Race to Hawaii Cover

Race to Hawaii

The 1927 Dole Air Derby and the Thrilling First Flights That Opened the Pacific

Jason Ryan

Chicago Review Press, Chicago, 2018, 320 pages

Book Review published on: September 27, 2019

When we think of flying to the Hawaiian Islands from the continental United States today, it is not a cause for concern. As Jason Ryan illustrated in his book: “Not only was my flight to Hawaii safe, one might say it was also boring. Routine. Commonplace.” That is due to over one hundred years of technological advances in aircraft, navigation, and aircrew experience. However, in 1925 flying to Hawaii was akin to a trip to the moon. The pioneers that took on this challenge were required to fly over 2,400 miles of vast, featureless ocean with few visual reference points, potentially dangerous weather conditions, in questionable aircraft and woefully inadequate navigational equipment. Using 1920s technology the aircrews would have to fly and navigate to a three hundred-mile archipelago in a span of water that is millions of square miles wide. Navigational errors, mechanical problems, and weather could, and in some cases did doom aircrews to a watery grave.

Race to Hawaii is an account of three attempts to fly from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands between 1925 and 1927. The first attempt was by the U.S. Navy. The second, and successful attempt was by the U.S. Army. The third attempt was the actual 1927 Dole Air Race in which civilian aviators competed for a $25,000 prize to complete the journey. Each one of these attempts were characterized by different personalities, approaches, and ultimately their own unique outcomes. The book expertly captures the daunting task, the aviators as pilots and human beings, the outside influences and support, and the eventual fates of all who attempted flying across the Pacific Ocean. It is instructive to the reader on how meticulous planning and preparation made the unthinkable achievable.

Race to Hawaii is an exhaustively researched work. The author combed archives, museums, and libraries evaluating archival sources, first person accounts, news reels, newspapers, and artifacts to create an engaging narrative of this period. Ryan’s work captures the heroic feats, deadly blunders, and pioneering spirit of the early aviators that flew in hopes of getting there first. The story also reminds readers of the inherent dangers of flying and navigating across the ocean and how far we have come to make what was once all but impossible, now routine.

The book is separated into three parts associated with the three attempts. This is a logical approach to organize the book. However, due to the numerous personalities and events happening simultaneously, particularly in the later portion of the book, the parts can get confusing and muddled as the story bounces between several different efforts.

Race to Hawaii is technical enough to describe the challenges of the 1920s while engaging enough to the average reader with no aviation experience. Aviators, historians, and scholars will enjoy this fantastic work. Race to Hawaii is also recommended to military and civilian leaders who are taking on never attempted tasks and instructive to those who would use competition as a vehicle for innovation and achievement.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jacob A. Mong, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas