Aviation Regulation – History and Practice – Part 2

Aviation Regulation – History and Practice

Part Two

FOREIGN AIR MAIL CONTRACTS

The airmail legislation described in Part One did not apply to air transportation of foreign mail. Eventually, with the U.S. government strongly supporting mail service between North and South America, the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Air Mail Act of 1928 to regulate such international service. This, however, was preceded by the formation of Pan American Airways and its inauguration of international airline services between the U.S. and Cuba.

Pan American Airways, Inc. (PAA) 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.

juan-t-trippeOn 2 June 1927, Juan Trippe formed the Aviation Corporation of America (ACA) with financially powerful and politically well-connected backing, and raised $300,000.  On 1 July Reed Chambers and financier Richard Hoyt 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 becaFairchildFC-2 La Ninause 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 and Atlantic Coast Line railroads.  The hurricane threat disappeared and the trip was made.  The rest is history.

On 28 October 1927, the Fokker finally left Key West on Pan American’s inaugural international flight, carrying 772 lb. of mail.

FOKKER F7-staff

Under the Act, Foreign Airmail contracts (FAMs) were put up for bidding and Pan American was able to win them, making it the only US-flagged carrier with authority from the U.S. government to carry mail to foreign countries on international routes.  Operating authority to these countries, however, needed to be secured and at the time there was no framework within the US government to accomplish that. Pan American’s Juan Trippe was able to do it. He carried out then what the U.S. Departments of State and Transportation do today with respect to foreign routes.

Pan American established services first in the Caribbean, the whole of Latin America and eventually across the 1930s colorfulPacific Ocean. Authority across the Pacific, however, was not Trippe’s original transoceanic ambition. It was the Atlantic. However the geopolitical situation coupled with technological limitations made that option impossible. The path to Europe was through Newfoundland. Unfortunately, negotiations between 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 with regard to 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.

What is interesting here, with respect to the negotiations over Newfoundland, is that it was not the American government doing Pan American’s bidding. It was Juan Trippe. And it was Trippe who personally dealt with the governments of Britain, Canada and Newfoundland, following a pattern used when he negotiated traffic rights to countries in Latin America.

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 spoke for Imperial and questioned why the U.S. government did not speak for Pan American, as both entities were instruments of national policy. 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 American’s S-42, then the most advanced aircraft in the world. Until Imperial Airways had a similar aircraft that could cross the Atlantic to the United States, Pan American would find itself blocked from operating to Britain.

S-42The focus thus switched to the Pacific. After a “great circle” trans-Pacific route through the north was ruled out due to issues between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was decided to take the route that represented the longest distance between the United States and the Orient: the mid-Pacific.

Here, the issue of traffic rights was not a problem for Pan American. The route involved stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam, terminating in Manila, all of which were under U.S. jurisdiction. At Guam and the Philippines, the U.S. 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. Wake, a tiny island, discovered by Trippe in the New York Public Library, was an uninhabited coral atoll, and a minor trophy of the Spanish-American War. It was a critical point for the trans-Pacific flight. Trippe eventually got permission to use the island as a base.

On 24 October 1935 the U.S. Post Office awarded Trippe the trans-Pacific FAM and on 22 November, the China Clipper inaugurated service from the mainland United States across the Pacific.

China Clipper

 

U.S. REGULATION OF AIR TRANSPORTATION

The first instance of United States regulation of aircraft and airmen was in the Air Commerce Act of 1926. It defined “Air Commerce” as carriage by aircraft of persons or property for hire, and the navigation of aircraft in the furtherance of or for the benefit of a business. It established federal regulations regarding aircraft, airmen, navigational facilities and air traffic, including the development and maintenance of airways and aircraft altitude separation. The Act required that aircraft were to be inspected for airworthiness and were required to have markings on the outside for identification. It also provided the requirement that airmen be tested for aeronautical knowledge and have a physical examination completed to insure their physical fitness.

The Act also promoted civil aviation to attract capital and provide a legal basis necessary for its development. The Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce was established by an amendment to the Act in 1929 and was responsible for overseeing and implementing the Act. The regulations promulgated would be known as Civil Air Regulations (CARs).

caa1938In 1935, the Federal Aviation Commission (FAC), a board created by Congress in 1934 to study airline regulation and recommend policy called for creation of a centralized and independent authority to regulate the airline industry. As a result Congress passed the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 that was signed into law by President Roosevelt. The Act established the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) and transferred federal responsibilities for non-military aviation to that new independent agency. The Act also gave the CAA quasi-judicial and legislative functions related to economic and safety regulation. This included regulation of fares and routes the air carriers would serve. The CAA was also responsible for aviation regulations, airways, navigational facilities and air traffic control.

The Act created a three-member Air Safety Board that investigated accidents and made recommendations to eliminate the causes of accidents and also provided for an Administrator, who performed executive functions related to the development, operation and administration of air navigations, as well as the promotion of aviation. Airmail contracts were replaced by “Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity”.

CAAwing

In 1940, President Roosevelt split the CAA into two agencies, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, which went back to the Department of Commerce, and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). The offshoot of the original CAA retained responsibility for ATC, airmen and aircraft certification, safety enforcement, and airway development. CAB Welch Pogue NASM Archivesresponsibilities included safety rulemaking, accident investigation and economic regulation of the airlines. The latter included passenger fares, air mail rates, route entry and exit, mergers and acquisitions and inter-carrier agreements. The routes of the then existing airlines were “grandfathered” and these airlines became later known as “trunks”, a term borrowed from the trunk railroads of the day. These trunk airlines were certified to operate on medium and long-haul interstate routes under Section 401 of the enabling legislation and were sometimes referred to as “401 carriers”.  In 1942, L. Welch Pogue, Esq., was appointed Chairman of the CAB and served until 1946.

UAL_Route_Map_1940

1941-april-27-american-airlines-timetables-route-maps-and-history_4712

TWA 1935

American_DC-3     Boeing 247-1

 

EARLY EUROPEAN AVIATION

Initial Operations

In the United Kingdom, Aircraft Transport and Travel, a fixed-wing airline, operated the first international route in the world between Hounslow Heath outside London and Le Bourget near Paris. The airline also won the first British DH16-AT&Tcivil airmail contract between Hawkinge and Cologne. Handley Page, another airline, operated a London-Paris passenger service.

In France, Société Générale des Transports Aériens operated flights between Toussus, le Noble and Kenley (near Croydon, outside London), and Compagnie des Messageries Aériennes operated airmail and freight service between Le Bourget and Lille.

In Germany, Deutsche Luft Hansa was created in 1926 and became a major investor in airlines outside Europe, particularly in South America. The German manufactured Junkers, Dornier and Fokker aircraft were at the time the most advanced in the world.

In the Netherlands, KLM, the oldest continuously operating airline in the world made its first flight in 1920 between Croydon Airport, London and Amsterdam.KLM-poster-1919

In Finland, Aero O/Y (now Finnair) started operations in 1924 between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia.

And in the Soviet Union, the Chief Administration of Civil Air Fleet was established in 1921. Later, a German-Russian joint venture was established to provide flights to the west from Russia. Domestic operations were begun in 1923 by Dobrolyot and from 1932, all operations were carried under the name “Aeroflot”.

Farman-goliath France

European Airlines Recognized as Airmail Carriers

The period of 1920-1927 was a period of significant development for air transportation but the postalHandley_Page_0_100_aircraft administrations and airlines were in the dark as to future possibilities for international airmail. By 1924, the idea of using aircraft for the transportation of mail began to gain momentum, and in September, 1927, at a conference called at the suggestion of the Air Transport Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce held at The Hague, an agreement was reached that established airlines as officially recognized carriers of the mail. The Conference also initiated rules and regulations concerning the acceptance and rapid delivery of airmail, a rate-making structure, the expeditious handling of airmail by countries without air services, and the basis of accounting procedures for international airmail. Another provision agreed was that the PAR AVION labels should have a blue color and, when the mail did not actually travel by air, such labels or annotations should be crossed out.

