In October of 1910, Elbert and Malcolm Tuttle, ages 13 and 14, built and flew a glider, to become, as the Advertiser reported, “Honolulu’s First Bird-Men.”
The Tuttle brothers had arrived in Honolulu with their parents in 1909. Mr. Tuttle, an immigration official, Mrs. Tuttle, and the boys built their own home on 6th Avenue in Kaimuki. The brothers surfed, excelled at science, and studied aviation at Punahou. They rode to school on a motorcycle and built model airplanes as a hobby.
In the summer of 1910, using instructions from a magazine, the Tuttle boys built a 40-pound glider, 15 feet long and l8 feet across. Wooden supports separated two overlaid wings, and the lower wing had an opening with arm rests.
Sunday, October 12, had good trade winds. The boys carried the glider up to Kaimuki Crater. Elbert held the tail off the ground while Malcolm lifted the wings over his head and ran down the hill. On the third try, Malcolm flew the glider 10 feet into the air and 40 feet along the ground. Elbert captured the moment with his camera. The Advertiser compared the boys to the Wright Brothers.
The boys graduated from Punahou in 1914, and the family left Hawai‘i. Elbert became an Army Air Corps pilot and a lawyer and judge and still lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Malcolm, a civil engineer lived to 92. The flight was long forgotten, and others claimed to be the Islands’ first aviators—until 1966, when William Horvat published Above the Pacific. In fact, the Tuttle brothers were Hawai‘i’s aviation pioneers.
By Helen G. Chapin