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Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats

Dining Room of Boeing Clipper

Dining Room of Boeing Clipper

Pan Am Clipper flying boats were the first true intercontinental passenger airplanes; they crossed the Atlantic and Pacific and circled Latin America in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The first Pan American flying boat to be called a Clipper was the Sikorsky S-40.  The plane was a rugged, capable aircraft that extended Pan Am’s routes around Latin America, but it had been built with old-fashioned tried-and-true technology, rather than modern technical innovations, and it’s high-drag design of exposed struts and wires earned it the nickname of “flying forest.”

The streamlined Sikorsky clipper that followed — the S-42 — was a much more modern airliner, and the S-42 was used both in regular service around Latin America, and also as a survey plane pioneering the trans-pacific routes that would be flown by the next advance in flying boat design, the Martin M-130.


The most famous Martin clipper, and perhaps the most famous flying boat of all time, was Pan American’s China Clipper, which made the first scheduled air mail flight across the Pacific, in November, 1935, flying from San Francisco to Manila with stops at Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake, and Guam.  The four engine Martin flying boat had a range of 3,200 miles, but was only able to carry 8-10 passengers on the longest leg of the flight, from California to Hawaii.  Passengers slept in individual berths on the overnight flight from San Francisco to Hawaii, and stayed in Pan Am hotels during their overnight stays at Midway, Wake, and Guam.

Boeing 314 Clipper

The B-314 Boeing Clipper, introduced in 1939, was the high point of flying boat design, and Pan Am began the world’s first heavier-than-air passenger service across the Atlantic ocean using the B-314 Boeing clipper.   (The German airship Hindenburg had pioneered regularly scheduled passenger flights between Europe and America three years earlier, in 1936.) The Boeing clipper had a range of 3,500 miles and could could carry 74 passengers in luxurious lounges and private sleeping compartments.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • David August 16, 2010, 3:54 am

    This is a very interesting site. I am a vehement plane watcher. However, it is more difficult to watch the planes at JFK in NYC since 9/11. When the Concorde was still flying and they took the Canarsie turn to land on runway 13L, it was like seeing a large bird. A beautiful site. Now it is the 747. I have not yet had the priviledge to see the A380 double decker. And runway 22L and right, it is in the customs parking area one has to park to watch them and it is only a few minutes before someone forces me to leave. But the planes are so very large. It is astounding to me, even after all these years, to see the planes, especially the 747’s, taxi so slow and they are so large and when given clearance the sound of those turbines roaring to life and the plane that was so large and travelling so slow was now taking off so fast and so heavy and yet they make it to the sky. Fascinating. I understand the dynamics of flying and have taken some lessons, but I am still amazed that they actually leave the ground. And I love to fly. I wish I had the chance more often.
    If anyone knows of any other sites for plane watchers like me (us), please email them to me or any groups or whatever online, I would be appreciative if urls would be sent to me.

  • Dick Blizzard April 4, 2011, 6:46 pm

    Aircraft I have flown: Navy – SNJ (T-6)Texan, SNB (C-45) S2F, T-34, T-28, T-33 Delta Airlines – DC-6, DC-7, DC-8, DC-9, CV-440, CV-880, B-727, B-757, B-767, L-100 (C-130), L-1011, MD-11

    I logged over 200 carrier landings, six in the SNJ and the rest in the S2F.

    I flew captain on all the Delta Airlines aircraft except the DC-6/7, and the Convair 880. If you would like to ask a question or comment, click the comment button on one of my website articles.

  • vaishnav August 2, 2012, 1:31 am

    the airline of pride !
    worked for it and served the clients and loaded full load of cargo of 100 tonnes on 747 ex mumbai. have loved the organisation, culture,treatment to customers and internal customers, was there to bid good bye at frankfurt airport when the last flight took place and later delta airlines took over.
    remembrance of life time to work with airline like Pan Am

  • Dieter Rapp Junior October 7, 2012, 10:44 pm

    “Artigo Maravilhoso”

    Parabens e saudaçoes,

    D.R.J,de Sao Paulo – Brazil

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