|Site of the China Clipper flight departure|
Martin model 130 China Clipper class flying boat.
|Location||Alameda Naval Air Station, Alameda, California|
|Designated||November 5, 1985|
The China Clipper flight departure site is listed as California Historical Landmark number 968.It is the site from which Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) initiated trans-Pacific airmail service on November 22, 1935. A flying boat named China Clipper made the first trip, and the publicity for that flight caused all flying boats on that air route to become popularly known as China Clippers. For a few years, this pioneering mail service captured the public imagination like the earlier Pony Express, and offered fast luxury travel like the later Concorde.
In 1927, wetlands on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay were filled to form an airport with an east/west runway, three hangars, an administration building, and a yacht harbor. By 1930, United States Army Air Corps operations referred to the site as Benton Field. Pan Am used the yacht harbor as their California terminal for trans-Pacific flights beginning in 1935. On 1 June 1936, the city of Alameda, California gave the airport to the United States government a few months before the Army discontinued operations from the field. Congressional appropriations for construction passed in 1938 and allowed naval air station operations to begin on 1 November 1940. Pan Am shifted their terminal to Treasure Island for the duration of the Golden Gate International Exposition in anticipation the island would become San Francisco's airport following the exposition.The United States Navy took over Treasure Island when the exposition ended, and San Francisco municipal airport was built at Mills Field; so the Pan Am flying boat Clippers used Navy terminal facilities for the remainder of their service lives. The site is now part of the Alameda Naval Air Station.
The initial flight carried only air mail, but passenger service began in October 1936, with three Martin M-130 flying boats named Hawaii Clipper (NC14714), Philippine Clipper (NC14715), and China Clipper (NC14716). The route from San Francisco Bay, via Pearl Harbor, Midway Atoll, Wake Island, and Guam to Manila Bay required six days with approximately sixty hours of flying time at a cruising speed of 130 miles per hour. Each flying boat offered spacious accommodation for approximately a dozen passengers and typically carried two crews, with the second crew being trained by the first in oceanic navigation and flight procedures. One-way fare was approximately $700.
Pilot of the initial airmail flight, Ed Musick, died two years later when Sikorsky S-42 Samoan Clipper exploded over Samoa in January, 1938. Hawaii Clipper disappeared westbound from Guam to Manila in July, 1938.There were unsubstantiated rumors of Japanese involvement, similar to those arising from the disappearance of Amelia Earhart a year earlier. Earhart's navigator, Fred Noonan, had been navigator aboard China Clipper during the initial airmail flight. Boeing 314 flying boats Honolulu Clipper (NC18601) and California Clipper (NC18602) joined the surviving Martin M-130s in 1939, and Pacific Clipper (NC18609) and Anzac Clipper (NC18611) extended service to New Zealand and Australia in 1941.
Philippine Clipper returned to Wake when it received news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and was strafed floating on the lagoon when Japanese planes attacked Wake. Despite 96 bullet holes, the Clipper successfully returned to California. Pacific Clipper was in Auckland, New Zealand at the time of the attack, and its crew opted to return to the United States westbound rather than retrace its normal route. Its January 1942 arrival in New York marked the first circumnavigation of the globe by commercial aircraft.
The United States Navy assumed control of the Clippers in 1942, although Pan Am crews continued to fly the aircraft. Clippers flew between California and Hawaii and to Australia via Canton Island, Fiji, Nouméa, and New Zealand while the Western Pacific was controlled by Japan. Clippers would sometimes divert to Clear Lake Outlying Field when weather was unsuitable for landing on San Francisco Bay.Philippine Clipper crashed southwest of Ukiah, California, while carrying Pacific Fleet Submarine Force commander Robert English and his senior staff from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco during a January 1943 storm. It took search crews more than a week to locate the aircraft crash site on a mountain near Boonville, California. China Clipper, last of the three Martin M-130s, crashed in Trinidad in January 1945. Honolulu Clipper, the first of twelve Boeing 314s built, was still flying for the Navy in November 1945 when it successfully landed 650 miles east of Oahu after losing power in two engines. Aircraft mechanics from the escort carrier Manila Bay were unable to repair the engines at sea. The seaplane tender San Pablo attempted to tow the flying boat into port; but Honolulu Clipper was damaged in a collision with the tender and intentionally sunk by perforating the hull with 1200 20mm Oerlikon shells after salvage was deemed impractical.
Surviving Clippers returned to civilian ownership after the war, but the era of the long-range commercial flying boat had passed. Large runways had been constructed around the world for heavy bombers, and military bomber technology was rapidly adapted for commercial airline service without the dangers and inconvenience of water landings.
Pan American World Airways, originally founded as Pan American Airways and commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal and largest international air carrier and unofficial flag carrier of the United States from 1927 until its collapse on December 4, 1991. It was founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. The airline is credited for many innovations that shaped the international airline industry, including the widespread use of jet aircraft, jumbo jets, and computerized reservation systems. It was also a founding member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global airline industry association.
China Clipper (NC14716) was the first of three Martin M-130 four-engine flying boats built for Pan American Airways and was used to inaugurate the first commercial transpacific airmail service from San Francisco to Manila in November 1935. Built at a cost of $417,000 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, it was delivered to Pan Am on October 9, 1935. It was one of the largest airplanes of its time.
