Pan Am Series – Part XLVIII: Skygods

Skygods

pan-am-boeing-314-dixie-clipper-nc18605-630-620x413

 

Sky-god \ski-god\: a being who reigns supreme while aloft in man-made flying contrivance  2: an aeronautical creature endowed with godlike attributes and worthy (in his or its own estimation) of human worship

 On 14 January 2015, former Pan American captain Gerry Mahan celebrated his 100th birthday. Captain Bill Nash, whose story about flying the Boeing 314 was featured in Part II of this series, is in his late 90s. Both men started with Pan American near the beginning of  World War II and stayed with the airline until into the 1970s. Both got their feet wet with Pan American as pilots in the Boeing 314, the last of the great flying boats. There were others who flew these great machines that also included the Sikorsky S-38, S-40 and S-42, the Consolidated Commodore and the Martin M-130: R.O.D. Sullivan, Leo Terletsky, Steve Bancroft. Ed Schultz, Bob Ford, who flew the first round-the-world flight in a commercial airliner and Edwin Musick, probably the most famous of the flying boat pilots, who flew the first trans-Pacific scheduled airmail flight in the China Clipper. These men were known as “Skygods” and today they are few and far between.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday Captain Mahan was the subject of an article by Julia Prodis Sulek in the San Jose Mercury News. An excerpt follows:

“Born in Kansas on Jan. 14, 1915, Mahan was raised by his grandmother until he ran away at the age of 13 — about a year after Charles Lindbergh gained international fame for completing the first solo flight from New York to Paris.

 “‘The freight trains were running in my direction,’ Mahan joked.

“He settled in Southern California and lived with his aunt. He sold shoes to put himself through UCLA. By age 18, he owned his first plane, his daughter, Luana Davis, 72, said. He flew for TWA before joining Pan Am in 1941. He flew everything from DC-3s to 747s, retiring out of San Francisco in the mid-1970s. He taught his oldest daughter, Luana, how to fly when she was just 11. She spent her career flying for Federal Express.

 * * *

“‘It was one hell of a great experience,’ said Mahan, who lives with a caregiver in his hilltop home, with views of the Mineta San Jose International and Reid-Hillview airports, where he once owned as many as a dozen private planes and taught one of his daughters how to fly. ‘It was a magnificent life. If I had to do it all again, I’d do it the same way.’

“At a time well in advance of modern navigation aids or weather forecasting, he remembers flying over the Pacific in a Boeing 314 Clipper no higher than 8,000 feet to keep oxygen for the passengers in the cabin. Sometimes he flew as low as 1,000 feet, he said. Navigating by both the stars and the waves, he would throw a marker flare out the window to triangulate his position.”

Click Here for the Entire Story about Jerry Mahan

Gerry Mayhan, 99, holds a photograph of a Clipper airplane, circa 1939, at his home in Los Gatos, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Gerry Mahan, 99, holds a photograph of a Clipper airplane, circa 1939, at his home in Los Gatos, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Captain Mahan flew the Boeing 314 on transpacific flights. The below timetable shows what flights he might have operated:

Jun 1940 Timetable0001   Jun 1940 Timetable0002

 

Captain Bill Nash grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey and lived nearby Bader Field, a small local airport. In a letter, he described how he “hung around the banner flying business hanger, getting in the way, so they put him to work sweeping hanger floors, washing planes, etc. Interested in his enthusiasm, they began putting him in the front cockpit when they flew banners behind the plane just seaward of the beach and boardwalk. The planes were Biplane OX5 Challengers (KR-31 Fairchilds). The pilots taught him to fly so they could watch the girls on the beach.”

Captain Nash went on to Temple University to study to become a teacher and also obtain his pilot’s license through President Roosevelt’s Civilian Pilot Training Program. After graduating from Temple, he decided  he preferred flying and applied for a job at Pan American. He was hired in 1942 and was assigned as a Fourth Officer in the Boeing 314 flying boat. After successful completion of training, Captain Nash was where he wanted to be, flying for an “international airline out of Pan Am’s Marine Base in New York to Europe.”

Captain Nash flew flying boats in support of the war effort during World War II and at war’s end, when Pan Am phased out the flying boats, he progressed to the DC-3s, the DC-4s, the Constellations, the DC-6s and the DC-7s. Eventually he was flying jets, and during his last fifteen years with Pan American, he was based in Berlin, flying Pan American’s Internal German Services, and, “keeping the corridors to Berlin Open”.

Speaking of his flying boat days, Captain Nash said,  “[t]o me, experiencing this phase of early commercial aviation was one of the best times of my life.  Having had the opportunity to be part of a Boeing 314 crew was an outstanding adventure for a young man, and I still recall it well. . . , and thrill to the memories of that great aircraft and the exciting era of world history, all made possible by my years with Pan Am.”

Nash retired in 1977. One son, Bill Nash, Jr., is also a pilot.

Captain Bill Nash (Courtesy Bill Nash)

Captain Bill Nash (Courtesy Bill Nash)

 

Captain Nash flew the Boeing 314 on transatlantic flights. The below timetable shows what flights he might have operated at the end of World War II:

Oct 1945 Timetable0001   Oct 1945 Timetable0003

 

In his story “Skygods”, featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History through the Words of its People, writer Bob Gandt recalls his experiences with the Skygods he encountered early in his career with Pan American. Below are excerpts from his story:

“’Back in the Boat Days. . .’” 

“That was an expression we heard a lot during our pilot indoctrination at Pan Am.  Whenever an old-timer spoke of an event that happened in the first half of Pan Am’s existence, his voice would take on a reverential tone:  ‘Things were different in the Boat Days, you know.  Back then we used to. . .’

