With several helpers, Redfern assembled an airplane and transported passengers on day trips around the Carolinas. He became a noted stunt pilot at air exhibitions held throughout the Southeast.
Aviator. Redfern was born on February 24, 1902, in Rochester, New York, the son of Frederick and Blanche Redfern. The family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1910 after Paul’s father accepted a teaching position at Benedict College. From an early age the younger Redfern displayed considerable interest in aviation. In 1916, during his second year at Columbia High School, Redfern constructed a standard-sized wooden airplane, lacking only an engine. The following year he worked for the Army Air Corps as a production inspector at Standard Aircraft Company’s plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In February 1919 he returned to Columbia to complete high school.
With several helpers, Redfern assembled an airplane and transported passengers on day trips around the Carolinas. He became a noted stunt pilot at air exhibitions held throughout the Southeast. In 1925 Redfern met Gertrude Hildebrandt in Toledo, Ohio, while working for her father, and they were married that same year.
In 1926 the U.S. Customs Service in Savannah, Georgia, hired Redfern to be an aerial scout. However, he was ambitious to gain fame and fortune by undertaking an international solo air flight. In 1927 a group of prominent businessmen in Brunswick, Georgia, agreed to underwrite a flight from their city to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In June 1927 Redfern supervised the construction of a monoplane by the Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Detroit, Michigan. This aircraft, known as the Port of Brunswick, was painted primarily green and yellow–Brazil’s national colors.
At 12:45 p.m. on August 25 Redfern took off from Brunswick. Five hours later a seaplane spotted him approximately three hundred miles east of the Bahamas. At 3:30 p.m. on August 26 a Norwegian freighter, the Christian Krogh, sailing west of Trinidad encountered Redfern’s aircraft. The pilot dropped a canister into the water containing a handwritten note, which requested that the crewmen indicate the direction and the approximate distance to Venezuela’s northern coastline. Subsequently, Redfern was seen by numerous eyewitnesses when the plane passed over the Orinoco delta in Venezuela. Various craft sailing south along the Orinoco River noted the monoplane flying overhead. Additional sightings occurred at Ciudad Bolivar, a town deep in the Venezuelan interior. Several observers noted a conspicuous trail of black smoke coming from the aircraft. The last definitive sighting of Redfern was approximately one hundred miles south of Ciudad Bolivar, only two flying hours from northern Brazil.
By August 29 Redfern had failed to reach any of his proposed destinations in Brazil. Reports that he had landed at various Brazilian locales proved false. Rumors circulated for more than two decades that he was alive and being held prisoner by Indians within a remote locale along the upper Amazon River. Despite several search-and-rescue missions, Redfern and his airplane have never been found.
In an attempt to capitalize on the public fascination with Redfern, MGM Studio included his saga as a subplot within the 1938 adventure movie Too Hot to Handle. A street in Rio de Janeiro was named in Redfern’s honor. Although Redfern failed in his ultimate goal, he did achieve the first solo flight over the Caribbean. He also successfully completed the first nonstop air voyage between North and South America.
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