EUROPEAN CONSOLIDATION AND EXPANSION

Consolidation 

In the United Kingdom, there was a movement toward consolidation to compete with the subsidized French and German airlines. In 1924, Imperial Airlines was formed through a merger of four airlines, and was able to compete with these French and German carriers. In addition the airline began survey flights to far-flung parts of the British Empire. The airline also ordered the Handley Page W8f City of Washington.

Tanken van een vliegtuig met twee propellers. Schiphol, Nederland, 1927.

In France, Air Union was formed in January 1923 and later merged with four other airlines to become Air France in 1933.

Expansion

After consolidation survey flights, Imperial Airlines extended its operations during the late 1920s and 1930s to the furthest reaches of the British Empire. Destinations included South Africa, Australia, British India, Rangoon, Singapore, Basra, Karachi, Hong Kong, etc. The aircraft, however, were small, with a capacity of fewer than 20 passengers, and the passengers consisted of the wealthy or British men doing colonial administration, business or research.

Air France’s operations depended on links to points in North Africa and Indochina.

KLM in the Netherlands also depended on links to its far flung colonies, including the East Indies.

Hindenburg_at_lakehurstGermany, however, lacked colonies but began expanding services with the airship Graf Zeppelin in regular scheduled passenger service between Germany and North and South America. Airship Hindenburg entered passenger service and successfully crossed the Atlantic 36 times before crashing at Lake Hurst, New Jersey, in May 1937.

One point of interest here is that during this time the state-owned flag carriers of several European nations were establishing “foreign routes” to their own colonies in Asia, Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent, all without the need to obtain traffic rights. Privately owned Pan American did not have this luxury and was required to obtain traffic rights to operate not only to the European countries, but to their colonies as well.

The maps below illustrate the typical route systems of two key international airlines prior to and during World War II. The U.S. carrier, Pan American, obtained its authority through negotiating for landing rights at overseas destinations. The foreign carrier, Imperial of Great Britain offered overseas destinations through its colonies. As previously noted, Pan American’s initial transpacific authority came about by virtue of U.S. control of waypoints between San Francisco and Manila. The authority to Hong Kong came about after Pan American’s Juan Trippe used his previously obtained landing rights in Portuguese Macao to pressure the British to grant him landing rights in Hong Kong. At the time, the China National Aviation Corporation (C.N.A.C.) was yet another subsidiary of Pan American. Note the extent of operations in Latin America. 

PAA Map 1940    PAA South America

Imperial_routes_April_1935

SITUATION AT THE EVE OF WORLD WAR II

 Late 1930s

By the late 1930s, Pan American had launched trans-Atlantic flights with the Boeing 314 flying boat. The British and French were operating trans-Atlantic flights as well, but only under mail contracts. Pan American was the only airline with the capacity to accommodate passenger traffic.

314a-oct 13

Imperial flying boat-cropped

 

 

 

 

 

At the same time, U.S. domestic airlines (and Pan American) were looking at high-capacity-long range landplanes (DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation).

War Looms

War was looming in Europe and at the same time, Pan American began experiencing problems with its Boeing 314 operation due to bad weather in the winter months. Both these factors prompted a shift to a southern route that nearly doubled the flight time between the European continent and New York. The route departed Lisbon and stopped in Bolama (West Africa), Port of Spain and Bermuda before arriving in New York.

On the eve of World War II, Juan Trippe recognized that a shift from flying boats to landplanes on trans-Atlantic routes was inevitable. He was initially interested in acquiring the pressurized Lockheed Constellation and was “given permission” by Howard Hughes to acquire it. However, the war started and both DC-4 and Constellation production was shifted to the war effort.

