Bucket List: Hawaiian Islands – FLYING Magazine

We are used to old mountains, as many people in the world make their homes in those that were formed millions or billions of years ago. But the mountains that make up the Hawaiian island chain are more recently formed, rising in layers from the ocean floor and built by flowing lava. Erosion from rain and wind has cut the folds we want, especially on the windward sides of the islands. Looking across their heights from beneath the wings of a Cessna 210, we see what ancient Earth must have been like to witness these dark evergreen mountains in their youth. The islands get younger as we fly south and east along the chain from Kalaeloa/John Rodgers Field (PHJR) near Honolulu, where we are based for our visit . The island of O’ahu where Honolulu is located is three million years old. Moloka’i is 1.3 million years old, as is the western side of Maui, but the eastern half of the island is only 750,000 years old. A new island, Lō’ihi, will break the surface southeast of the Big Island of Hawai’i in an estimated 50,000 years. Only 3,000 feet to go.

The Hawaiian Islands conjure up dreams of paradise for many of us around the world, but mostly for those who call this volcanic spray in the Pacific Ocean home. And by flying around it, you get a perspective that few tourists get.

Pilots from all corners of the Earth visit Charles Lindbergh’s grave near Hana and leave tokens. [Credit: Stephen Yeates]

Flying O’ahu

Unless you charter a jet with legs to cross half an ocean, or take a life-changing ferry flight, you’ll arrive in Hawai’i at one of four major airports. Most visitors fly into Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (PHNL) in Honolulu. While Kalaeloa was the main airport, the larger and newer PHNL brings you a little closer to the city where nearly a third of Hawaii’s population resides.

Although there is general aviation activity at PHNL, most light aircraft at O’ahu’s base at Kalaeloa or Dillingham Airfield (PHDH), also known as Kawaihāpai, on the North Shore . The state of Hawai’i owns the islands’ public-use airports, and hangar space is at a premium, as you can imagine. The way the state handles hangar leases makes most of our aircraft accommodations on the mainland feel generous. According to resident pilots, the state can terminate the hangar lease with 30 days’ notice without cause, making it difficult to run a business.

A great first day of flying, after recovering a bit from the flight from the continental US or elsewhere, is arriving in O’ahu, departing from Honolulu International or Kalaeloa. Showers of rain arrive every day, but often stay in the highlands, making VFR days ideal for a scenic visit.

As you fly around the island, you’ll find Diamond Head, Sacred Falls, Kāne’ohe Bay, the North Shore, and you can choose to turn clockwise or counterclockwise. The drive along O’ahu’s windward side, north of Kāne’ohe Bay, takes you past Kualoa Ranch, where Jurassic Park was filmed in the early 1990s. It’s not hard to imagine raptors joining you to fly over the highlands or you might look down to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex trampling the green acres below.

You can also choose to end your circumnavigation with a return to Wheeler Army Airfield (PHHI) on the island’s high central plain and the Dole pineapple fields. You’ll return to the Honolulu Metro with a descent to Pearl Harbor and Ford Island, where the USS Arizona rests in memory, and you may see a few rainbows along the way.

Rain showers arrive every day, but often stay in the highlands, making VFR days ideal for a scenic island tour and catching a rainbow or two on your lens. [Credit: Stephen Yeates]

On land, the Pearl Harbor Air Museum on Ford Island attracts airmen, but some planning is required as you are not allowed to bring a single bag onto the active military base at this time. Your journey begins at the visitor center to the base, where buses take you to the museum, or the USS Arizona or USS Missouri, where the Japanese command signed the terms of surrender at the end of World War II. You must check everything except your phone and camera (no bag) for a small fee, as visitors are warned not to leave valuables in their cars. Although violence is rare on the islands, petty theft is not.

Dillingham, a military airfield leased to the state for public use, has been under the specter of closure, but for now that threat has subsided. That’s good news for those based there, as well as the skydiving and glider operations that call the airport home. If you’re flying over from the other side, keep an eye out for the active drop zone, and maybe stop by Skydive Hawai’i or the Pacific Skydiving Center for a jump of your own.

Flying Maui and Moloka’i

From O’ahu, it’s easy enough to cross the cobalt blue stretches of water to the Neighbor Islands, as the locals know them. A highly recommended trip takes you along the north shore of Moloka’i, which lies between O’ahu and Maui, and over the impressive cliffs of Moloka’i. If you want to land in Moloka’i, there are essentially two options: Moloka’i Main Airport (PHMK) or Kalaupapa (PHLU). The latter is located on the north shore of the island and is adjacent to the former leprosy colony to which Hansen’s disease patients were exiled in the 1960s. A few residents remain and those landing in Kalaupapa must stay on airport property – no services.

