Curtiss P–40 fighters were based at Mokuleia in 1941 and throughout World War II. By end of the war, the runway was extended to 9,000 feet, long enough for B–29 Superfortress bombers to land there in an emergency. In 1948, the airfield was named Dillingham Air Force Base, for Capt. Henry Dillingham, a B–29 airman killed in action over Japan.
Today, the airfield is leased from the U.S. Army to the Hawaii Department of Transportation. Recreational flying and skydiving businesses comprise the majority of the operations, with an occasional military training flight. Tourists arrive every morning at the airfield on the North Shore of Oahu to strap into a sailplane, fly in a powered hang glider, or drop from above during a tandem skydive. Honolulu Soaring has been giving scenic flights here since the 1970s. After being towed above the airfield, your sailplane (and pilot) will release from the towplane and catch the sea breeze to gain altitude along the ridge and then turn out over the ocean where you might see whales breaching. Gliding over the cool ocean is a downhill ride and you must turn back with enough altitude to glide to the ridge, where you can catch the ridge lift again. If you transition from ridge lift into a good thermal you might get high enough to see across the island, all the way to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, and Diamond Head.
Below, notice the remnants of berms that once protected American fighter airplanes when this was an auxiliary airfield for the American military during World War II.
As a spot to learn soaring, you can’t pick much better. The weather allows about 315 flyable days a year, so you won’t be grounded long while training here. A nonflying spouse will have plenty of sightseeing, beach-going, shopping, and dining to keep them busy. The nearby mountains have miles of hiking trails, just below your flight path. Two more soaring operations have recently set up business at Dillingham, each offering scenic flights and instruction.
In addition to soaring, Dillingham offers other aviation adventures, with two skydiving operators and flights in motorized hang gliders. Paradise Air offers lessons in Australian-built trikes. One or two people can ride along under a fabric Rogallo wing, powered by a pusher propeller and with the safety of a ballistic parachute.
Dennis K. Johnson is a freelance writer and pilot living in New York City.