Age no barrier for historic aircraft

Speaking to long-time pilot Merle Clawson as he inspects the 90-year-old Bellanca aircraft, his passion for the machine is obvious.

"Everybody that flies in this airplane gets out with a tear in their eye. It's just a beautiful piece of equipment."

The equipment he's talking about is the jewel in the Hawaiian Airlines crown. The airline may have a modern fleet on a network that spans the Pacific Ocean, but its most valuable aircraft isn't its newest, or biggest - but its oldest and smallest.

It's the plane that started it all in the 1920s when air travel was still a relatively new concept, particularly in Hawaii.

The Bellanca first took off in 1920.
The Bellanca first took off in 1920. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Hawaiian Airlines decided the best way to get people used to the idea of flying was to get them off the ground and into the air. 

For $5, Honolulu locals could take a sightseeing tour over Oahu.

On its first day of operation in October 1929, 76 passengers took to the skies in the Bellanca - no mean feat given that it could only take five passengers at a time.

Another 5000 people crammed onto the airfield to watch the aerial spectacle.

Time moved on and so did the Bellanca. It was sold - and sold again - along the way becoming the first passenger plane to fly for another US carrier - Alaska Airlines.

It was eventually parked up in a barn in Oregon for what could have been the end of its life.

In 2009 Hawaiian Airlines rediscovered the aircraft and had it restored to its original beauty.

Now 90 years on, the Bellanca is back once again on the sightseeing route - providing trips for airline employees and their families.

The Bellanca looks completely new - right down to the "new car" smell of its snug interior.

Captain Clawson has been flying the Bellanca for nearly four years, and if he has his way he won't be handing over the controls to someone else anytime soon.

"It's the best flying job I've ever had. It's the only flying job I've had in the last 45 years where I haven't wanted to blow my brains out after only six months."