C-69Navy-C54

For all intents and purposes, the world’s airlines shifted their operations to wartime, including Pan American and the U.S. domestic airlines. Other than the U.S. regulations that governed the U.S. carriers, international commercial aviation was governed by the provisions of the Paris Convention of 1919 and the Havana Convention of 1928. It would soon become obvious that both were obsolete.

END OF PART TWO

The next installment of this story, Part 3, will cover World War II, the Chicago Convention of 1944, ICAO, Air Services Agreements, the Freedoms of the Air, the concept of the “Chosen Instrument”, IATA and the Bermuda Agreement of 1946.

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The Pan Am Series – Part XXI: The Constellation

Around the World in a Constellation

Lockheed 049 Constellation (Illustration by Mike Machat  in Ron Davies' Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Lockheed 049 Constellation (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Many who have followed the history of Pan American World Airways during the piston era often associate the airline with the Boeing Stratocruiser, the DC-6B and the DC-7C, aircraft that played starring roles during that time. Often overlooked was the Constellation, which is always associated with Trans World Airlines (TWA). The ubiquity was obvious: when one sees a Stratocruiser or a DC-6B or DC-7C, one thinks of Pan Am; when one sees a Constellation, one thinks of TWA. Yet, the Constellation played an important role in the post-World War II history of Pan Am, not the least, making the first commercial airline flight around the world.

The Lockheed Constellation (“Connie”), built by the Lockheed Corporation, is a piston airliner driven by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 propeller engines. Between 1943 and 1958, 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models at Lockheed’s Burbank, California facility. The aircraft is distinguished by a triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage and was used as a civilian airliner and as a military and civilian air transport, and saw service in the Berlin Airlift and the Biafran Airlift. It was the presidential aircraft for U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, Ron Davies said this about the Constellation:

“British aviation writer Peter Brooks described the Lockheed Constellation as the ‘secret weapon of American air transport.’ The description was almost literally true as it was produced, if not clandestinely, certainly behind locked doors. It was the inspired result of close cooperation between Lockheed’s design staff headed by the redoubtable Kelly Johnson, and the leadership of Howard Hughes, now actively in charge of TWA. Discussions were first held in 1939. TWA ordered nine in 1940, and the ‘Model 049’, as Lockheed engineers always called it, first flew on 9 January 1943. All concerned must have known it was a winner, even if the C-54s (DC-4s) were piling up the hours across the conflict-stricken oceans.

“On 19 April 1944 Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye flew the ‘Connie’ nonstop from Burbank, Lockheed’s plant location in California, to Washington, DC in three minutes less than seven hours, an air journey which normally took between 12 and 14 hours, including stops. The aircraft was immediately handed over to the Government for military use, and Howard Hughes no doubt made a considerable impression on the assembled bureaucratic multitude as he demonstrated it (illegally) in TWA’s colors”.

With the onset of World War II, the TWA aircraft entering production were converted to an order for C-69 Constellation military transport aircraft, with 202 aircraft intended for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The aircraft was mostly used as a high-speed, long-distance troop transport during the war.

After World War II the Constellation came into its own as a popular, fast, civilian airliner. Aircraft already in production for the USAAF as C-69 transports were converted to civilian airliners, with TWA receiving the first on 1 October 1945. TWA’s first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, DC, on 3 December 1945, arriving in Paris on 4 December via Gander and Shannon.

Pan American’s involvement with the Constellation came about before World War II and involved none other than Juan Trippe’s rival, Howard Hughes. According to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument, during the first winter of transatlantic service with the Boeing 314, flights suffered many delays because of weather conditions and only 56% were completed. There were icy conditions in the Northeast and rough seas around the Azores. Because of the weather conditions in the Northeast, eastbound passengers were ferried south, sometimes as far south as Miami, by train or domestic carrier to pick up their transatlantic Clipper. On the westbound trip, heavy headwinds and swells at Horta in the Azores caused cancellation of many flights. Later, in the summer of 1940, Pan Am received authority to use Bolama, on the coast of Portuguese Guinea, for an alternative route during the winter months. Westbound flights originating in Lisbon flew south to Bolama and then west and north through Belem and Bermuda to its U.S. destination, adding over 4000 miles to the trip.

