Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Shigeru Serikaku, Hawaiian Aviator

A fuzzy, many-generations-old photo of Shigeru Serikaku in front of his plane is one of the few images remaining of the adventurous issei from Sashiki, Okinawa. (Courtesy of the Serikaku family, via The Hawaii Herald)

As a 13-year-old boy growing up on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Shigeru Serikaku (1890-1971) learned about how the Wright Brothers – far away in the United States – had brought about the world’s first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight. Serikaku was intrigued by this history-making achievement and resolved that he would someday likewise take to the skies in a flying machine of his own.

Three years later, Serikaku immigrated with his family to what was then the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Within the next several years, he ended up settling in the community of Waipahu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and working as an automobile mechanic.

Serikaku’s dream of creating his own form of airborne transportation had never left him, however, and in 1913 – using all the spare time and money at his disposal – he began building a plane that he had designed. Dozens of local residents routinely made their way to Serikaku’s garage to watch him construct his aircraft, which he equipped with a four-cylinder engine built in France, and some of them even gave him cash to help defray expenses.

Finally, in 1914, Serikaku flew his completed plane into the skies above and circled several times before safely landing back on earth. Serikaku did more than fulfill a childhood dream that day; he also flew the first plane both constructed and designed in the future Aloha State.

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