A Columbia (SC) Aviator and His Stinson Detroiter Remembered

By Thomas Savage (1933-2018) and Ron Shelton

Paul Rinaldo Redfern -----The First Aviator to Solo the Caribbean Sea

·         At age 16 he built and flew in a biplane type glider on the outskirts of Columbia, S. C.     

·         In a sophomore industrial arts class at Columbia High School he built a full size biplane without an engine. It created a local sensation when displayed at the University of South Carolina, and resulted in his not graduating the following year with his senior class.

·         Because of his demonstrated skills and talent and with his parents’ permission he left the area upon the completion of his second year in high school to work as an inspector at the Standard Aircraft Factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  When the factory ceased production in February, 1919 he reentered high school in Columbia.

·         At Benedict College, where his father was on the faculty, he designed and assembled a small biplane from spare parts and a used WW I aircraft engine during his senior year in high school.

·         During this time he established the first commercial airfield in Columbia at the present site of Dreher High School. He soloed from this field in his small biplane.

·         After graduating from high school Paul Redfern earned his living as an aviator. In addition to his small biplane he acquired and flew a Curtiss Jenny JN-4 and a DeHavilland DH-4. He operated out of his airport in Columbia and later out of one he established in Toledo, Ohio.




A very large group of observers and supporters gathered to watch the departure of the
Stinson SM-1 from a runway on the beach at Sea Island, Ga. (Russell Maxey Collection)


Paul married Gertrude Hildebrand in Toledo, Ohio, in 1925. They lived in Toledo while Paul worked as an aviator for her father and operated an airfield he established in the area. They eventually moved to Savannah, Georgia when Paul accepted employment as an aviator with the United States Customs Department. Her last contact with Paul took place on August 25, 1927, just before he departed for his historic flight.  Gertrude and Paul did not have any children, and she never remarried. She died in 1981 and is buried in Detroit, Michigan.

Paul Redfern attempted to fly from Brunswick, Georgia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 1927, a distance of 4600 miles. If he had been successful he would have flown 1000 miles farther than Charles Lindbergh did in his flight to Paris three months earlier. Redfern did not arrive in Brazil and neither he nor his airplane has ever been located. He was twenty-five years old when he attempted this ill-fated flight for fame and fortune.