The Pan Am Series – Part XIII: Farewell Boeing 314 and Hello DC-4

Ending the Flying Boat Era: The DC-4

Douglas DC-4 (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies' Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Douglas DC-4 (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

During 1936, Pan Am and the four main U.S. domestic airlines engaged in talks with Douglas Aircraft Company regarding the development of an airliner designed to carry more than 60 passengers with a range of 1000 miles. The result was the DC-4E, the first large airliner to feature a nose wheel as well as a main landing gear. The first flight was in June 1938. Unfortunately, the aircraft design did not meet the requirements of all of the five airlines and as a result it was scrapped and attention was switched to a smaller airliner, the DC-4.

DC-4E (Carl Malamud photo)

DC-4E (Carl Malamud photo)

The DC-4 initially went into production as a four-engine propeller-driven long-range commercial land plane. However, with the start of World War II, the focus switched to the military and the aircraft  was re-designated the C-54 for the Army Air Corps and the R5D for the Navy. The first flight was on 14 February 1942 and eventually over 1000 were built. During the war nearly 80,000 ocean crossings were made including a 250-strong armada that delivered two Army divisions to Japan from Okinawa after the Japanese surrender. The DC-4 also had a prominent role in the Berlin Airlift.

The aircraft proved to be a popular and reliable type, and its tricycle landing gear design allowed the fuselage structure to be stretched into the later DC-6 and DC-7 aircraft. Douglas continued production throughout the war and after. The aircraft was not pressurized, although it was an option.

Once hostilities were over, the C-54s and R5Ds were released and the world’s airlines scrambled for them. The U.S. airline industry went into high gear, and Pan Am was no exception, taking its first delivery on 3 November 1945. And for Pan Am, the acquisition of the DC-4 meant the end of the flying boat era, as described by Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft:

“In an epoch-making mission, Pan American dispatched a DC-4 on 21 October 1945 on a 25,000-mile survey flight to Japan, China, Southeast Asia and India. The message was clear. To underscore the point, Pan Am replaced its Boeing 314s on the California-Honolulu route with DC-4s. The daily flight took about 10 hours, compared with the Boeing’s 20, and the fare was reduced from $278 one way to $195. The era of the flying boat was at an end.”

End of an Era (Pan Am 1945 Annual Report)

End of an Era (Pan Am 1945 Annual Report)

Besides the U.S. carriers, airlines from all over the world acquired the DC-4. Among the many were SAS, Iberia, Swissair, Air France, Sabena, KLM, Aerolineas Argentinas and South African Airways, as well as Pan Am affiliates Panagra, Cubana and Avianca.

DC-4 in "bare metal" color scheme.

Clipper Westward Ho in “bare metal” color scheme.

Pan Am eventually acquired over 90 DC-4s and employed them throughout its world-wide route system. It was also the aircraft used on 19 January 1946, when Pan Am operated the first landplane passenger flight to Africa with Clipper Lightfoot to Leopoldville, Belgian Congo. Pan Am’s use of the DC-4 from the end of the war until it was withdrawn in the early 1960s was initially extensive but became more specialized. A look at the timetables from that era tells the story.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the inauguration of service to Africa.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the inauguration of service to Africa.

In the June 1948 timetable, the DC-4 was used on Pan Am’s round-the-world flights between Calcutta and California and saw service on European, Alaska and the Pacific routes. The aircraft was also used in Latin America, including on Pan Am’s signature flights 201/202 between New York and Rio de Janeiro.

Clipper Reindeer in Alaska (PAHF)

Clipper Reindeer in Alaska (PAHF)

By the April 1952 timetable, Pan Am had introduced the DC-6B and the DC-4 was used more sparingly. In Europe it was used primarily on the Internal German Services (IGS) and in the Pacific it operated for the most part between Tokyo, Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore. The aircraft was also used in the Alaska service, Bermuda service and for Tourist class service between New York and San Juan and Miami and Havana.

