The Story of the Real Oahu (continued...)
This was the first photo from old Honolulu Airport I found in the collection. It was dated January, 1951 which was hopeful, and yet I did not wish to jinx myself. It's just a picture of the tower, I told myself. Color shots from this era were rare indeed but not non-existent. I noted the slide number and kept looking.
More airport shots appeared, such as this one of the SkyRoom Restaurant and its wonderful al fresco dining area. Nothing like mixing a little 100/130 octane avgas and oil smoke into your hot salami sandwich with barbeque sauce. This was good stuff, providing me with excellent views of the old airport layout but I wondered whether Margo had any interest in actual airplanes. The next photo I discovered answered that question. The slides were slightly out of order so I had to click through a page or two to find it.
Now we were talking! Margo was present for the arrival of the US Trust Territories new High Commissioner, Elbert Duncan Thomas, who happened to fly in on United. So we had a Stratocruiser at last--a United one too--and the date was promising. My mouth went dry as I hunched over my laptop and rapidly searched the collection database for similar photographs. What plane was this Margo?
There was ol' Elbert himself walking behind the captain down the air stairs from the Mainliner. But which Mainliner? I clicked through another two pages of unrelated photos, pictures of a lei-laden Thomas being greeted by the brass and the press at the gate...and then stopped. Margo had turned her attention to a group of PR photographers taking shots of five women standing on a gangway holding pink leis. What they were doing with them did not immediately register with me because all of my attention was on the little number at the top of the photo.
That was a zero! Presumably only one Mainliner Stratocruiser could possibly have had a zero at the end of its aircraft registry. It certainly seemed as if I had stumbled onto something, yet all I had was one number and part of another. I found myself begging Margo to lift her camera just a little bit higher to better frame her picture, and then on the next page of photos, she did!
I took a moment to absorb what I had found. I had been hunting photos of this aircraft for ages, only to find it by accident while searching for an old bowling alley. The images were not the clearest, age and some neglect had taken a toll, but there was no mistaking the number on the tail. Unlike the fake 'Oahu's I had come across, that CAA registry number stayed with the aircraft its entire life, as unique as a tattoo. The only disappointment was that she never photographed the nose and its authentic OAHU crest, but never mind, Margo had come through. I suddenly felt sad that she had passed on because I would have gladly sent her a dozen roses and a box of chocolates. Thank you Margo Duggan! Your slides now made it possible to actually see the aircraft I had pictured so many times in my mind's eye while writing the novel.
I can understand how this may not seem like much to the average person but to an aviation enthusiast finding any kind of new material on a 'lost' aircraft is like treasure hunting. The payoff isn't big in terms of notice but the satisfaction I received from uncovering the only known documented pictures of the 'Oahu' is its own reward. My hope is that more complete images of the aircraft will turn up someday, perhaps even the pictures taken of the models after that milestone 10,000th crossing, for every new image helps to tell its story. There is another picture in the University of Hawaii Manoa libraries where part of the plane is visible, a black and white shot taken by the Honolulu Advertiser staff photographer of High Commissioner Thomas wearing a lei surrounded by dignitaries, but one only sees the left wing and tail. It lacks the depth of Duggan's color slides.
The final Strat shot taken by Margo was of the partially extended left wing flap right after take off. From the order of the slides and the time of day it's possible she flew out on board the same airplane High Commissioner Thomas had arrived in. The 'Oahu'. For the moment there is no way to know.
I end this tale with a few more tantalizing pictures. They are stills taken from a United Airlines promotional film short made in early 1950. The quality is poor and the digital capture that is presently available does not help much but there was one interesting sequence where a United Stratocruiser pulled away from San Francisco's old Pan American terminal. (Once located near the coast guard station on the north side of the airport and itself hard to find pictures of!) The airplane wore OAHU on the side but we know now that doesn't mean much. Yet at one point when the nose was filmed straight on I saw something, a serial number that appeared to read '7230', short for 377 and N13230. There is no way to be sure with such a low quality image and perhaps I only see what I want to see but...well. You take a look.