“Wings of Paradise”

“Wings of Paradise, Hawaii’s Incomparable Airlines,” by Peter N. Forman is a fascinating tale of the human courage, underhanded plots, dirty politics, brilliant imagination, chicanery and other intriguing elements that went into the formation and operation of the airlines serving the Hawaiian Islands.

Most of the book is devoted to airlines that were born, grew up and, in some cases, died within the island group, starting with Inter-Island Airways in 1929 and ending with the ongoing effort of commuter giant Mesa Airlines to enter Hawaiian service. It also touches on short-lived upstarts such as Mid Pacific, Skybus and Discovery Airways, and the commuter lines that broke into the business from time to time, such as Royal Hawaiian Air Service, Air Molokai, Air Hawaii, OK Air, Reeves Air, Hawaii Jet-Aire, Princeville Airways and Aloha Island Air, whose checkered histories can’t be very encouraging to Mesa.

Pan American Airways, Matson Airlines (for which Ernie Gann was a captain in the mid-1940s), Aloha and today’s Hawaiian Airlines all provided or still provide service between mainland and islands, Hawaiian being the direct descendent of pioneer Inter-Island. Aloha, long a challenger to Hawaiian’s dominance, currently is struggling but, as author Forman tells us, “has been known for stunning comebacks.”

Surely no two airlines ever shared a more tumultuous relationship than Hawaiian and Aloha. Their closely-related histories are studded with near-mergers, lawsuits and relentless competition. In fact, the bulk of the book is about Hawaiian, Aloha and their predecessors – and those tales would make great fiction if they weren’t all true. Forman quotes many of the pioneer pilots, such as Jimmy Hogg, who flew Inter-Island’s Sikorsky S-38 amphibians on dramatic flights along the cliffs and above the wave tops. If that isn’t drama enough, read of Bill Capp’s flight into Honolulu’s John Rogers Field on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. That’s a spine-tingler. Then there’s the stewardess who lost her skirt in flight, and other near-calamities.

A bit of lagniappe is artist Dave Paulley’s gorgeous oil painting of two S-38s flying along the north shore of Molokai. That one’s in full color. Unfortunately, other Paulley paintings gracing the book are not, and that is its one disappointment.

Wings of Paradise, Hawaii’s Incomparable Airlines, by Peter N. Forman; Barnstormer Books, Hawaii, 2005; 389 pages, photographs, art, maps, index; $29.95.

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