“Never mind that this was 1965, that Pan Am possessed the largest fleet of commercial jets in the world, or that futuristic craft like the 747, the SST, and even spacecraft were on the drawing board.  The Boat Days—the era of the great flying boats like [the S-42], the China Clipper and the majestic Boeing B-314—were the spiritual epicenter of Pan Am’s history.  And the high priests of the Boat Days were a generation of legendary airmen we called Skygods.

s42_afloat     China Clipper

New Image

 “And they were still around.  We caught glimpses of them in the big blue Pan Am hangar at the San Francisco airport where we attended classes.  Like living artifacts from another age, the lordly airmen could be observed striding down the hallway to attend to their worldly business in the crew scheduling or personnel offices.  Their heels clacked like hammers on the marble floor.

“Even their uniforms were distinctive.  The gold on their cap visors and the four stripes on their uniform sleeves had a weathered, salt sprayed dullness.  The white caps rode atop their graying manes with a windward tilt.  In their double-breasted, gold-encrusted Pan Am uniforms they looked like ancient mariners.

“Their trademark was the Look.  Skygods squinted at the world over the tops of half-frame spectacles, down the lengths of their leathery noses.  Wearing the Look, they would lock their imperious gaze on whatever subspecies happened to warrant their attention.

“Not until a year-and-a-half later, when I was a freshly-qualified Boeing 707 first officer, did I actually fly with one of these legendary captains.  He was a Skygod of monumental reputation, a man whom I’ll call Jim Howland, and we were scheduled to operate a Pan Am round-the-world flight.  The experience would stay seared in my memory for the rest of my career.

“It started off badly.  When I introduced myself at check in, Captain Howland ignored my outstretched hand.  After a perfunctory glance over his half-frames—the Look—he turned his back and busied himself with paperwork.  In the cockpit his only utterances came in the form of terse commands:  ‘Read the check list,’ ‘Get the clearance,’ ‘Gear up.’  My half of the exchange was limited to ‘Yes, sir.’

“So it went for the next few days —the Skygod issuing commands, the lowly first officer complying.  It was impossible to tell whether Howland was pleased or disgusted with my performance.  His expression never changed.  Nor did the monosyllabic stream of orders.  He made every take off and landing, sharing none of the flying duties with his first officer.

“This condition lasted until we reached the Middle East.  It was then, while we were in our descent toward Beirut airport, that history and geopolitics converged on us like a perfect storm.  ‘Clipper One,’ called the air traffic controller, his voice an octave higher than before, ‘be advised that this region is in a state of war.  Airports in every country are reporting air attacks.  What are your intentions?’

“Intentions?  I looked at the captain.  He appeared to be deep in thought, his eyes fixed on the hazy brown desert-scape ahead of us.  The controller sounded flustered, and so did the Pan Am operations agent on the ground in Beirut.  No one knew what was going on or where we should go.   The controller offered the opinion that since Beirut airport didn’t seem to be under attack at the moment, it was probably safe to land.  Probably.

“At this the captain’s eyeballs bulged, and he rose to full Skygodly stature.  ‘To hell with that idiot,’ he thundered.  ‘Tell him we’re not landing in Beirut.’

“’Yes, sir, but where do you want to—’

“’We’re going to Tehran.’”

“Tehran?  Ooookay.  The Skygod had spoken, and it didn’t matter what air traffic control or our man in Beirut had to say.  Clipper One was headed for Tehran.  The problem was, getting a clearance to there—or anywhere else—wasn’t possible.  The en- route frequency had become a bedlam of hysterical chatter about airports being bombed, fighters in the air, warning shots fired.

“Off we went, eastward over the desert, while the relief pilot and I re-calculated our fuel and pored over the charts and tried to get clearance through the airspace.  We encountered no fighters, no one tried to shoot us down, and somewhere along the way I actually obtained an airways clearance.  When we landed in Teheran and deplaned our 120 passengers, we learned that we had just experienced Day One of what would be the Six Day Arab-Israeli War of 1967 .

“That night the captain invited me to join him for a drink.  For the first time I observed a softening of the fearsome Skygodly countenance.  Peering over his half-frames, he raised his glass and spoke words that would stay with me for the next half century.  ‘You know something, kid?  You did good today.’

“I was speechless.  You did good today.  Coming from a Skygod, it was like an accolade from the Almighty.

“Thereafter, for the remainder of our trip around the planet, Howland actually shared the take offs and landings.  And he talked.  In quiet moments high over the ocean, he recalled adventures from the Boat Days when ships like the China Clipper ruled the skies.  They were exotic stories, and it didn’t matter to me that they might be a bit embellished.  I listened like a kid hearing fairy tales.

“Over the next couple of years I flew with more of these ancient pelicans, and while the experience was seldom heartwarming, I always had the sense of being connected to a slice of history.  The era of the Skygods spanned a time from fabric-and-wood mail planes, through the glamour-filled Boat Days, through WWII and the arrival of long-range landplanes, all the way to the jet age.  They had seen it all.

In his book Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, Gandt recalls how the newly hired pilots would watch the Skygods with awe. “Like everything else”, he said, “they knew these ancients had practically invented aviation. Back in the boat days, these heroes had braved a thousand storms, alighted on mountainous seascapes, flown over the vastness of great oceans.” They were the Masters of the Ocean Flying Boats. They also played a part in setting the operational standards that governed Pan American’s pilots in the Jet Age.

