2 min read

Not a bad airplane for flying around Hawaii.

This story is not as old as I am, 74 years young. I suppose 1975 in Hawaii is ancient history by now, but it is as clear in my mind today, as it was then. At 29 years of age, the idea of flying an airplane was very exciting.

It all began at the Hawaii Country of the Air, based at Honolulu International Airport. I was scraping oxidation off airplane wings to help pay for lessons. One fine weather day, having acquired 10 hours of dual instruction, my instructor decided I would fly to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor for touch and gos.

The short hop to the island took no time at all. When I entered the traffic pattern, he said, “OK Steve, it’s time for you to solo.” I thought, well isn’t that just no warning?

After permission from the tower for a full stop, I landed and he got out. I went through the procedures and got airborne. This was my first solo trip around the pattern, or anywhere else solo for that matter.

This is where things got unusual. Turning final, the tower controller called me as I was descending and said go around. Someone had just landed ahead of me and broke something and had to taxi off the runway under duress. But the best was to come.

After pulling up, I went to the right, toward the navy base out over the harbor. While in a tight turn to reenter the downwind leg, I was flying right over the USS Arizona, in about a 45-degree bank, looking down at the sunken ship, thinking about what the Japanese pilots were looking at on December 7, 1941.

USS Arizona

Well look what’s hiding under the wing.

What made it special for me was the fact that my father was a survivor of the Arizona sinking, and later the sinking of the USS Lexington on the Coral Sea. In 2001, my family and I brought back his ashes to be interred on the Arizona with a full military funeral.

Finally getting around to completing my three landings, it was all done. My instructor must have been overly excited about everything, as he never signed my solo shirt. Good thing he signed me off in my logbook. Maybe he was worried about the rules I broke flying over a national monument. Truthfully, no one mentioned it, probably due to multiple special circumstances. Even now, the Navy invites my family every year on December 7th.

Just to mention, I was flying a Grumman AA-1B, the perfect plane to do tight turns over a battleship—open cockpit.

Steven Phraner
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12 replies
  1. Wayne Schneider
    Wayne Schneider says:

    Steven, Grummans were a blast to fly- especially with the canopy open. Your picture caught my eye. The tail number of the one I flew in the early 80’s was N6388L. Also blue with white stripes.

  2. Steve Phraner
    Steve Phraner says:

    Yes, Hawaii Country Club of the Air, just my usual bad typing. A few weeks later I got caught, on a flight from Maui to HNL, in a massive cloud of sugar cane burn and ended up on instruments for about 5 minutes. This with about 15 hrs. and no ifr training. I got a df steer just to make sure. It’s so beautiful flying between the islands.

  3. Ken Howell
    Ken Howell says:

    I also flew at Hawaii Country Club of the Air between 1976 and 1978. It was there that I got my ATP and MEI in their Cessna 310. I also flew the Tiger. If I recall correctly, the business was owned by an older woman who had been there during the Pearl Harbor attack. She carried an almost completely intact large caliber slug in her purse that had been dug out of a wall after the attack! This was just around the time that the reef runway was finished. I loved living in Hawaii and still count many Kamaaina among my friends.

  4. John K
    John K says:

    Sorry to hear that Steven was not able to pursue continue with aviation. I, too grew, grew up in Washington State and continue to live there and fly; though older than Steven.

  5. Ken Inouye
    Ken Inouye says:

    There are some things in life we never forget. Even though Steven was not able to complete his private pilot training, it was good that he did fly. That will be an experience for him to remember, and always keep close to his heart. Although the USS Arizona Memorial continues to rest peacefully in Pearl Harbor, RWY 4 on Ford Island no longer exists. A great story!

  6. Dan Gerges
    Dan Gerges says:

    That’s quite a story! I too trained in a Grumman AA-!B, out of San Carlos Airport south of San Francisco. I flew two Grummans out of that FBO, a plain Jane model and later a Battle of Britain camo model. Got my ticket in early 1976 at 40 hours. Soloed at Half Moon Bay. You never forget those times in the air!

  7. PoPilotJohn
    PoPilotJohn says:

    Just curious as to how those little planes GOT to HI…none had the fuel capacity to fly from mainland US to HI and as I recall none of them had mid-air refueling capability…?

    • Ken Inouye
      Ken Inouye says:

      Hi John. Light aircraft coming from the west coast can be either flown here, or disassembled, packed into a shipping container, and reassembled here at the airport. The ferry flight from California is done with aux fuel tanks placed within the fuselage. A light twin aircraft takes approximately twelve hours, and a single engine aircraft taking sixteen to twenty plus hours. It is a long flight, for sure, even with favorable winds. Additionally, a temporary HF comm radio is needed for position reporting. Ken

  8. Carl
    Carl says:

    Find a location with a LSA and get a Sport Pilot Certificate. You’ll need to study for the written [available on-line self paced and not really expensive], pass it, and scrub the rust off. I’d expect you should be able to complete it before the end of Summer.

  9. David
    David says:

    These posts bring back some memories. I soloed at Ford Island (obviously before it closed). Then I did my PPL with Don Frost in 1987. I read somewhere that Mr. Frost had passed away. That’s a loss of a great DPE.


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