It’s not too far from these epic cliffs to Maui, where you can easily spend several days venturing out on hikes to the main shield volcano, Haleakalā, and surfing, or eating, drinking and relaxing. The main international airport, Kahului (PHOG), is also home to a resident GA population, including Maui Aviators. Owner Jon Muralt moved to Maui about 25 years ago, and maintains a pair of Cessna 172s available for rent after a short outing (see “Renting a Plane in the Islands” below), as well as a flight school .

With a 172, you can fly to Hana (PHHN) on the northeast tip of Maui, skipping the coastal road to the place best known to pilots as the final resting place of Charles Lindbergh. The famous aviator and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, moved to Maui in the 1950s to gain some privacy and explore the natural world that intrigued them as much as aviation did. When they made the move, the remoteness of their island home was made starkly clear by the often impassable winding four-wheel-drive road to get there.

Now, the road is paved, but the 36-mile journey still takes almost two and a half hours to travel. It is wonderful, though, and interspersed with waterfalls and breathtaking views. If you’re driving, pick up lunch at the Paia Fish Market, a few miles to Hana on Highway 36 after you leave Kahului Airport.

Lindbergh’s grave is on the grounds of the quiet and modest Palapala Ho’omau Church, about 8 miles beyond Hana, where he was buried after dying of cancer in 1974. The pilots who have come before they have left small talismans, such as airlines and military wings. , as well as miniature model airplanes. If you want to explore further, nearby Wai’ānapanapa State Park uses a reservation system, so plan ahead if you plan to hike or do other activities during your visit to Hana.

Flying to the big island

Back in Earth science class in high school, you may have learned about the world’s eight terrestrial biomes, from humid tropical forests to arid subtropical deserts. Hawai’i is home to seven of these eight, and nowhere on the islands is the line between dry and wet as distinct as it is on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

If a visitor lands at Ellison Onizuka Kona International (PHKO) on the west coast, they will see the black, almost foreboding landscape left bare by the volcanoes that still erupt on this, the largest of the islands. If, on the other hand, you land first at Hilo International (PHTO) on the east coast, you’ll go straight down into what the locals call “the jungle.” Inland is Waimea, and the town lies almost on the dividing line between lava and jungle. Waimea-Kohala Airport (PHMU) hosts local resident aircraft, and ‘Upolu (PHUP) at the northernmost point is the scene of an annual flight.

Whichever way you arrive, there are volcanoes and caves to explore inland, along with excursions to various parts of the island. Every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Hilo Farmers Market is bursting with produce, dry goods and crafts to peruse. The Kaumana Caves make an interesting stop on the way down the island’s Saddle Road, Route 200, a little over 4 miles outside of Hilo.

Fly your plane to Hawaii

Our mount for the mission flew on its own wings. Elizabeth, photographer Jim Barrett’s trusty 1962 Cessna 201B, has been his faithful companion for 17 years. When she made plans to move to Hawaii in 2021, she knew she had to come, and after extensive interior paneling and fresh paint on the outside, she couldn’t bear the thought of taking it apart to send her to Honolulu sooner. container. So he began planning his most epic flight ever.

Barrett has completed many long-duration flights using the 210’s factory-installed extended-range tanks, often making the trip to Oshkosh, Wis., from its previous base in Orlando, Fla., in seven straight hours. But that 2,104-nm journey would take twice as long if the winds were favorable: to go from Watsonville, Calif. (KWVI), the closest point on the mainland, to its new home base at Honolulu’s Kalaeloa/John Rodgers Field (PHJR) .

He carried a flexible ferry tank bladder that gave him an additional 66 gallons of fuel on top of the 80 gallons. Elizabeth usually drink from He set up a then-required HF radio with head-to-tail and tail-to-wing wire antenna, but used his InReach subscription to relay messages to his flight crew on the ground, friend William Diaz.

After a couple of test flights to get the plane from Orlando to the West Coast, Barrett waited more than two months to get the right weather and winds for the trip. After making the decision to launch, it departed at 6:16 AM Pacific Time and landed at PHJR at 6:16 PM Hawaii Time on June 6, 2021. with 15.2 hours in his record book. During the crossing, he spoke to several airline crews: the most frequently asked question? “How did you fit your drawers on that plane?” Arriving in Honolulu airspace, ATC had a review of his direct flight plan, to which he said, “You can’t.” Although he had plenty of fuel (he landed with 21 gallons remaining), he was in no mood to zigzag the last few miles to his destination.

He kissed the ground outside the hangar and took a picture of the moment…Elizabeth he is now a permanent resident of Hawaii.

[Credit: Stephen Yeates]

Rent a plane in the Islands

Several companies offer instruction, departures, and/or plane rentals for your visit to Hawaii. Please check their respective websites for aircraft availability, requirements and hours of operation.

  • Maui Aviators (PHOG)
  • Barbers Point Flight School (PHJR)
  • George’s Aviation Services (PHNL)
  • Lani Lea Flight School (PHNL)
  • Hawaii’i Flight Adventures (PHKO)
  • Tropicbird Flight Service (PHKO)
  • For scenic island helicopter tours: Rainbow Helicopters (PHNL)


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