In the early days of Pan American’s flying boat operations, much of the procedures and standards that were established were the product of Andre Priester, a Dutchman hired to oversee Pan American’s flight operations. According to Gandt:

“As chief engineer, Priester was given autonomy over all Pan Am’s flying hardware.  * * * [H]e stamped the airline with his own ethic of hard-nosed, conservative, meticulously planned operations. It was Priester who laid down the specifications for each of Pan Am’s new flying boats. He plotted new routes and wrote operations manuals and calculated aircraft performance. Priester invented Pan Am’s operational philosophy.”

Priester was a hands-on chief engineer. He was omnipresent and seemed to be everywhere, snooping, inspecting and asking questions. And, as noted by Gandt, “[t]he pilots feared Priester. They resented his uncompromising, perfectionist attitude. But in their secret hearts they took pride in what he made them accomplish.”

The standards set by Priester and the Skygods he trained transcended to the generations of Pan American pilots who followed. The pilots who were hired in the mid-1960s, who were known as the “New Hires”, a name that stuck with them throughout their careers, helped bring the art of piloting to the highest levels. To the current generation of airline pilots, they are the Skygods of today.

13-Skygodincockpit   gandt formation

Robert Gandt (above left), a former Pan Am captain, was based in San Francisco, Berlin, Hong Kong, and New York during his twenty-six-year career.  He is a novelist, historian, and the author of thirteen books. In 2011 he received the Samuel Ellliot Morison Award for Naval Literature by the New York Commandery of the Naval Order of the United States.  Still flying today, he is a member of the Redhawks Aerobatic Team (above right). Visit his website at www.Gandt.com.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

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

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

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The Pan Am Series – Part XVIII: First Round the World Flight

A Round-the-World Trip Home

If there is any one thing that stands out in Pan American World Airways’ history is its legendary round-the-world service. After World War II, Pan American pioneered the service on 17 June 1947 when Clipper America, a Lockheed 749 Constellation, departed La Guardia Field in New York on the first ever scheduled round-the-world flight. After stops in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake, Midway and Honolulu, the Clipper arrived in San Francisco on 29 June. As Pan American did not have authority to operate domestic flights in the United States, the Clipper ferried to New York, arriving at La Guardia on 30 June via Chicago to complete the journey.

There was, however, a previous round-the-world flight to La Guardia Field, completed just a few years before Clipper America’s historic trip, and that was the epic journey of the Pacific Clipper, a Boeing 314 flying boat, commanded by Captain Robert Ford.

This flight, which was unplanned, is recognized as the first flight around the world by a commercial airliner. It began as a routine trip from California to Auckland, departing 2 December 1941 from San Francisco for Honolulu, with a stopover in San Pedro. The departure of Clipper NC18606 (the call-sign used at the time), always a memorable experience, is described in Ed Dover’s The Long Way Home – Revised Edition:

“The full-throat-ed roar of the four engines filled the cabin as NC18606 moved forward into the takeoff run.  The slap-slap of  the water under the hull became a staccato drum beat.  Spray whipped higher over the sea wings.  After a few seconds the hull began to rise out of the water but was not quite free.  Ford held the yoke steady as the airspeed indicator displayed the increasing speed: 40 knots…  50…  60…  70…

314a

“At 70 knots Ford brought the yoke back gently.  The Clipper nosed up.  Passengers seated in the aft compartments might have thought they were about to submerge as the tail came close to the water and the spray hurtling back from the sea wings splattered the windows.  At 75 knots Ford eased up a little on the yoke then immediately brought it back.  This rocking motion was necessary to raise the ship “on the step” – that area of the hull which would be the last to break free from the clinging suction effect of the water now hurtling along underneath the ship.  As the airspeed went to 80 knots the sound of the water abruptly ceased.  The thrumming beat against the hull was replaced by a sudden smoothness as the great ship broke free and began climbing.”

From San Francisco to Honolulu, the total flying time was twenty-two hours and fifty-eight minutes. The next leg of the trip, from Honolulu to Canton, was scheduled for departure on 4 December. For this leg, and the rest of the trip, another Boeing 314, NC18602, the California Clipper, later named the Pacific Clipper, was employed; and at 0830 that morning, Captain Ford, with passengers and crew, took off and headed south. Twelve hours and fifty-seven minutes later, the Clipper landed at Canton. Two days later, after stops in Suva and Noumea, the Clipper was en-route to Auckland when, two hours out, Flight Radio Officer Eugene Leach heard the following (quoted in The Long Way Home-Revised Edition):

“…no confirmation from the American Consulate in Auckland at this time, but it appears that Japanese naval forces have launched a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.  Unconfirmed reports indicate that at least twowaves of bombers have destroyed or disabled a great number of naval vessels and have also attacked and severely damaged Army Air Force installations at Hickam Field and Schofield Barracks.  We are attempting to obtain details from the American Consulate, but all communications are subject to priority delays.  Please stand by and we will bring you the latest developments as they become available. Once again, repeating our initial report…”

Upon learning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Ford reached for and opened an envelope labelled “Plan A – Top Secret – For Captain’s Eyes Only”. The Captain was ordered to remain in Auckland until further orders from headquarters in New York.

