A page-turning account of “the precarious, pioneering flights to Hawaii” during the late 1920s.
Learning of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, Hawaii pineapple tycoon James Dole immediately offered $25,000 (the same amount won by Lindbergh) for the first nonstop from Oakland, California, to Honolulu. The result was a spectacular story featuring dozens of heroes, not all of whom survived. Journalist Ryan (Hell-Bent: One Man's Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob, 2014) enthusiastically narrates the exciting tale. Though the Dole Derby doesn’t begin until Page 169, few readers will regret the author’s account of earlier attempts. In 1925, a small Navy crew left Oakland in a flying boat but landed 450 miles short when the gas ran out. They spent 10 days drifting slowly toward the islands until they were rescued within sight of land, starving and nearly dead of thirst. In early 1927, two Army fliers carefully prepared a Fokker trimotor and enjoyed a mostly uneventful flight, arriving a month after Dole’s announcement, making the derby an anticlimax. This did not discourage a crowd of eager applicants, and Ryan recounts their biographies, technical efforts, and flights, which include so many malfunctions that readers will conclude that Lindbergh was either a genius or very lucky. Of 15 planes that entered, seven dropped out because of mechanical problems, including several crashes. Eight left the starting line on Aug. 16, 1927; four aborted. Two of the four who continued landed in Honolulu, and two disappeared. One plane that aborted tried again and also disappeared. All told, 10 fliers died during the derby, causing James Dole to harbor “bitterness over his association with so many fliers’ deaths.”
A vivid portrait of 1920s American aviation, whose dazzling technical progress could never keep up with the dangerously adventurous fliers who tested the limits of their fragile craft and often died in the process.