Lester J. Maitland, Pilot of First Plane from Mainland to Hawaii
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Aviation pioneer Lester J. Maitland, who in 1927 became the first pilot to fly from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii, died at age 91.
Maitland died Tuesday night at a 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 copilot-navigator Albert F. Hegenberger flew a three-engine Fokker dubbed 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 equipment they have today,″ said Hankey.
The two Army lieutenants made their flight just a month after Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, and thus didn’t receive the fame won by the pilot of the Spirit of St. Louis, Hankey said.
But Maitland and Hegenberger were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and were feted at a huge celebration in Honolulu.
Hegenberger retired as a major general in 1949 and 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.
He left the islands with Gen. Douglas MacArthur but asked to be assigned immediately to a combat bomber group, Hankey said.
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.
Maitland, who left the military with the rank of brigadier general, became director of aeronautics in Wisconsin in 1949. He took a similar state position in Michigan from 1950-56.
In 1956, Maitland abruptly changed his life when he was ordained an Episcopal minister in Iron River, Mich., where he was known as ″the flying preacher,″ Hankey said.
Maitland gave up flying sometime in the 1960s, Hankey said.
He retired to Red Bluff, Calif., but recently had been in a convalescent home in Arizona, where his daughter, Eileen Knoop lives.
In addition to his daughter, Maitland is survived by his wife, Kathleen and four grandchildren.