For a week after landing in Auckland, no word was received from headquarters in New York until, on 14 December, Captain Ford received the following (quoted in The Long Way Home-Revised Edition):

“TO:              CAPTAIN ROBERT FORD

FROM:         CHIEF, FLIGHT SYSTEMS

SUBJECT:  DIVERSION PLANS FOR NC18602

NORMAL RETURN ROUTE CANCELED STOP PROCEED AS FOLLOWS COLON STRIP ALL COMPANY MARKINGS COMMA REGISTRATION NUMBERS COMMA AND IDENTIFIABLE INSIGNIA FROM EXTERIOR SURFACES STOP PROCEED WESTBOUND SOONEST YOUR DISCRETION TO AVOID HOSTILITIES AND DELIVER NC18602 TO MARINE TERMINAL LAGUARDIA FIELD NEW YORK STOP GOOD LUCK STOP”

On the evening of 15 December 1941, Clipper NC18602, left Auckland. From The Long Way Home-Revised Edition:

“Bill Mullahey peered into the darkness ahead of the small boat. Except for the electric lantern he held in his hand, no lights were visible along the length of the seaplane channel. As he motored slowly along the length of the takeoff area he strained to detect the presence of any floating object that might present a risk for the takeoff. Water takeoffs and landings at night were marginally safe at best. Under these conditions the risk was magnified many times. With full fuel tanks and the added weight of the stripped down engines, NC18602 was at least 1,000 pounds over-grossed. Ford would need every bit of takeoff length to break free of the calm water of the bay. There would be no room for error. As Mullahey approached the far end of the channel, with his electric lantern providing the only visual reference, he slowed to a stop and took one more look around. Then, very carefully and deliberately, he held the lantern aloft and waved it in a horizontal arc toward the takeoff end of the channel where Ford waited with engines idling. “’There it is,’ Johnny Mack called out. ‘Bill’s reached the end of the channel. That’s the all clear for takeoff signal.’ Bob Ford had also spotted the light signal. He tightened his grip on the throttle controls. ‘Okay, Swede, full power follow through, now!’ Once again the overpowering roar of the four Wright Cyclone engines filled the cabin. NC18602 surged forward into the blackness, guided only by the dim point of light at the far end of the channel. Within 35 seconds, Ford had the big ship on the step and, with a gentle back pressure on the yoke, broke free of the water and settled into a shallow climb. As they reached 200 feet, they passed the motor launch where Bill Mullahey was still waving his lantern.

“’Godspeed, you guys!’ Mullahey uttered a quiet prayer as the Boeing roared past. ‘…and good luck. You’re going to need it!’”

The Clipper flew through the night to Noumea, where it picked up Pan American staff and refueled. From Noumea the Boeing proceeded to Gladstone to off-load its passengers (the Pan American staff) and get fuel. Unable to get 100-octane gas, the aircraft flew on to for Darwin with the fuel tanks one-third empty, an eleven hour trip over land, and, for Captain Ford and his crew, a journey into the unknown. Having no charts, the crew had put together some makeshift charts from old geography books found at Auckland library. In addition, as the trip was over land, if something went wrong, a safe landing would be impossible: a belly landing would destroy the aircraft and end the flight home.

At Darwin, the crew faced a city in panic, fearful of a Japanese attack, with drunks either fighting or passed out in the street. They were, however, able find the fuel, and gassed up in the midst of a thunderstorm. Not long after fueling was completed, early in the morning of 18 December, the Clipper was back in the air, en-route to Surabaya. This trip was not without a big scare for Captain Ford and his crew, as described in Robert Gandt’s China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats:

“Flying in radio silence over the island of Java, the Pacific Clipper was suddenly intercepted by fighters – Dutch – whose pilots had never seen a Boeing flying boat and were unable to identify the aircraft. For several tense minutes the fighter pilots debated by radio whether to shoot the intruder down. Finally one of the Dutchmen thought he could discern part of an American flag on the top of the wing. The fighters stayed on the Boeing’s tail, their guns armed, until the entire entourage arrived in Surabaya-with the Clipper landing in a minefield. “Not until later, when they chatted with the young fighter pilots in the officers’ mess, did the flying boat crew realize how close it had been. The Dutch in the Far East had been badly mauled by Japanese air raids. The fighter pilots were anxious to retaliate. They wanted to shoot something down. It had almost been the Pacific Clipper.”

After landing in Surabaya, Captain Ford and his crew learned that there were no accommodations available for them and that the only fuel they could get was 90-octane. They also learned that they would need immunizations for their next stops, Trincomalee (Ceylon) and Karachi (then British India). The Boeing was fueled with 90-octane, with the remaining 100-octane shifted to the inboard mains for use in takeoffs and landings.

After a brief rest, the Pacific Clipper was off to Trincomalee, flying over an unknown sea. Having taken off with 100-octane fuel, at 2000 feet Captain Ford decided to switch to the 90-octane. The procedure involved switching from the inboard mains tanks to the sea wing tanks. The process was slow as the cylinder head temperature gauges needed to be monitored. Once finally stabilized the Boeing was, according to Ed Dover, “flying on auto gas; a condition never contemplated by the engineers at Boeing or at the Wright engine factory.”

Things went well for a while, until something went wrong with the engines. From The Long Way Home-Revised Edition:

“’How’s it look, Swede?’” Ford asked. ‘So far, so good. Cylinder head temps seem to be holding. But we’re flying full rich. We’re going to have to lean it out for best fuel range.’

“BANG! The sudden sound filled the cabin and the Clipper shook as though it were in the grip of a gigantic storm. BANG! Again. ‘Backfiring on Numbers Two and Three!’ Johnny Mack called out. ‘Those cowlings are shaking like Jell-o!’

“’Back off the mixture, Swede!’ Ford shouted. Rothe quickly moved the mixture controls toward the rich side of their range. Just as quickly the banging stopped. But the cylinder head temperatures remained just under redline.  

“Once again the mixture controls came back. Once again the manifold pressures increased and the cylinder head temperatures rested within a degree of the forbidden redline.

Then: BANG! BANG! The Clipper shook as though it were a rag doll in the hands of a very active child. Quickly, but with more control this time, Rothe eased the mixture controls back to just under the mark where the backfiring would start. ‘That’s about the best we can do,’ he called out. ‘We can stay below the backfire point, but I can’t guarantee the head temps. They’re just about out of normal range for long-range cruise.’”

