The Pan Am Series – Part V: The “Nautical Airline”

An American Clipper Ship circa 1870

An American Clipper Ship circa 1870

Pan American World Airways has always been associated with the sea and things nautical.  Its aircraft were called “Clippers” and many of the Clipper names had references to the sea, particularly with the Boeing 747 aircraft, which were given names such as Pride of the Sea, Champion of the Seas, Spark of the Ocean, Belle of the Sea, Crest of the Wave and Sovereign of the Seas, to name a few.

How Pan Am became the “Nautical Airline” is centered on Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe who dreamed of this idea from the beginning of his venture in establishing an airline. How Pan Am was formed is a story of wheeling and dealing, mergers and acquisitions and financial and political maneuvering that is well documented in the Pan Am literature, including Robert Daley’s An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Marylin Bender and Selig Alyschul’s The Chosen Instrument and R.E.G. Davies’ Pan Am, An Airline and Its Aircraft.

Suffice to say, however, it is useful to have a little background.  In the beginning there were four interested groups, as identified by R.E.G. Davies in Pan Am, An Airline and Its Aircraft. The first group, the Montgomery Group, formed Pan American Airways, Inc. (PAA).  It was founded on 14 March 1927 by Air Force Majors “Hap” Arnold, Carl Spaatz and John H. Jouett, later joined by John K. Montgomery and Richard B. Bevier, as a counterbalance to German-owned carrier “SCADTA” (Colombo-German Aerial Transport Co) that had been operating in Colombia since 1920. SCADTA was viewed as a possible German aerial threat to the Panama Canal.  Eventually Montgomery petitioned the US government to call for bids on an U.S. airmail contract between Key West and Havana (FAM 4) and won the contract.  However, PAA lacked any aircraft to perform the job and did not have landing rights in Cuba.  Under the terms of the contract, PAA had to be flying by 19 October 1927.

On 2 June 1927, Juan Trippe formed the Aviation Corporation of America (ACA) (the Trippe Group) with financially powerful and politically well-connected backing, and raised $300,000.  On 1 July Reed Chambers and financier Richard Hoyt (the Chambers-Hoyt Group) formed Southeastern Airlines.   On 8 July Trippe formed Southern Airlines and on 11 October Southeastern was reincorporated as Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways.  Trippe then proposed a merger between these three groups and in doing so played a trump card:  He and John A. Hambleton, one of his backers, traveled to Cuba and persuaded the Cuban president to grant landing rights to the Aviation Corporation, making Montgomery’s mail contract useless as a bargaining chip.  After much wrangling between the groups, including a meeting on Hoyt’s yacht during which Assistant Postmaster General Irving Grover threatened that if there was no deal he would not be awarding any contract to anyone, the Aviation Corporation of the Americas was formed, operating as Pan American Airways, headed by Juan Trippe.  Later the corporation’s name was changed to Pan American Airways.

The deadline of 19 October still loomed, however. A Fokker F-VII aircraft was selected for the operation, but could not be used because Meacham’s Field in Key West was not completed and could not accommodate the aircraft. What transpired was an eleventh hour miracle. Pan American’s representative in Miami learned that a Fairchild FC-2 monoplane was in Key West, sitting out a hurricane threat.  The aircraft was owned by West Indian Aerial Express (the Fairchild Group) and a deal was made to charter the aircraft.  The pilot was offered $145.50 to carry mail to Havana that had just arrived on the Florida East Coast-Atlantic Coast Line railroads.  The hurricane threat disappeared and the trip was made.  The rest is history.

On 28 October 1927, the Fokker left Key West on Pan American’s inaugural international flight, carrying 772 lb of mail. On 16 January 1928, the first passenger flight was completed on the same route.  And on 28 October 1928, Pan American established its Miami base at Dinner Key.

The First Clipper

In 1931, Pan Am acquired the Sikorsky S-40, the first aircraft that would be designated “Clipper”.  This designation came about as a result of Trippe’s fascination with ships and the sea.  As a child he had traveled to Europe on Cunard Line ships and this fascination transcended to the idea that Pan Am should be a kind of nautical airline.

