“Across the Pacific” Pan Am Documentary is Here!

Pan Am Historical Foundation Announces a New TV Series about the Birth of Transoceanic Air Travel

On 22 November 1935, nearly 85-years-ago, Pan American Airways’ brand-new flying boat, a Martin M-130, named the China Clipper, took off from San Francisco Bay and flew over the then unfinished Golden Gate Bridge heading west to its final destination, Manila, over 8,000 miles away. This event, as noted by the late R. E. G. Davies, noted author and former curator for air transport at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, was “one of the most noteworthy and historic dates in the history of transport”. 

China Clipper passing GG Bridge 1935

China Clipper passing unfinished Golden Gate Bridge (Pan Am Historical Foundation)

Before then, the only way to reach Asia from the US was by ship, a trip that took weeks. With the China Clipper, that all changed. Martin M-130s and later the Boeing 314s, would cross the Pacific in only five days, making overnight stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam. Below is the flight schedule from the June 1940 timetable:

June 1940 TransPacific services-1

Pacific flight schedules from June 1940 timetable (Author’s collection)

Crossing the Pacific was a revolutionary advance in global transport. But operating an airline across the vast ocean expanse posed lethal hazards. Many thought the idea was reckless, even foolhardy. It was nothing short of a breath-taking, win-or-lose all technical and commercial gamble.

On 18 May, American Public Television begins distribution of “Across the Pacific”, a new three-hour documentary series about this aviation milestone, and the trailblazing events that led up to it. The just-completed program is the work of Moreno/Lyons Productions, an independent Boston-based media company, working in association with the Pan Am Historical Foundation, Inc. (PAHF), the premier source of authoritative information about Pan American World Airways. Virginia Public Media, the program’s presenting PBS station, will premiere the series on May 21st.

How did Juan Trippe, the young visionary who led Pan Am from its start in 1927, manage to achieve this aviation breakthrough? It is a gripping story, replete with political intrigue and high-stakes financial gambles, of technological innovation and masterful organization, and of barriers overcome and dreams achieved. Trippe enlisted top talent to pull it off: A brilliant radio engineer; a gifted aircraft designer; and a small cadre of dedicated aviation professionals, including Charles A. Lindbergh. It is a remarkable story.

It had taken only eight years for Pan Am to grow from a tiny three-plane operation with a single 90-mile route to become the world’s largest and most dynamic airline. But bridging the mighty Pacific with an airline route confronted Trippe and Pan Am with a challenge much greater than any that had come before. A failure would mean disaster and the whole world was watching, spellbound.

Crossing the Pacific, however, was not the original intent of Juan Trippe in his desire to cross an ocean. It was the Atlantic. However, the geopolitical situation coupled with technological limitations made that option impossible. In a nutshell, the path to Europe was through Newfoundland. Unfortunately, negotiations between Juan Trippe, Britain, Canada and Newfoundland in 1932 did not provide the access desired, although some understanding was achieved between Pan American and Britain’s Imperial Airways regarding traffic rights. Because Newfoundland appeared to be in doubt, Trippe looked south. Unfortunately, the political situation in Portugal made it difficult for Pan American to negotiate for traffic rights there as well. In addition, a survey trip made by Charles Lindbergh in the summer of 1933 brought into question the feasibility of using flying boats for regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic service.

Any hope for trans-Atlantic operations, however, was dashed when, in April 1934, the British government demanded reciprocity with the United States over traffic rights. The British government represented the British airline Imperial Airways and believed that the issue should be settled with the US government. Juan Trippe had overestimated his diplomatic skills and his “go-it-alone diplomacy” was not working. He admitted that he did not see much future for Pan American in the North Atlantic. In addition, the British, in 1934, had nothing like Pan Am’s Sikorsky S-42, then the most advanced aircraft in the world, or the coming Martin M-130 and until Imperial Airways possessed an airplane of similar capabilities Pan Am would be unable to operate to or from Britain and its crown colonies.

The focus thus switched to the Pacific. After a “great circle” trans-Pacific route through the north was ruled out due to issues between the US and the Soviet Union, it was decided to take the route that represented the longest distance between the US and the Orient: the mid-Pacific.