Because Captain Ford had no charts for the trip, just the coordinates of their destination, he had to fly by dead-reckoning at a very low altitude in order to detect any landmarks that could help in navigation. As the Clipper droned on, they encountered a Japanese submarine. The submarine, crew, lounging on deck, quickly ran for the deck gun. At the same time, Captain Ford went to full power and pointed the nose up, where they found safety in the clouds. After a flight of twenty hours and twenty-six minutes, the Pacific Clipper landed in Trincomalee, where the crew was able to find accommodations as well as 100-octane fuel. After a day of rest the Clipper was off for Karachi. However, about an hour into the flight No. 3 engine blew, spewing oil over the wing. Ford turned the plane around and returned to Trincomalee, where the crew was able to repair the engine with the spares they had on board, starting work on Christmas Eve and finishing on Christmas Day.

On 26 December, the Boeing was off for a second time for Karachi, and this time they made it, landing in the city’s harbor at 1600 hours. The crew rested and refueled and on 28 December took off for Bahrain where they spent the night and also topped off the fuel tanks, but only with 90-octane. This time, the problem was not as acute as previously, given that the amount taken on was minimal.

From Bahrain, the Clipper flew to Khartoum, over-flying the Arabian Desert and the Great Mosque at Mecca. Soon they intercepted the Nile River and followed it to Khartoum, where they landed on the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile, below Khartoum. There they encountered a British presence and were able to get 100-octane fuel and charts for their next flight to Leopoldville. During takeoff down the Nile, part of an exhaust stack blew off No. 1 engine. Although the Boeing continued to gain altitude, No. 1 engine was much noisier than the others and it constituted a fire hazard. But with no spare parts in Khartoum, Captain Ford continued southward. On New Year’s Day, 1942, after a flight over the interior of Africa, Captain Ford put the flying boat down in the fast flowing muddy waters of the Congo River at Leopoldville. Their next stop, Natal, Brazil, was 3100 nautical miles away across the Atlantic and loomed as the longest leg the Clipper ever covered.

The flight logs of 1st Officer John Mack (left) and 4th Officer John Steers (Courtesy of Ed Dover):

The next morning, the Clipper was off again. In preparation for the long trip that lay ahead, 5,100 gallons of fuel was taken on, weighing some 33,600 pounds. Takeoff would be tricky. The temperature was very high and there was no wind. And just downstream began the cataracts. Robert Daley, in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, describes the takeoff:

“A worried Ford revved his engines as high as they could go, and headed downstream  . . . taking advantage of the six-knot current, but heading straight for the cataracts, hoping to lift off out of this glassy calm before going over the edge. But the flying boat was so heavily loaded that it would not lift. An average takeoff would have lasted thirty seconds. This one took ninety-one. Just before entering the rapids, the hull broke contact with the river – barely. Ford held the throttles wide open because beyond the cataracts came the gorges of the Congo – a new problem. The flying boat was so heavy that Ford could not make it climb. It was down in the gorges. The wings were deformed from the overload of fuel and the ailerons wouldn’t move, and Ford was skidding all of his turns. To hold the engines wide open any longer than a minute was to risk burning them out, but three minutes had now gone by, and still Ford couldn’t throttle back. Still he held full power until at last the Boeing had cleared the gorges and begun to climb.

“After dropping back to cruising power, Ford listened to his engines for a while. They sounded all right, so he pointed the nose of the Boeing due west toward the South Atlantic and Brazil.”

The flight to Natal, Brazil took twenty-three hours and thirty-five minutes, the longest flight of the entire journey. The  Clipper arrived at about noon, where repairs were made to the exhaust stack on No. 1 engine and the ship was refueled. Insecticides were also sprayed inside the aircraft. Soon the Boeing was back flying to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on its penultimate leg where she landed at 0300 hours, thirteen hours and fifty-two minutes from Natal. In Port-of-Spain, after nearly forty hours of continuous flying, the crew rested. However, sensing the smell of home, the crew filed back on board and were soon off on the last leg of their epic flight. From The Long Way Home – Revised Edition:

“Bob Ford glanced at his wrist watch. 5:54 A.M. I guess it’s time to give those LaGuardia boys a wake up call, he thought. He picked up his microphone, but paused with it poised just in front  of his face. Just what the hell do you say after coming all this way? The simpler, the better, I guess. Well, here goes. He pressed the microphone button with his thumb.

“The morning was black and bitter cold. A mournful whisper of wind teased the outside of the glassed-in tower. It was the only sound to be heard inside the dark interior where the lone mid-shift controller sat nursing his coffee mug. Aircraft movements during the night in the New York control area were minimal. His thoughts rambled. Two hours to go. * * * Tough trying to stay awake on dull shifts like this when it stays dark so long. * * *

“‘LAGUARDIA TOWER, LAGUARDIA TOWER – PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER NC18602, INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND. CAPTAIN FORD REPORTING. DUE TO ARRIVE PAN AMERICAN MARINE TERMINAL LA GUARDIA IN SEVEN MINUTES. OVER!’

“‘What the hell!’ Did he fall fast asleep and dream it? But in a couple of seconds he was fully alert and digested the full impact of the sudden presence blasting out of the loudspeaker. Hunching forward in his seat, he grabbed his microphone and, almost sub-consciously, out of long habit, responded.

“‘PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER 18602. THIS IS LAGUARDIA TOWER,  ROGER'” * * *

“[Ford was told he had to hold for about an hour to land in daylight] * * * ‘AND SAY AGAIN, CONFIRM YOUR DEPARTURE POINT. WE HAVE NO OVERSEAS INBOUNDS AT THIS TIME.’