By the April 1956 timetable, the DC-7B and DC-7C had been introduced to Pan Am’s fleet and the DC-4’s operations became more and more specialized. For example, the aircraft was employed exclusively on the IGS, with limited service on the Alaska and Pacific routes, and in Latin America with Avianca flights out of Bogota, Colombia.

Clipper Dreadnaught at Frankfurt

Clipper Dreadnaught at Frankfurt

DC-4 at Berlin

DC-4 at Berlin

By the April 1959 timetable, jet service had been introduced. The DC-4s were still employed in the IGS and with very limited service in the Pacific, and also with Panagra in Latin America.

And in the September 1961 timetable, with minor exceptions, Pan Am’s DC-4 passenger service ended when the DC-6B replaced the venerable aircraft on the IGS.

The DC-4, along with the Constellation, played a big role in Pan Am’s early post-war operations. The aircraft enabled Pan Am to become a “world” airline and it was instrumental in establishing Pan Am’s presence in Europe, the Pacific and in Latin America.  Its range enabled it to make ocean crossings, which gave Pan Am and the United States a distinct advantage in the development and operation of long range, large capacity aircraft. Unfortunately the DC-4 was remembered for its lack of pressurization and slower speed. Nevertheless because of its massive production and wide deployment by both military and commercial operators, what should not be forgotten, as so succinctly said by Ron Davies, “is the record of the intercontinental airlines, U.S. and foreign alike, almost all of which  inaugurated their prestigious trunk routes with DC-4s.”

For a timeline of Pan Am “firsts” and significant historical events with images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of the book  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or from  Amazon.

CoverFinalDesign.Book1-June2011 small

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

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About James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin
James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin is an author, blogger, lecturer and consultant in air transportation, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster (London) and a Visiting Lecturer at Emirates Aviation University (Dubai). He is also a Contributing Editor to Airways Magazine. Previously at ERAU’s College of Business he taught Business Law, Business Law for Airline Managers, and Airline Management. He was also faculty advisor to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. As a lecturer he coordinates Aviation Law workshops for Aeropodium, a UK-based aviation-related events company and organizes Aviation Law Conferences at his law school, American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL). As a consultant he specializes in start-up airline strategies, airline marketing, regulatory compliance, licensing, aircraft sourcing, strategic planning, contracts, agency agreements and preparing business plans. An avid golfer, Mr Baldwin periodically writes a golf column for the Dorchester Banner. Previously Mr Baldwin served as Deputy General Manager for Legal and Regulatory Affairs of Star Airways, a small Turkish cargo airline of which he was a founder, and prior to that, the US Representative of Tajik Air, the international airline of the Republic of Tajikistan. In the latter capacity, he represented the airline’s interests before the US government, multilateral development banks and private US and international business interests. He also coordinated and prepared on behalf of the government of Tajikistan a request for a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency for a feasibility study on its air transport sector. Mr Baldwin also served as an officer in the US Navy (1974-1978) and the active US Naval Reserve (1978-1994). His latest assignments included service as a Naval Liaison Officer on tanker convoys during the Iran/Iraq War, Officer in Charge of military officers boarding, inspecting and briefing masters of merchant ships delivering military cargo during the first Gulf War and Commanding Officer of a US Naval Reserve unit. He is now retired with the rank of Commander. Mr Baldwin is the author of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline (BluewaterPress, 2011). He also co-edited, with Jeff Kriendler, former Vice President, Corporate Communications at Pan Am, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History through the Words of its People (BluewaterPress, 2011). He, along with Mr Kriendler, recently published Pan Am - Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer. Mr Baldwin obtained an A.B. (Bachelor’s) Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) and a J.D. (Juris Doctor) Degree from the AUWCL (Washington DC). He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the U. S. Golf Association, Cambridge Multi Sport (CMS) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He has traveled widely and includes among his interests distance running, golf, hill walking, sailing, model railroading, spectator sports, classical music and writing. He is married and resides in Maryland.

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