Here, the issue of traffic rights was not a problem for Pan Am. The route involved stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam, terminating in Manila, all of which were under US jurisdiction. At Guam and the Philippines, the US Navy had established bases on the pretext of potential confrontation with Japan. Midway was being used by the Navy for war games staged in the area. This left Wake, a tiny island, discovered by Juan Trippe in the New York Public Library, and, according to Robert Daley, in his book An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, “for a brief time – only the blink of an eye as history is measured – it was one of the most famous places in the world”.

The tiny island of Wake, an uninhabited coral atoll, was to become one of the most important way points on the route west to the Orient. It lay over 4000 miles from the US mainland in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was a minor trophy of the Spanish-American War. Inside was a lagoon with surface water smooth enough to handle landings of flying boats, but the presence of coral heads made landings impossible. Its location, however, made it a critical point for the trans-Pacific flight. Juan Trippe eventually got permission to use the island as a base, and on 27 March 1935, the S.S. North Haven, a cargo ship, sailed west with provisions to set up bases for Pan American at Midway and Wake. At Wake, an entire village was built, including a hotel for passengers en-route to or from the Orient.

The Martin M-130 was the intended aircraft for the new trans-Pacific route, however it was not due for delivery until the end of 1935. Survey flights were needed, and Juan Trippe would not wait. The West Indies Clipper, an S-42 then being used in Latin America, was selected for the duty. It was renamed the Pan American Clipper and was stripped of all passenger accommodation and fitted with extra fuel tanks, giving it an endurance of 21 1/2 hours and a range of 3000 miles. The key, and most important flight segment of the trans-Pacific trip was California-Honolulu. The ability to fly this critical segment meant there would be no barrier to the eventual establishment of trans-oceanic flight. That was achieved. The Pan American Clipper departed San Francisco on 16 April 1935 for Honolulu and returned on 22 April. On 12 June it surveyed the Honolulu-Midway segment; on 9 August, Midway-Wake; and on 5 October, Wake-Guam. On 24 October, the US Post Office awarded Pan American the trans-Pacific mail contract, the day the Pan American Clipper arrived back in San Francisco from its survey flights across the Pacific.

S42 Pan American Clipper off Diamond Head April 1935

Pan American Clipper off Diamond Head en-route to Ford Island (PAHF)

S42 arrives at Ford Island 1935

Pan American Clipper arrival at Ford Island (PAHF)

Finally, on 22 November 1935, the Martin M-130 China Clipper flew from San Francisco to Manila with stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam. The 8,210-mile trip took 59 hours and 48 minutes flying time, with stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam.

In addition to its historic importance, the event was one of the most publicized ever. Described in detail by Daley, the celebration included lunches, speeches by VIPs and “crowds on the docks, crowds on the rooftops and crowds aboard the extra ferries that had been added on”. In addition, the inaugural ceremony was broadcast both in the USA as well as in Europe, South America and the Orient and included speeches by Postmaster General James Farley and Juan Trippe.  Trippe concluded matters with the command, “Captain Musick, you have your sailing orders. Cast off and depart for Manila in accordance therewith”. Receptions greeted the Clipper in Honolulu and upon arrival in Manila between two and three hundred thousand Filipinos jammed together along a jetty to welcome the ship. In addition, was an enclosure with two thousand prominent guests as well as people in the streets and on rooftops. A flotilla of military fighter planes flew out to escort the Clipper through its splashdown and landing. There followed a reception, banquet and parade. Later, Captain Musick presented a letter from US President Roosevelt to Philippine President Quezon commemorating the flight. It was indeed an important event in aviation history.

In later years, Pan American Airways was synonymous with the advent of global jet travel and airline luxury and glamour. In the 1930s though, the world was in the midst of the Great Depression and drifting towards global war, Trippe was betting the destiny of his company and his vision of the future on the venture.

The producers of “Across the Pacific” went to great lengths and over five years, to craft this story for public television, skillfully using dramatic recreations of carefully researched historical events, complemented by insightful interviews with authors and historians. They uncovered long-lost archival photographs, recordings and motion pictures that had been locked away for decades. Writer/Producer Stephen Lyons (“The Mystery of Matter”) brought together a talented and experienced team to create the series, including Emmy-award winners Lisa Wolfinger of Lone Wolf Media (“Mercy Street”) who directed the dramatic sequences, and Katha Seidman (“Percy Julian, Forgotten Genius”) who managed series production design.

