Photo by Pacific Aerial Surveys, a division of HJW GeoSpatial, Oakland, CA.  



The year is 1935. As Pan American Airways plans its historic attempt to conquer the Pacific, the world is in a deep economic depression. Franklin Roosevelt has just been elected President of the United States – and will remain so for an unprecedented 4 terms.

There are only 48 states in the Union. Alaska and Hawaii will not be added for almost 30 years. Prohibition has been repealed and thanks to Hollywood, New York's Empire State building will forever have King Kong associated with it.

The establishment of the trans-Pacific route by Pan American Airways, a mere 32 years after the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk success, overcame the greatest technological, geographical and navigational challenges of the day.

Their fleet of flying boats captured the world’s imagination as they ushered in the age of global air travel.

Pan American World Airways' fabled China Clipper left Alameda Marina, San Francisco on November 22, 1935. Under the command of Captain Edwin C. Musick, the flight would reach Manila via Honolulu, Midway, Wake, and Guam. The inauguration of overseas airmail service and commercial air flight across the Pacific was a significant event for both the United States and the world.


The Clipper name was the brainchild of Juan Trippe (CEO of Pan American World Airways) himself. Trippe felt the flying boats shared a close relationship with the ships of the nineteenth century. Many of the same problems of buoyancy, equilibrium and streamlining that had faced the marine architects of the century before had to be solved on the drawing boards of the aircraft designers as well.

Flying Clippers became one of the most famous names in aviation history. Many of the flight paths of these magnificent flying boats were based on navigational clues that originated in the old Clipper sailing ship logbooks. And the Flying Clipper pilots had to keep the same keen "weather eye" that enabled the salty captains of the Clipper Ship era to sail their way to a living legend. Even after the age of the flying boats had ended, Pan Am continued to name their land based planes Clippers.


November 22, 1935: Alameda, California. Captain Edward Musick and First Officer R.O.D. Sullivan stand next to the "China Clipper" before it leaves San Francisco for Manila with the first transpacific airmail. On the ground, left to right are: Postmaster General James A. Farley, Assistant Postmaster General Harllee Branch, and Pan Am President Juan Trippe.