Amalie Earhart and the Little Red Bus Fly Hawaii to California

On January 11–12, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, this time in a Lockheed 5C Vega. Although some called it a publicity stunt for Earhart and Hawaiian sugar plantation promoters, it was a dangerous3,875-kilometer (2,408-mile) flight that had already claimed several lives. Hawaiian commercial interests offered a $10,000 award to whoever accomplished the flight first. Of that flight she remarked: “I wanted the flight just to contribute. I could only hope one more passage across that part of the Pacific would mark a little more clearly the pathway over which an air service of the future will inevitably fly.”

Amelia Earhart bought this 5B Vega in 1930 and called it her “Little Red Bus.” After a nose-over accident later that year, the fuselage was replaced and strengthened to carry extra fuel tanks. Three types of compasses, a drift indicator, and a more powerful engine were also installed. Introduced in 1927, the Vega was the first product of designer Jack Northrop and Allan Loughead’s Lockheed Aircraft Company. Sturdy, roomy, streamlined, and fast, the innovative Lockheed Vega became favored by pilots seeking to set speed and distance records. 

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. 

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.   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.Since this flight was so risky, Earhart had taken precautions. She had her plane’s passenger seat removed and had it replaced with extra fuel tanks. She also had then become the first civilian pilot to use a two way radio, which she had installed

. As she flew her way to Oakland, she had playing a broadcasted symphony concert for most of her trip. During the last three hours of her flight, no one had received any radio contact with her. Amelia Earhart set off on her record breaking and historic flight on January 11th at 4:40 in the afternoon. In contrast to the unheralded departure from Wheeler, 5,000 people lined the field at Oakland Airport in a tumultuous reception. Eighteen hours and fifteen minutes later, she landed at Oakland Airport.  The scene was jubilant. 

About her first airplane ride: As soon as we left the ground, I knew I had to fly.

• After midnight the moon set and I was alone with the stars. I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, and I need no other flight to convince me that the reason flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the esthetic appeal of flying.

• Adventure is worthwhile in itself.

• The most effective way to do it, is to do it.

• Worry retards reaction and makes clear-cut decisions impossible.

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