RMS Mauretania, a Cunard ship that Juan Trippe might have traveled on to Europe

RMS Mauretania, a Cunard liner that Juan Trippe might have traveled on to Europe.

Along these lines, a maritime culture emerged.  Andre Priester, who Trippe had previously hired as chief engineer, dressed the pilots as naval officers with gold wings pinned to their breast pockets.  Gold stripes were on the jacket sleeves to show rank.  The pilots also wore peaked hats with white covers and a gold strap.  And, according to Robert Daley in An American Saga, Priester “forbade [the pilots] to stuff or twist these caps into the dashing, high-peaked shapes so dear to most aviators’ hearts.”  These naval trappings according to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument “served to set distance between the airline and aviation’s all too proximate history symbolized by the khaki breeches, leather puttees, jacket and helmet of the daredevil flyer.  [Pan Am’s] pilots were invested as engineers to whom flying was a scientific business rather than a  thrilling escapade.”  Pilots underwent a stringent and comprehensive training program and, according to former flying boat and retired captain Bill Nash, were required to have college degrees prior to hiring and to demonstrate proven proficiency prior to promotion in the flight deck.  Nash started as a Fourth Officer before rising to Captain.

Sikorsky S-40 - "Southern Clipper" - the first Clipper Ship

Sikorsky S-40 – Pictured is the Southern Clipper

When the S-40 made its debut, it was the largest airplane built in the United States.  Its maiden voyage on 19 November 1931 was from Miami to the Canal Zone carrying 32 passengers with Charles Lindbergh at the controls and Basil Rowe (formerly with the West Indian Aerial Express) as co-pilot.  Igor Sikorsky, who Trippe had earlier brought on board to design an aircraft to Pan Am’s own specifications (the predecessor to the S-40, the S-38) also had some time at the controls.

Trippe named the aircraft the American Clipper.  Perhaps inspired by prints of American clipper ships hanging in his home or reaching back to his Maryland ancestry from where these swift sailing ships originated in the shipyards of Baltimore, it was, according to Bender and Altschul “appropriate then, to call the first transport ship designed for international air commerce after those magnificent vessels.”  Thereafter, all Pan Am aircraft were to be designated Clippers.

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow Airport

Clipper Dashing Wave at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport

Clipper Dashing Wave at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport

The operation would be in keeping with maritime lore and custom.  The pilot was called “captain” and the co-pilot “first officer”.  The title “captain” implied master of the ship or chief executive of the flying boat.  Speed was calculated in knots (nautical miles per hour), time in bells, and a crew’s tour of duty was a “watch”.  In the cabin, according to Daley, “walls and ceilings would be finished in walnut painted in a dark stain, and the fifty passengers would sit in Queen Anne chairs upholstered in blue and orange. The carpet would be blue, and the windows equipped with rope blinds.  As aboard any ship, life rings would hang from the walls of the lounge.”  The stewards, according to Bender and Altschul, “were modeled in function and appearance after the personnel of luxury ocean liners.  Their uniforms were black trousers and white waist-length jackets over white shirts and black neckties. Stewards distributed remedies for airsickness, served refreshments (and in the S-40, prepared hot meals in the galley of the aircraft), pointed out scenic attractions from the windows of the plane and assisted with the red tape of Customs and landing procedures.”

This nautical approach seemed to carry on through the entire existence of Pan Am.  The flight deck – bridge – was always on the top deck, as on an ocean liner.  This was evident in the flying boats, including the Martin M-130, the China Clipper, the Boeing 314, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and the Boeing 747, with its flight deck on the upper deck of the aircraft.

M-130 - China Clipper

M-130 – China Clipper

Boeing 314

Boeing 314

Boeing 377

Boeing 377

The flight deck of the Boeing 314 had the appearance of the bridge of a merchant ship:

The "Bridge" of the Boeing 314

The “Bridge” of the Boeing 314

Note the Clipper ship on the forward bulkhead of the Boeing 707:

Interior of Boeing 707 in All-Economy Charter Configuration.

