Lester J. Maitland, Pilot of First Plane from Mainland to Hawaii
Mar. 29, 1990
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Lester J. Maitland, who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1927 for his pioneer flight from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii, has died at age 91.
He died Tuesday night at a Scottsdale rest home, said family friend Tad Hankey of Indian Wells, Calif. The cause of death was not immediately known.
As an Army pilot, Maitland and co-pilot-navigator Albert F. Hegenberger flew a three-engine Fokker called the Bird of Paradise from Oakland, Calif., to Wheeler Field on Oahu in June 1927.
The 2,400-mile flight took 25 hours, 49 minutes and 30 seconds. Their navigation was aided by a radio beacon set up by the Army on the island.
''The big thing about that feat was to find the island. It didn't allow for any mistakes. They didn't have the (navigational) equipment they have today,'' Hankey said.
Both airmen received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The pair were celebrated at a huge reception in Honolulu.
Hegenberger died in 1983.
Born in Milwaukee on Feb. 8, 1899, Maitland joined the Air Corps in 1917. Hankey said Maitland was the first pilot to hit the 200-mph mark and received a congratulatory letter from Orville Wright.
During his military career he was an aide to Gen. Billy Mitchell and to the first secretary of the air, Truvee Davidson.
At the outbreak of U.S. involvement in World War II, Maitland was commanding officer of Clark Field in the Philippines when it fell to Japan.
Maitland became commanding officer of the 386th Bomber Group in Europe, where Hankey was his operations officer. The group, flying Martin B-26 bombers, was cited as the outstanding medium bomber group in the European theater, Hankey said.
After the war he became director of aeronautics in Wisconsin in 1949, and then took a similar state position in Michigan from 1950 to 1956.
Abruptly changing his life, he was ordained an Episcopal minister in Iron River, Mich., in 1956 and was known as ''the flying preacher,'' Hankey said.
He retired to Red Bluff, Calif., but recently had been in a convalescent home in Arizona, where his daughter, Eileen Knoop, lives.
Besides his daughter, Maitland is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and four grandchildren.