The PAHF is a member-supported non-profit educational organization founded in 1992. The Foundation is the premier source of authoritative information about the legendary airline, through its website http://www.panam.org, Clipper Newsletter, and other programs. The PAHF provided significant resources for Across the Pacific, complementing major support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and other funders.

For Information about finding Across the Pacific on a PBS station in your area, and to see a short trailer, please go to “Across the Pacific”
For further information please contact:

Doug Miller
Pan Am Historical Foundation
panamweb@gmail.com
Tel: 415-254-1686

Looking forward to seeing “Across the Pacific”?

A little background might be helpful to explain how this works in the world of public television, and how to get in touch with your local PBS station.

Across the Pacific is being distributed to all our public TV stations via American Public Television (APT), a program distribution service that allows each station the opportunity to schedule programs at their discretion. Here’s a LINK to the APT webpage regarding Across the Pacific, which includes trailers for the three different hours of the series). Note that your PBS station is free to show the series (or not show it at all) in any manner they choose.

Getting “Across the Pacific” seen as widely as possible means asking people to let their public TV station know that there is a significant constituency among their viewers who want to see the series, and preferably in a prime-time slot. This probably includes anyone who worked for, traveled on, or admired Pan Am – a group that likely includes a great many public television viewers and supporters!

You can let the decision-makers at your own public television station know that you are looking forward to seeing Across the Pacific soon, and at a time convenient to you, such as a weeknight. This is how the program is being launched by Virginia Public Media (VPM PBS), in Richmond. They’re the “presenting station” for Across the Pacific to the APT system. They’ll premiere the three hours of the program spread over three consecutive Thursday nights at 9 p.m., starting on 21 May, followed by 28May 2 and 4 June. Having the showings spread out this way helps build the biggest audience, as people spread the word over the course of the showings.

Every PBS station has their own way of receiving viewer requests, but all have a website and should have contact telephone numbers and email addresses listed, and/or sometimes online forms as well, that can provide another way to get a message through to the right people.

This LINK goes to an index of public television stations and provides an easy way to find your station’s website. Stations are listed by state (grouped alphabetically). Find your station, click through to its website and look for a link that says “Contact” or possibly “About” often at the bottom of the webpage. It might take a little hunting on your part, but it should be worth the effort. And when you find the right contact, tell your friends!

Good luck!

Pan Am Series – Part XXXVII: The DC-6B

On 26 February 1952, Pan Am took delivery of the DC-6B. Some years later, I was a passenger on this aircraft type, flight 515 from Los Angeles to Guatemala. My first ever airplane trip.

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Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and its Aircraft by Ron Davies Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft by Ron Davies

The Workhorse of the Fleet

During the heyday of Pan American World Airways’ prop-era and well into the jet age, one particular airplane figured prominently in its operations around the world: The Douglas DC-6B “Super Six Clipper”.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, Pan American ordered a total of forty-five of the aircraft that were delivered between February 1952 and June 1954. During its deployment in Pan American’s fleet, the Super Six performed just about every duty conceivable. It could be configured in an all-first class service with 44 seats, all tourist from 88 to 109 seats and in a dual configuration with 82 seats.

The Super Six, however, played a very important part in Pan American’s history when Clipper Liberty Bell inaugurated  all-tourist Rainbow service on…

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Pan Am Series – Part XLVIV – Pan Am’s 90th Anniversary Book

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Ninety years ago, Pan American Airways was modestly launched with a contract to fly the U.S. Mail from Key West to Havana, Cuba. This year, friends and supporters of Pan Am will commemorate this landmark event with the publication of a special 90th Anniversary volume that looks back at the history of the airline that helped mold the international commercial airline industry of today.

Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer is being published by the Pan Am Historical Foundation (PAHF). A true collector’s item, this commemorative hard cover edition measuring ten and a half by twelve and a half inches will be the perfect coffee-table book and will feature a colorful dust jacket. It will contain more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history.

The anthology will recount the history of Pan Am from its first flight to its very last. It will be illustrated with more than 300 images, many in full color, from a variety of sources including the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s unique photo library. It will also include posters, promotional brochures, timetables and baggage tags, the very essence of our industry.

