The Aircraft

Pan American Airways used three types of four-engine, long range flying boats in establishing transpacifc service in the 1930s. A single Sikorsky S-42 flew the Pacific survey flights and was later used for passenger service on the Manila-Hong Kong leg. In 1935, the Martin M-130 was delivered. Only three were made and were to be used exclusively in the Pacific. One M-130, named the China Clipper, was chosen for the historic first regularly scheduled transpacific flight of November 22, 1935. It achieved instant worldwide fame. The larger and most luxurious of the flying boats, the Boeing 314 models, were introduced in 1939. While the Boeings had their own individual clipper names, the fame of the China Clipper was so profound that its name became a generic term for all of Pan American's Pacific fleet. In the public's mind, it was synonymous with any of the transpacific flying boats regardless of their manufacturer. All across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Hong Kong, one would point skyward and call out, "Here comes the China Clipper!".

Boeing 314

In 1936 the Boeing Company of Seattle, Washington, secured a contract with Pan American to produce six flying boats capable of transporting a 10,000-pound load 2,400 miles at 10,000 feet while cruising at 150 miles per hour into a thirty mile per hour head wind. Passenger luxury was also a priority. Six of the great flying boats were delivered in 1939 and put into service over the Pacific and Atlantic. In 1942 the B314 Pacific Clipper made a 31,000-mile flight around the world.


Performance Data

Wing Span 152 ft.
Length 106 ft.
Height 28 ft.
Wing Area 2,867 sq. ft.
Gross Weight 82,500 lbs.
Empty Weight 50,000 lbs.
Engine Type Wright Cyclone GR-2600
Engine Power 1,500 hp.
Passenger Capacity 74 day, 36 night
Crew 10-16
Fuel Capacity 4,200 gals.
Cruise Speed 150 mph.
Range 3,500 mi.

Martin M-130

Responding to Pan American’s need for a  flying boat with a greater range and carrying capacity than any aircraft to date, the Glenn L. Martin Company of Middle River, Maryland, began building Model M-130 in 1932. Three of the all-metal, high wing flying boats were delivered during 1935 and 1936. The M-130 China Clipper inaugurated Pan American’s transpacific airline service on November 22, 1935 flying from San Francisco Bay to Manila Harbor via Hawaii. By mastering the 2,410 miles from California to Hawaii, the longest segment of the transpacific route and the world’s most challenging route in commercial aviation, the China Clipper eliminated the last barrier to global air transport.

Performance Data

Wing Span 130 ft.
Length 91 ft. 10
Height 24 ft.
Wing Area 2,315 sq. ft.
Gross Weight 52,000 lbs.
Empty Weight 25,363 lbs.
Engine Type Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasps 52AG5G
Engine Power 830 hp
Passenger Capacity 41 day, 18 night
Crew 5-7
Fuel Capacity 4,077 gals.
Cruise Speed 130 mph.
Range 3,200 mi.

Sikorsky S-42

The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation of Stratford, Connecticut, delivered ten model S-42 aircraft to Pan American between 1934 and 1937. With long-range modification they met the clients demand for “a high speed, multi-motored flying boat having a cruising range of 2,500 miles against 30 mile per hour head winds, and providing accommodation for a crew of four with together with at least 300 pounds of mail.” The S-42 flew the survey flights for the transpacific routes from 1935 to 1937. It was later used for passenger service between Manila and Hong Kong.

Performance Data

Wing Span 114 ft.
Length 68 ft. 8 in.
Height 17 ft.
Wing Area 1,330 sq. ft.
Gross Weight 38,000 lbs.
Empty Weight 19,000 lbs.
Engine Type Pratt & Whitney Hornet S 5 DIG
Engine Power 750 hp.
Passenger Capacity 32
Crew 4
Fuel Capacity 1,240 gals.
Cruise Speed 145 mph.
Range 1,200 mi.
Modified Ranges 2,540 & 3,000 mi.

Photos by Pacific Aerial Surveys, a division of HJW GeoSpatial, Oakland, CA.  Colorized by Bob Kirouac.