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Hawaii Aviation | Gus Schaefer

Gus Schaefer

Hawaii came up with another first in its aviation history in 1911, when Gus Schaefer of Honolulu built the first locally produced airplane. The designer-builder had originally intended to fly his airplane, but Mrs. Schaefer had other ideas. As a result, the experienced pilot Kenneth Gordon was hired to fly it. The former auto racer had been a pilot for three years. His experience included demonstration flights in Europe, the Orient, and the United States. After the Hawaiian venture, he intended to fly in Manila.
The airplane, named “Gig” by the pilot, was well tested in preparation for flying demonstrations. Gordon talked freely to the press about his flying prowess, explaining the “stunts” he intended to perform for Honolulu. Among other daring acts he promised a night flight over the city with Army and Navy searchlights following him through the air. Gordon distrusted monoplanes.

No record of the demonstration flight is known.

Gus Schaefer’s plane came into the news again on January 1, 1912. Burton H. Dryer, chief machinist’s mate on the USS West Virginia, explained his flying background to Schaefer and talked the builder into letting him fly the plane on a test run at Leilehua. Schaefer accepted the offer but warned the alleged pilot to follow Glenn Curtiss’ advice for single-plane and unproved airplanes: initially, fly just above the grass tops.

With the help of about 20 people, Dryer managed to get the airplane moving along the ground. At first, he followed instructions by staying low. Suddenly the plane was seen to lift abruptly upward. At about 40 feet elevation it went into a left turn, one wing dipped, and the plane hurtled to the ground. Dryer was removed from the wreckage and taken to Schofield Barracks’ hospital. The crumpled plane was hauled away. The seaman, not badly injured, was released from the hospital four days later and reported for duty on board ship.

Excerpted from the book Above the Pacific by Lieutenant Colonel William Joseph Horvat, 1966.