Interior of Boeing 707 in All-Economy Charter Configuration.

Below, the SS United States and the bridge of a large merchant ship:

SS United States  (photo credit Charles Anderson)

SS United States
(photo credit Charles Anderson)

Bridge of a Roll On/Roll Off merchant ship.

Bridge of a Roll On/Roll Off merchant ship.

The “nautical” feel was also prevalent at Clipper departures, particularly from Dinner Key in Miami during the early years and Pan Am’s Worldport at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in the later years.  There was an atmosphere similar to the departure of an ocean liner, with festivity, sense of adventure and anticipation of a voyage to a distant place.  The setting at the Worldport, particularly with the evening departures to distant destinations, included passengers and well-wishers gathered at the gate in sight of the Clipper being readied for the long voyage ahead.  There was a sense of drama; the type of drama that Juan Trippe probably envisaged for each Clipper departure.  The romance of traveling to faraway places was part and parcel of the Pan Am experience.

The nautical element was also featured in many of Pan Am’s printed brochures and posters, as well as on the cover of an annual report.

1958 Annual Report

1958 Annual Report

However, as the years passed, the romance of the “nautical airline” began to wear out.  Perhaps Pan Am tried to preserve it with the Boeing 747, but times had changed.  The grand ocean liners were soon replaced by cruise ships where passengers were more interested in the on-board entertainment rather than the peaceful environment of the sea (although that can still be experienced on cargo ships).  Airline passengers became more interested in getting from A to B at the lowest fare, rather than experiencing the ambiance of a flying ocean liner.  Airplanes became more like buses, with the exception of the premium cabins, rather than airships commanding the airways. And the bridge, both on many cruise ships and on the largest passenger aircraft in the world, would no longer be on the topmost deck. The sense of command of the airways and the sea has seemed to disappear, and the bridge, “formerly sacrosanct navigational preserves”, as eloquently described by John Maxtone-Graham in Liners to the Sun,  is now simply a functionary in the process of getting passengers from A to B, or in the case of a cruise ship, from A to A via port visits.

On the A-380, the flight deck is located between the main and upper decks:

A-380 - Note location flight deck compared to Boeing 747

A-380 – Note location of the flight deck compared to Boeing 747, pictured above.

And on the newer cruise liners, the bridge is not on the highest deck, as shown here on the Holland America Line’s Eurodam.

MS Eurodam - Note the location of the bridge four decks below the top deck.

MS Eurodam – Note the location of the bridge four decks below the top deck.

Perhaps Pan Am the Nautical Airline was overcome by its own success.  One cannot, however, deny that the idea of a nautical airline was a necessary step in the process of shrinking the globe.  Now, with today’s technology, it probably is no longer needed.  Happily, one tradition of the nautical airline continues:  the Pilot-in-Command of an airliner is still the “Captain”.

For anyone interested in the history of Pan Am, the books referenced above are excellent sources of in-depth analysis of the airline’s story.  Another excellent book, a time-line of historic Pan Am firsts and major events, with illustrations, is Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline, by James Patrick Baldwin and published by BlueWaterPress.  The contents can be viewed at this link: https://jpbtransconsulting.com/pan-am-book-images/, and can be purchased directly from the publisher at this link: http://www.bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am.html

It is also available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pan-American-World-Airways-Airline/dp/1604520469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381237003&sr=8-1&keywords=pan+american+world+airways+-+images+of+a+great+airline

Further information about Pan Am history can also be found on the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation,  http://panam.org/

My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part Three: Port Said

Part Three:  Port Said

Part Three of my Egypt Adventure began on the third day when I left Cairo for Port Said and my transit of the Suez Canal aboard the Ashley Lykes.  I was picked up by two representatives from the ship’s Port Said agents whose sole purpose was to get me to Port Said, processed through immigration and on board the ship.  The trip took me through the Egyptian countryside, passing through several towns and villages.  We made a couple of stops where one of the agents delivered packages of what appeared to contain American-made toiletries and similar goods, and cartons of cigarettes to various shops.  When we finally arrived in Port Said, I was ushered to the offices of the shipping agent, where I was to remain for about four hours until I was to be taken to the ship.