The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was a large long-range airliner developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter military transport, itself a derivative of the B-29 Superfortress. The Stratocruiser's first flight was on July 8, 1947. Its design was advanced for its day; its innovative features included two passenger decks and a pressurized cabin, a relatively new feature on transport aircraft. It could carry up to 100 passengers on the main deck plus 14 in the lower deck lounge; typical seating was for 63 or 84 passengers or 28 berthed and five seated passengers.
The Boeing 314 Clipper was a United States long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. One of the largest aircraft of its time, it used the massive wing of Boeing's earlier XB-15 bomber prototype to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Twelve Clippers were built; nine were brought into service for Pan Am.
The Sikorsky S-42 was a commercial flying boat designed and built by Sikorsky Aircraft to meet requirements for a long-range flying boat laid out by Pan American World Airways in 1931. The innovative design included wing flaps, variable-pitch propellers, and a tail-carrying full-length hull. The prototype first flew on 29 March 1934, and, in the period of development and test flying that followed, quickly established ten world records for payload-to-height. The "Flying Clipper" and the "Pan Am Clipper" were other names for the S-42.
The Pacific Clipper was a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat famous for having completed Pan American World Airways' first around the world flight in December 1941-January 1942; it was also the first commercial plane flight to circumnavigate the world.
Naval Air Station Alameda was a United States Navy Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, on San Francisco Bay.
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The Sikorsky VS-44 was a large four-engined flying boat built in the United States in the early 1940s by Sikorsky Aircraft. Based on the XPBS-1 patrol bomber, the VS-44 was designed primarily for the transatlantic passenger market, with a capacity of 40+ passengers. Three units were produced: Excalibur, Excambian, and Exeter, plus two XPBS-1 prototypes.
Pago Pago International Airport, also known as Tafuna Airport, is a public airport located 7 miles (11.3 km) southwest of the central business district of Pago Pago, in the village and plains of Tafuna on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States.
The Martin M-130 was a commercial flying boat designed and built in 1935 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, for Pan American Airways. Three were built: the China Clipper, the Philippine Clipper and the Hawaii Clipper. All three had crashed by 1945. A similar flying boat,, named Russian Clipper, built for the Soviet Union, had a larger wing and twin fins.
Pan Am Flight 6 was an around-the-world airline flight that ditched in the Pacific Ocean on October 16, 1956, after two of its four engines failed. Flight 6 left Philadelphia as a DC-6B and flew eastward to Europe and Asia on a planned multi-stop trip. On the evening of October 15, 1956, the flight left Honolulu on a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Clipper named Sovereign Of The Skies. The accident was the basis for the 1958 film Crash Landing.
Pan Am Flight 7 was a westbound around-the-world flight originating in San Francisco that crashed in the Pacific Ocean on November 8, 1957, while flying to Honolulu, Hawaii. The aircraft assigned to the flight was a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser named Clipper Romance Of The Skies, and the crash killed all 36 passengers and 8 crew members. No radio reports of any emergencies were ever received from the crew of the flight, and the fate of the flight was not known until about nine hours after its last known radio transmission, when the plane, if it had still been flying, would have exhausted its fuel. Under the assumption that the plane could have survived a controlled landing on the ocean surface, the United States Coast Guard launched a massive search for the plane and any potential survivors. The week-long hunt became the largest search and rescue operation in the Pacific Ocean at the time. The bodies of 19 of the victims and pieces of the plane were eventually recovered from the ocean about 900 miles (1,400 km) northeast of Honolulu.
The Naval Air Transport Service or NATS, was a branch of the United States Navy from 1941 to 1948. At its height during World War II, NATS's totaled four wings of 18 squadrons that operated 540 aircraft with 26,000 personnel assigned.
Pan Am Flight 1104, trip no. 62100, was a Martin M-130 flying boat nicknamed the Philippine Clipper that crashed on the morning of January 21, 1943, in Northern California. The aircraft was operated by Pan American Airways and was carrying ten US Navy personnel from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to San Francisco, California. The aircraft crashed in poor weather into mountainous terrain about 7 mi (11 km) southwest of Ukiah, California.
Pan Am Flight 526A, a Douglas DC-4, took off from San Juan-Isla Grande Airport, Puerto Rico, at 12:11 PM AST on April 11, 1952 on a flight to Idlewild International Airport, New York City with 64 passengers and five crew members on board. Due to inadequate maintenance, engine no. 3 failed after takeoff, followed shortly by engine no. 4. Nine minutes after takeoff, the aircraft ditched in rough seas 11.3 miles NW of San Juan Airport, broke apart and sank after three minutes. Panicking passengers refused to leave the sinking wreck. 52 passengers were killed, and 17 passengers and crew members were rescued by the USCG. After this accident it was recommended to implement pre-flight safety demonstrations for over-water flights.
Hawaii Clipper was one of three Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boats. It disappeared with six passengers and nine crew en route from Guam to Manila, on July 28, 1938.
Honolulu Clipper was the prototype Boeing 314 flying boat designed for Pan American Airways. It entered service in 1939 flying trans-Pacific routes.
The Seaplane Baby Clipper NC 16933 Crash took place in Rio de Janeiro on August 13, 1939. The aircraft, owned by Pan Am, was flying Miami-Rio, with stops in the cities of Antilla, Port-au-Prince, San Pedro de Macorís, San Juan, Port of Spain, Georgetown, Paramaribo, Cayenne, Belém, São Luís, Fortaleza, Natal, João Pessoa, Recife, Maceió, Aracaju, Salvador, Caravelas and Vitória. This would be the first accident of a Pan Am aircraft in Brazil.