the Interior designated Wheeler AFB as a National Historic Landmark in 1987, obviously recognizing its significance in WWII.  But as a sidenote, it is worth mentioning that the Wheeler facility was constructed in the Garden City pattern inspired by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), an urban planner from England.  The neighborhoods of the complex are designed in loops with abundant green space between.  The buildings are in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.  The base itself is like an historic area!!! But I digress.

Back to the run-up for the historic flight.  Several preliminary flights were conducted around the islands.  The Vega was declared ready; the radio range was, happily, found better than anticipated—the mainland would be in communication for the entire flight.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega, which she would use on her solo flight to Oakland, arrives in Honolulu Harbor aboard the S.S. Lurline on Dec. 27, 1934. (Matson Navigation Co. Archives CC by 2.0)

Amelia Earhart set off on her record breaking and historic flight on January 11th at 4:40 in the afternoon.  Eighteen hours and fifteen minutes later, she landed at Oakland Airport.  The scene was jubilant.  A crowd of 5000 people lined the field.

Amelia Earhart’s historic flight takes off from Wheeler Field, Honolulu on Jan 11, 1935 at 4:40pm and sets another world record– the first solo flight from Hawaii to the Mainland. (Hawai’i Aviation Archives)
In contrast to the unheralded departure from Wheeler, 5,000 people lined the field at Oakland Airport in a tumultuous reception. (Hawaii Aviation Archives)

Earhart would continue to set records until that fateful flight in 1937.  On July 1, she departed Lae, New Guinea and headed for Howland Island.  On July 2 she radioed that no land was yet in sight; she had one-half hour’s worth of fuel left……….

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Elektra she piloted on that fateful flight in 1937. (Smithsonian Institution. Public Domain)


Amelia Earhart began flying at the age of 23. She set out to break records while promoting women in aviation. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; the first to solo from Hawaii to California; founded the Ninety-Nines (public domain)
Documents relating to Amelia Earhart’s landmark solo flight from Hawai’i to the Mainland in 1935 are in a copper box inside the base of this memorial at the Diamond Head Lookout on Oahu. (Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – Amelia Earhart CC BY 2.0)

She had only 7,000 miles to go.

Where Progress Meets Destiny!!!

That’s what this image could be titled!!! ( San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Public Domain on wiki commons and, strangely, titled: TEST TITLE )

‘Twas a life well-lived!!!

July 24, 1897-July 2, 1937