Below are photos of one of the roads en-route to  Port Said, a town where we stopped with the goods and scenes of downtown Port Said:

Road to Port Said-1     Village nr ps-1

Port Said-6     Port Said-2

Below is a picture of the entrance to the office of the shipping agency of my ship (left) and a picture of my handlers (right).

Port Said-4     Port Said-12

Below:  Port Said’s waterfront (left) and the Suez Canal Authority headquarters (right).

Port Said-7     Port Said-8

After leaving the agent’s office, we went directly to Egyptian immigration to process me out of the country.  When we arrived there was a huge line in the waiting hall but somehow we bi-passed that and went to the office of one of the more senior immigration officials.  He dutifully studied my passport, gave it the appropriate stamps and cleared me to depart.  As we left, the agent shook hands with the immigration official and I noticed that part of the handshake included a wad of cash.  The cash was what is known as “baksheesh”.

After boarding a launch, we proceeded to the ship, going through a maze of anchored ships of various sizes and shapes, including a Greek frigate, a Cypriot cruise ship, a multitude of tankers and other cargo ships.

Below:  The Greek frigate Elli and Cypriot cruise ship Princesa Marissa at anchor off Port Said’s waterfront.

Greek warship Elli     Princesa Marissa

Below:  A tanker at anchor and a local harbor ferry.

Suez-9-eb     Port Said-15

Below:  S.S. Ashley Lykes at anchor.  Note the bumboats lingering by the gangway.  The master raised the gangway to keep vendors from boarding his ship.

Suez-3-eb     Suez-Ashley Lykes-1

Once on board the Ashley Lykes, I was greeted by the master who escorted me to his cabin where he added my name to the crew roster as an engineering officer(!).  He told me that the immigration people might be coming on board before departure and therefore I had to be accounted for.  He put the crew roster on a table in the reception area of his cabin and placed on top of it a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, “to keep them happy”, he said.

The next day, at 0100 hours, we got underway for our transit of the Suez Canal.  In Part Four, my trip down the Suez Canal. Watch this Space!

End of Part Three

My Egypt Adventure and Transit of the Suez Canal – Part One: Cairo

Part One:  Cairo

With Egypt being the news recently, I started recalling my experience there in November, 1990.  At the time, I was serving as Officer-in-Charge of a Naval Liaison Officer Detachment based in Bahrain in support of Operation Desert Shield.  The detachment briefed masters of merchant ships transiting through the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabian ports with military cargo. These ships were part of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command that provides strategic sealift in support of military operations.  The ships were activated from a reserve force of cargo vessels or were under contract from civilian shipping companies.  As most of these ships originated in the United States, the transit to Saudi Arabia included passage through the Suez Canal.

During a lull in operations in late November, 1990, I managed to take some time to experience the Suez Canal transit.  I had heard so many stories about the transit from ships’ masters that I felt it useful to see for myself what it was all about.  I arranged transit aboard the S.S. Ashley Lykes, a C-Class break bulk cargo ship operated by Lykes Lines bound for Saudi Arabia from the US.

Suez-Ashley Lykes-1

S.S. Ashley Lykes

And so began my Egypt Adventure.

The plan was to fly to Cairo, meet the ship in Port Said, a port on the Mediterranean Sea that serves as the northern entry point to the Suez Canal, and ride the ship through the canal, the Gulf of Suez, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to its destination port in Saudi Arabia.  On the scheduled date, I left Bahrain on Gulf Air for Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on the first leg of my trip.