“‘I SAY AGAIN, INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND, BY WAY OF THE LONG WAY ‘ROUND FOR ABOUT THE PAST MONTH. IT’LL SURE BE GOOD TO GET HOME AGAIN'”

With that, this epic round-the-world flight was completed. Robert Gandt summarized it fittingly:

“To a flying boat had fallen the distinction of making the first round-the-world flight in a commercial airliner. Bob Ford and the Pacific Clipper, though they had not set out to do so, had entered history.”

Ford's Flight Route

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The following works were used in preparing this blog: Robert Daley’s An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, Ed Dover’s The Long Way Home – Revised Edition and Robert Gandt’s China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying BoatsIn addition, retired Pan Am Captain John Marshall’s two articles on Captain Ford’s flight published in Airways Magazine were also valuable sources in preparing this blog.

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

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

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

The Pan Am Series – Part II: The Boeing 314 Flying Boat

Boeing 314 - Flying Boat

Boeing 314 – Flying Boat

The Boeing 314 was a long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. One of the largest aircraft of the time, its massive wingspan enabled it to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Twelve ships, designated Clippers, were built for Pan Am.

Pan Am’s Clippers were built for “one-class” luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. With a cruise speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) Pan Am’s scheduled flight between San Francisco and Honolulu was 19 hours.  The passenger seats were convertible into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation.  In addition there was a lounge and dining area with galleys crewed by top chefs.  White-coated stewards served multi-course meals during the trip.

Flight Deck

Flight Deck

Passengers Dining

Passengers Dining

The Boeing 314 inaugurated Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic service and on 20 May 1939, was first to operate mail service with the Yankee Clipper from New York to Marseilles, France via Horta, Azores and Lisbon, Portugal.   The Yankee Clipper also inaugurated mail service between New York and Southampton, England about a month later.  Trans-Atlantic passenger service was inaugurated on 29 June 1939 with the Dixie Clipper between New York and Marseilles, via Horta and Lisbon.

The aircraft played an important role in World War II and completed two history-making f;lights:

In January, 1942, the Pacific Clipper, commanded by Captain Robert Ford, completed the first flight around the world. Originating in San Francisco, the flight was required to return to the United States on a westward course due to military action after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  From Honolulu, the flight eventually arrived in New York after stopping in Canton, Suva (Fiji), Noumea, Auckland, Gladstone, Port Darwin, Surabaya, Trincomalee (Ceylon), Karachi, Bahrain, Leopoldville, Natal and Port of Spain.

On 11 January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew on the Dixie Clipper to the Casablanca Conference, becoming the first American president to fly on a commercial airliner while in office.  The route was Miami-Trinidad-Belem, Brazil-Bathurst, Gambia and then by army transport to Casablanca.  The return trip by the Clipper originated in Bathurst and stopped in Natal, Brazil and Trinidad, arriving in Miami 30 January 1943.

At Anchor in San Francisco

At Anchor in San Francisco

Captain Bill Nash, a retired Pan Am pilot, joined the airline in 1942 and spent his first years in the flight deck of the Boeing 314.  Below is a story he wrote about his experiences flying this aircraft.  It appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

The words of Captain Nash:

“When I joined Pan Am in 1942, one of the first phrases that I learned was “flying by the seat of your pants” – an old adage used to describe proper flying techniques. Before high-altitude jets flew commercially, we had to fly through wide storms rather than over them.  To do so, we developed a seat of the pants technique – literally- whereby our bottoms were being bumped, rather than slipping or sliding.

“Today, we have the sophistication and luxury of jetliners to fly over many of those boiling storm masses, cabin pressurization for oxygen supply, and radar to show us the dangerous storm cells, enabling us to fly around the violent depictions shown on the weather radar screen.

“When crossing an ocean in a Pan Am flying boat such as the Boeing-314, we navigated celestially using an octant.  Every Pan Am pilot was required to learn two methods of star computations to lay a position on the chart. On a Boeing-314 we had a glass hatch atop the cabin through which we could “shoot stars”.  When the sky was partly cloud-covered, we plotted whatever navigational stars we could see.  If the sky was overcast we could not use our octants.

“In the daylight we could see wind streaks on the surface of the sea, shiny lines running 90 degrees to the waves.  If we had cloud cover below as well as above, we would navigate by dead-reckoning, using the wind we thought we had.  If clear below and we passed a ship we could see, we could compare our position with theirs.

“Approaching a coast, such as much of the Atlantic shoreline, which could be a mass jungle, while receiving poor or no radio signals, we aimed at the shore off-coast 30 degrees left or right – wherever we considered the destination most likely to be.  When we arrived at the coast we then followed the shore to our destination.  If we had flown straight at the destination and saw nothing, we would not have known which way to follow the coast.

“During a typical 11-12 hour flight, we usually took turns resting every 4 hours in our crew bunks.  The props turned at 1,600 RPM’s and they vibrated violently.  Consequently, it took some time to fall asleep.

“During World War II on trans-oceanic flights, Pan Am crews had to learn how to decipher coded messages.  At departure we received an envelope which was not to be opened until we were aloft containing the keys to the codes which were valid for only a certain number of hours and then changed.

“The Boeing-314 crew consisted of a captain, first officer, second officer, third officer, fourth officer, first and second flight engineers and one Morse Code radio-operator plus varying number of flight personnel.  Four or more male stewards were aboard, depending on the aircraft’s configuration.  The work on board was considered too strenuous for stewardesses.  Hefty, large-capacity life rafts had to be handled and there were ponderous bunks to be prepared for sleeping.