The expected publication date is early May.

The publisher is now offering the book for a pre-publication special price of $40 per copy with free domestic shipping ($25 for international). The offer is good through February 28.

Please visit the book’s  Website for purchase information

For additional information, visit the book’s Facebook Page.

The Pan Am Series – Part XXIV: The Boeing 377

On 31 January 1949, Pan American took delivery of its first Boeing 377,. known as the Stratocruiser. Here is a re-post of a story about that aircraft.

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Pan American’s Boeing 377 – The Stratocruiser

Boeing 377 - Clipper America (Mike Machat) Boeing 377 – Clipper America (Mike Machat)

One of Pan American World Airways’ most iconic airliners was Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. In the post war years and into the 1950s, it epitomized the ultimate in luxury air travel that was unparalleled at the time and probably never will be.

The Stratocruiser was developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter, a military derivative of the B-29 Superfortress. It was Boeing’s first commercial transport since the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and it possessed all the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of the war.

Like the C-97, the Stratocruiser was developed by grafting a large upper fuselage onto the lower fuselage and wings of the B-29, creating an “inverted-figure-8” double deck fuselage. The aircraft had four huge Pratt & Whitney 4360 radial engines with Hamilton Standard propellers.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and…

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The Pan Am Series – Part XXIII: Panagra

On January 25, 1929, Panagra was founded. Here is a story I wrote about this unique airline.

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Pan American-Grace Airways

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It might come as a surprise, but probably one of the most unknown of U.S. international airlines pioneered one of the key segments in Juan Trippe’s quest to circle South America with airline routes. That airline was Pan American-Grace Airways.

Once Pan American Airways began operations in 1928, it soon became clear that Juan Trippe was intent on operating routes south of the Caribbean and around the entire continent of South America. His most important destination, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, was Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America”. The plan, according to Robert Daley in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, were two lines in South America itself. One down the west coast to Santiago, Chile and the other down the east coast to Buenos Aires. The shortest route to Buenos…

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The Pan Am Series – Part XVII: Death of a Grand Lady

Twenty-five years ago, Pan American World Airways ceased operations. Last night, 3 December 2016, was the Inaugural Clipper Gala hosted by the Pan Am Museum Foundation at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. One of the foundation’s directors, Captain John Marshall, piloted the last Boeing 747 out of New York’s JFK airport for São Paulo, Brazil. After turning in after arrival, he was awoken to be informed that the company had closed down. This is his story about that flight, which first appeared in Airways Magazine in February 2001.

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Clipper Witch of the Wave at Sao Paolo, taken in 1991 (photo by Normando Carvalho, Jr)Clipper Witch of the Wave at Sao Paulo in 1991 (photo by Normando Carvalho, Jr)

Memories of a Last Flight

On 4 December 1991, Pan American World Airways ceased all operations. The night before, Captain John Marshall flew the last flight from New York Kennedy Airport to Sao Paulo, Brazil, flight 211, a Boeing 747, departing at 8:30 p.m. Arriving in Sao Paulo the next day, he was awakened from his post-flight sleep by a phone call advising him that the airline had ceased to exist and that all aircraft needed to be out of South America that afternoon. In “Death of a Grand Lady”, he writes about his experiences. The story first appeared in the February 2001 issue of Airways Magazine.

Below is his story in its entirety:

“It was a miserable early December night.  The ride to the airport seemed to take forever; riding in the last…

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The Pan Am Series – Part XII: The Boeing 747SP

Forty-three years ago, on 10 September 1973, Pan American World Airways ordered the Boeing 747SP. Here is a blog I wrote about that aircraft…

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The Boeing 747SP and a Record Making Flight

Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft) Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Once the Boeing 747 was a fixture in Pan Am’s fleet, the focus in the mid-1970s was toward ultra-long range flights. In the airline’s eye was the important and potentially lucrative New York-Tokyo market. What was called for was an aircraft with a range of 7000 miles and capable of carrying approximately 200 passengers in a mixed class configuration. The flight would be about 13-14 hours duration.

Pan Am was convinced there was a demand in the New York-Tokyo market for such an aircraft and persuaded Boeing to produce a shortened version of the 747 with the range for that route. Iran Air was also looking for a high capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover its Tehran-New York route. What resulted was the…

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