Below is a description of my flight to Cairo taken from a monthly newsletter I wrote during Operation Desert Shield:       

“I left Bahrain on a Gulf Air flight to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia where I transferred to Egyptair to Cairo.  The flight to Dhahran was ten minutes at an altitude of 2500 feet.  No drinks on this flight – the flight attendants did not even get up from their jump seats.  Upon arrival in Dhahran I learned about changing planes in Saudi Arabia.  It is not like the States.

“I was met by an airport representative who seemed to know all about my itinerary who took me to (where else) the Immigration Hall.  At the time it was Prayer Time, and the “Call to Prayer” was being broadcast over the loudspeakers for the benefit of those waiting in the immigration lines.  Since I was not entering the country I bypassed that line but did have to wait for an immigration officer to inspect my passport and make a copy of every page.  

“After my passport was duly photocopied I had to clear customs, where the customs inspector searched for articles forbidden in Saudi Arabia, such as alcoholic beverages, non-Muslim religious materials, certain types of books, magazines and videotapes, etc.  From there I was escorted to the departure lounge, where the airport representative checked me in [for my next flight].  Finally, I was on my own.” 

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Cairo on schedule.   While waiting in the immigration line at Cairo Airport, I was approached by a young woman in what appeared to be a uniform who inquired about the reason for my visit, which I said was business.  She asked if I would have time for sightseeing and I replied yes.  She said her company would like to give me information about sights to see and offered to escort me through immigration, which meant I went straight to the head of the line and through, after which I was escorted to an office that appeared to be that of a company providing tours to visitors.  I got the full briefing about what to see in Cairo.  Thinking that was it, I was surprised (really should not have been, though) when I was informed that the company was to be my tour guide for my stay in Cairo.   Dumbfounded, I said fine, and was given various options.  I elected the cheapest, a group tour of the Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids.  As I had two full days to myself, I opted for the second day to do the tour, which I shall call the “Grand Tour”.  I was asked to pay in advance – US Dollars were gratefully accepted – and a pickup time was set.

By the time I checked into my hotel, the Semiramis Intercontinental, I was ready for a drink, which I partook in the hotel lounge.

Cairo-Semiramis

Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel

Below:  Views from my hotel room of the Nile River.  The Cairo Tower is on the far right in the picture on the left.  Note the air pollution in the picture on the right.

Cairo - View from Semiramis       Cairo-Skyline-Nile-4

The next day I set off on a long walk around the city and its surrounding neighborhoods.  Again, from my newsletter:

“Cairo is a huge city, population about 14,000,000.  I stayed at the Semiramis Hotel, which was right on the Nile River.  The city appears to be on the verge of either greatness or a downfall.  From a distance the skyline looks impressive:  lots of large commercial buildings along the Nile.  However many are not totally occupied; in fact some are not even fully constructed (sic).  There must be an unwritten regulation in Egypt:  “Thou shalt not finish construction of a building”.  There are buildings on which construction had been halted in order to start construction on new buildings adjacent to them.  This scene was not only in Cairo, but also in other areas of Egypt as well.

Below:  Additional views of Cairo and the Nile.

Cairo-Skyline-Nile-2    Cairo-Skyline-Nile

          Cairo-Nile-1     Cairo-Downtown-3  

“Egypt is full of contrasts:  Modern high-rises (albeit some incomplete) abutting shantytowns of rundown shops (many of which for some reason, were selling automobile parts, especially wheels and tires).”

Below:  A couple of neighborhoods just outside Cairo.  Note the tire shop in the left picture.

Neigborhood-1       Neighborhood-3

The walk around Cairo took nearly all day.  I am glad I took that walk because it allowed me to see sides of Cairo that the normal tourist would not see.  There seemed to be people and cars everywhere and the air pollution was most noticeable.  But the sights that struck me most was the seemingly unfinished state of the city.  It looked as if whatever prosperity existed was pulled out from under.  I estimated that it would take an economic miracle for enough money to be generated to actually finish those unfinished buildings sitting abandoned and in some cases falling into disrepair.

In Part Two:  The Grand Tour and the Pyramids.  Watch this Space!

End of Part One