“The entire aircraft was First Class, and our flying boats often carried kings, queens, presidents and potentates.  We were instructed to be pleasant with them if they addressed us, but not to seek out conversation.  President Juan Trippe wanted us to be able to converse intelligently by keeping up with current events, and having a good knowledge of history and sensitive political issues.

“Passengers enjoyed delicious meals that were prepared onboard and served in a 14-place dining room with black walnut tables in a silver and blue décor.  The food was elegantly served in courses by stewards in white jackets, on pale blue table cloths with matching monogrammed napkins and china.  Wine was always served and dinner was topped off with fancy desserts, fruits and cheeses, and a cordial of crème de menthe.  Sometimes there was a captain’s table.  After dinner, the dining room was converted into a lounge where some passengers chose to relax while others went to their cabins to sleep.

“The Boeing-314’s were retired from Pan Am’s service in 1946, after World War II.  Not one survived, and only a few parts exist in museums which to me, is very sad. Clare Booth Luce, a playwright, United States Congresswoman and Ambassador to Italy, returned to the US aboard a flight on the Boeing-314 and said “Years from now, we will look back upon Pan American’s flying boats as the most glamorous, romantic air travel in the world”.

“To me, experiencing this phase of early commercial aviation was one of the best times of my life.  Having had the opportunity to be part of a Boeing 314 crew was an outstanding adventure for a young man, and I still recall it well at age 94, and thrill to the memories of that great aircraft and the exciting era of world history, all made possible by my years with Pan Am.”

Bill Brenton Nash was a Pilot with Pan American from 17 August 1942 to 1 June 1977.  Now 96 years old, he lives with his wife Eva in Southwest Florida.

Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, cover pictured below, is a collection of essays  written by the people of Pan Am, the pilots, the flight attendants, the station managers and other staff who participated in the history making events that arguably made Pan Am the greatest airline that ever was—and certainly the most renowned and celebrated.

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

“On December 11, 1934, Pan Am’s founder, Juan T. Trippe in a New York City speech stated:

‘By each successive step, aviation is advancing to that potential ideal of a universal service for humanity.  By overcoming artificial barriers, aviation can weave together, in closer understanding, the nations of the world, and lift for the peoples of the world those horizons which have too long limited the prospective of those who live upon this earth.’

“These words are fulfilled in this book, an anthology of stories written by the people of Pan Am.  They were there at the important and news-making events that shaped the airline’s life.  Many of these events made headlines around the world, such as the carnage at Tenerife or the Lockerbie bombing.   And, with the recent fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, the name Pan American is still commanding space in news publications today.  Other events, among so many, might have just been a small item in the local newspaper or were never reported at all. 

“There were those employees who went beyond the call of duty; others were simply doing their job and in some cases there was loss of life of their dear friends.   The bottom line, big or small, heroic or otherwise, is that the events were important to the airline and its people.  This is the story we have to tell: The historic achievements of Pan Am as experienced and lived by its greatest resource – its people.”

Among the 71 essays are recollections of the inaugural flights of the Boeing 707 and 747, the flight that brought the Beatles to the United States for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and flights carrying dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.  Other stories recall Pan Am’s involvement in the rescue of orphans during the Viet Nam War and the final closing of its Saigon Station.  There are personal recollections of hijackings, Presidential Press charters, the sale of Pan Am’s Pacific routes and the merger with National Airlines.  Finally is the narrative by the pilot who was captain on Pan Am’s last revenue flight on December 4, 1991.

These stories and much more are included in this book and any student or fan of aviation will find a treasure trove of history and memories.

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

“[The book takes the] reader ‘inside Pan Am’ relative to its achievements and tragedies from a first-person perspective. * * * [O]ver 70 first-hand accounts . . . that lend authenticity to the human experience shared by employees at all levels of the company.  By the conclusion of the book, what becomes evident is that this unique US institution—long admired as ‘the American Flag’ by many foreign countries—has also come to represent a piece of the USA that has been sadly lost. This wonderful presentation of Pan Am revealed without barriers allows the reader to ponder a company that was only as great as the people who made it ‘The World’s Most Experienced Airline’”.

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

“The stories in this book make up what is essentially one important story – a story of dedication, heroism, and sacrifice – by an airline and its people during an important period of aviation history.  It is a story that needs to be preserved in history for future generations.  This book is an important step in that direction.”  

From Edward S. Trippe, Chairman, Pan Am Historical Foundation,

” . . . is a tribute to the legacy of one of the world’s great airlines and the men and women who for six decades were the soul of the company. * * * [This is] a compelling book, which through the words of its contributors captures much of the joy, adventure and spirit which was Pan Am.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

http://bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am2.html

The Pan Am Series – Part I: The Book

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

I am launching a new series of postings about Pan American World Airways to be called “The Pan Am Series”.  My aim is to share the memories of this iconic airline that played such an important role in the development of civil aviation.  Pan Am’s first revenue flight was a Fokker F-VII between Key West and Havana on 28 October 1927.  The last revenue flights were a 747 from New York Kennedy to São Paulo, Brazil on 3 December 1991 and a 727 from New York to Barbados on 4 December 1991.  Pan Am officially ceased operations at 9:00 a.m., 4 December 1991.  The 747 crew was resting in São Paulo awaiting their return flight that evening when the news broke.  The captain of the 727 received the news upon arrival in Barbados. Both their stories will be published in future postings.

I have been a fan of Pan Am all my life, starting as a boy when I watched a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser arrive at its gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after a flight from the Far East with my grandfather on board.

Pan Am's Boeing 377 - the Stratocruiser

Pan Am’s Boeing 377 – the Stratocruiser

My father did a lot of international travel as well and we would meet him at LAX when he arrived on DC-6Bs of Pan Am from South America.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the "Super 6", Clipper Midnight Sun.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the “Super 6”, Clipper Midnight Sun.

