Imagination takes flight for Hutton Smith

Bruce Knight
Grand Bios
Little biographies of large lives
Bruce Knight / Special to the Sky-Hi News
Staff Photo |

Hutton Smith of Granby has long since retired and likes to drive around in his Jeep, but he misses what he really loved to do: fly!

Hutton’s family had hopped into their black 1941 Plymouth to have breakfast at a restaurant near Diamond Head on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. At breakfast they saw smoke rising out of the harbor to the northwest. Alarmed, they drove back to their home in the Nuuanu Valley, pushing buttons on the Plymouth’s radio. Half panicked announcers declared Pearl Harbor under attack but why and by whom!? At Hutton’s house planes were flying down the valley with the red rising sun of the Japanese Empire emblazoned on their wings. Their deadly mission was a complete surprise.

A projectile screamed through the branches of a monkey pod tree in the Smith’s yard. It hit a small house up the valley, the building exploded killing everyone inside.

“We knew those people, they were neighbors,” he said.

The U.S. navy was trying to fight back. Hutton’s parents had been on the USS Arizona having dinner with the captain and some business people the night before. Now it was ablaze and going down in the harbor. Nine-year-old Hutton and the American public were witnessing the day that would live on in “infamy”.

Growing up in Hawaii had its benefits for Hutton. Body surfing in the ocean, being a part of the outrigger canoe club and surfing the long boats in the swell with 10 people in them, the tropical environment. P-40 military planes flew overhead before the war; same as the Flying Tigers had with tiger mouths painted on the front. lt hadn’t been long ago that Charles Lindberg and Emilia Earhart had captured the world’s imagination. Hutton wanted to fly.

During and after the war, Hutton’s family boarded soldiers and civilians who had been bombed out. He met a lot of great people and later wondered what had become of them. He eventually enrolled at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo then went on to join the Air National Guard. He was going to fly!

George Ewing was his first flight instructor and Hutton was his best student. The day he first soloed in a Piper Super Cub he thought, “Wow, I can really do this!” The washout rate was up around 50 percent but Hutton was doing well in whatever plane they put him in. Some guys got airsick, disoriented or just plain fearful and didn’t make the cut.

The next plane they put him in after he soloed was the T-6 trainer. lt was a “tail dragger” with narrow landing gear up front so its center of gravity was very far back. The thing had a terrible tendency to spin around and do a “ground loop” if the pilot wasn’t good with the rudder pedals on take-offs and landings; Hutton dealt with it. He flew all manner of military aircraft; rotary engines (re-cips), radial engines, and early jet models. Some were mounted with multiple .50 caliber machine guns, others with rockets.

Once while landing a T-33 jet, a warning buzzer went off just before touching down. He’d forgotten to lower the landing gear, oops!

“We were young, stuff like that didn’t bother us.”

The rotary engines had a lot of torque with up to 3,650 horsepower and had a tendency to pull left until the airspeed was up, so the pilot had to be heavy on the right rudder until then.

After his military stint, Hutton got a job flying island to island for Hawaiian Airlines in Convair 340s and DC-3s.

“l loved the DC-3, greatest airplane ever built.”

At times the pilots working there got a R.O.N. (remain overnight) flight to Hilo and other islands.

“We weren’t angels, we had a lot of fun.” For more information about this and other flyboy stunts, you’ll have to talk to Hutton!

ln his flying years, Hutton flew more than 40 different kinds of aircraft and owned a number of them including Piper Cubs, a Cessna 195 with a radial engine, a Beechcraft Bonanza with the Vtail and a Mooney. One time in the Mooney he was getting a bit too comfortable and was landing with his socks on; he had thrown his shoes in the back. It all happened so fast he doesn’t exactly know if his foot came off the rudder and brake pedal or what.

“l went off the runway, hit a ditch, went into the woods, saw a tree go by and the engine was gone.”

He was OK but the plane was totaled. The insurance company covered it, so he went out and bought another plane! Ah, for the love of flying!

Hutton sold his last plane a while back, a Piper J-3 Cub. You might see him driving around Granby in a Jeep, though, dreaming of flying.

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