During our childhoods growing up in Los Angeles, our parents often took my sisters and me to LAX to visit the terminals and watch airplanes land over Sepulveda Boulevard.   During that time I developed an interest in collecting airline brochures, timetables and baggage tags.  For some reason, I developed a keen interest in the baggage tags and amassed a large collection over the years.  I leaned heavily in Pan Am’s favor because I thought it was the “best airline” and because the baggage tags were more colorful than other airlines.  I also liked the Pan Am timetables because the route map seemingly covered every corner of the globe!

Eventually, our family went on a trip to South America, and we flew on Pan Am!  I remember that day in 1957.  We flew from Los Angeles to Guatemala on a DC-6B, Flight 515.   That was the beginning of my traveling on many more Pan Am flights over the next decades, including on some its most prestigious routes.

As I grew up, I studied the history of Pan Am, and learned a lot of geography from the route maps and flight schedules in its timetables.  I even learned about time zones and the 24-hour clock!   As a college student, I managed to work Pan Am into my studies as an International Relations major, focusing on the international airline system and international politics.  Later, I went to law school to become an airline lawyer.

I continued collecting and over a period of 50 years, managed to keep much of the material, supplemented by purchases from similar collectors on eBay.

Recently, while teaching in the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, I often mentioned Pan Am, but to my surprise most of my students were not familiar with the aviation pioneer.  At the same time, I was in the process of preserving my Pan Am collection by scanning the brochures, timetables and tags and putting them into a digital “scrapbook”.  It dawned on me that it would be a nice idea to use the digital scrapbook to create a book about Pan Am’s history through images of the material I had scanned and use it to tell the Pan Am story to students and those who were not around during Pan Am’s glory years.  Thus was born my book, Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline.

pan am bookcover

From the Preface:

Probably no airline in the history of aviation has attracted more attention and has been more written about than Pan American World Airways, for decades the symbol of airline superiority world-wide. This is the airline that pioneered air navigation and communications.  It introduced international and over-ocean flights. It set the standard for in-flight service and brought air travel to the masses through the introduction of “Tourist” class.  It brought the industry into the jet age and eventually the era of the wide-body jet. To thousands of Americans living and working overseas, Pan American meant home. Pan American served the United States and never failed to answer the call of the country. For many, Pan American was the symbol of the United States around the world.

Pan American’s pioneering “firsts” have been thoroughly documented in many books and articles. And indeed a wealth of books, ranging from detailed histories to coffee-table picture books, is available to anyone interested in Pan American.

 In this book, Pan American’s firsts, along with significant events, are presented in chronological order and are divided into six sections representing key eras of the life of Pan American: (1) Beginnings (1927-1939); (2) The War Years (1940-1945); (3) The Piston Era (1946-1957); (4) The Jet Age (1958-1969); (5) Top of the World – Boeing 747 (1970-1979); and (6) End of an American Icon (1980-1991). The firsts and significant events are listed at the beginning of each section followed by illustrations from that era, including covers of annual reports, covers of time tables (along with a page of flight schedules and route map), baggage strap tags, safety information cards and pictures of aircraft. Some images are of items never before illustrated, many of which are rare or no longer exist.

Below is a link to a condensed version of the book featuring selected pages. The manuscript is “pre-camera ready” and many of the images may appear un-cropped.

http://issuu.com/jamiebaldwin/docs/manuscript_-_issuu

Comments about this book:

From Captain Bill Nash, who flew for Pan Am August 1942 – June 1977

“As a Pan Am pilot for 35 years (34 yrs as Captain) I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and the way you did it with items familiar to me, such as varied baggage strap tags, articles, routes, schedules, annual reports, progressive aircraft photos (external and internal), lists of Pan Am “firsts”, and operation advances.”

From Captain Bob Gandt, who flew for Pan Am 1965-1991 and author, Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am

“Jamie Baldwin has given us a treasure trove of Pan Am lore. Here is something for everyone — a concise history of the pioneering airline, a rich potpourri of Pan Am memorabilia, and, best of all, a nostalgic journey back to an age when the mighty Pan American ruled the skies.”

From Susanne (Strickland) Malm, Flight Attendant, 1968-1978

“…a carefully constructed timeline of Pan Am’s incredible record of firsts and aviation achievements… chock full of rare and nostalgic collector’s memorabilia… a veritable time capsule into which any reader may be gently transported…back to a time when flying was gracious, glamorous and eagerly anticipated by passengers and crew alike!”

From Pete Runnette, President, Pan Am Historical Foundation

“…a fine chronology of Pan Am’s pioneering history, with wonderful pictures to match – valuable to student or aviation aficionado alike, and browsing will bring back fond memories for employees or passengers, of air travel Pan Am style…”

From Carol and Fred Tomlinson, Pan Am Staff

“We would like to thank you for doing a marvelous job on the book, and for portraying Pan Am as the great airline that it was!  We are all extremely proud of its history and professionalism, and your book brought back many happy memories!”

From Barry Humphreys, Chairman, British Air Transport Association and former Director, Virgin Atlantic Airways

“No history of international aviation can be complete without including the amazing story of Pan American Airways. Pan Am was without doubt the industry’s leader for several decades; more than just another airline. Jamie Baldwin’s fascinating collection of photographs and chronology captures the story of Pan Am brilliantly, from the early days, thru the glory years to the sad end. It is a story well worth telling.”

This book is published and is available for purchase from the publisher, BlueWater Press.  Please follow this link for ordering information:  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

From the Preface:

I hope readers will enjoy seeing these items that were representative of Pan American’s glory years and that this book will find its place alongside the many books already written about Pan American World Airways.