Pan Am desperately needed a long-range plane, a type of plane the domestic airlines had taken the lead in developing; but none existed that was capable of spanning oceans. According to Bender and Altschul, “Providence, in the person of . . . Howard Hughes bailed Trippe out on his dependence on the flying boat.” Hughes had bought a controlling interest in TWA and spurred Lockheed to build a four-engine high altitude plane for his airline. It was the Model 049 and it was a challenge to the DC-4 Douglas was building for United and American. As TWA was a domestic carrier at the time, Hughes “allowed” Trippe to enter the Lockheed program. Pan Am ordered twenty 049’s and ten long-range versions of the model in June 1940.  The latter version had pressurized cabins that allowed for flying over the Atlantic storms. However, with the outbreak of war and before the delivery date in 1942, Lockheed had to assign Pan Am’s contract to the Army, with the promise to deliver the aircraft after the war.

As a sidebar to this story:

During the war four significant events occurred that would change the way international airlines did business. Briefly, and without going into the details, these were: (1) a decision between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill whereby, according to Bender and Altschul, the British were to concentrate on production of fighter planes and small bombers and the Americans were to build large bombers and transport planes; (2) great leaps in technology during the war that resulted in the development of larger airplanes with more efficient engines capable of airlifting supplies and personnel over the oceans and that eventually gave the U.S. a clear advantage in the field of international civil aviation; (3) the Roosevelt Administration in Washington not supporting, according to Bender and Selig, a “monopoly [for Pan American] of the overseas air routes. ‘Juan Trippe cannot have it all'”; and (4) the Chicago Conference of 1944, called because of the U.S advantage in international civil aviation and the concern of other nations over that advantage.

The Chicago Conference provided for the “Freedoms of the Air”, governing overflight and landing and traffic rights; “bilateral agreements”, a mechanism for the exchange of traffic rights between governments; and the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization which would oversee the agreements within the convention having to do with the technical side of international civil aviation. Unfortunately, economic issues, such as frequencies and tariffs, were not resolved largely due to the failure of the British and the Americans to resolve their differences on a variety of economic issues.  These were eventually resolved in 1946 in what became known as the “Bermuda Agreement”. One of the most important features of this agreement was the granting of “Fifth Freedom” rights, which in the case of a bilateral agreement between the United States and a foreign country, gave the right of a U.S.  airline to pick up traffic in that foreign country and carry it to another foreign country along the airline’s route. For example, in the the Bermuda Agreement a passenger may board Pan Am’s flight 2 at London and travel to Frankfurt (or another destination along its route). This right would prove to be important for Pan American with respect to its round-the-world services.

With the end of hostilities, the aircraft built for service in the war, including the Lockheeds, were turned over to the airlines, including Pan Am. In addition, the U.S. Government, through the Civil Aeronautics Board, awarded international routes to several U.S. domestic airlines, including TWA.

Lockheed 049 Constellation - Clipper Challenge - at New York (Connie Heggblom)

Lockheed 049 Constellation – Clipper Challenge – at New York (Connie Heggblom)

From Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft:

“Juan Trippe had been accustomed to sponsoring new generations of aircraft, and it must have been quite a shock to his system to see Hughes and TWA not only taking over such leadership, but also receiving extensive international route awards from the Civil Aeronautics Board, enthusiastically supported by the President (Roosevelt), and now challenging the Chosen Instrument, as Pan American was unofficially dubbed, on the lucrative North Atlantic route.

“The first of the Lockheed airliners, with 54 seats in Pan Am’s layout, was delivered on 5 January 1946 and was christened Clipper Mayflower. A second arrived one week later and Pan American opened North Atlantic Constellation service on 14 January 1946. This was a measure of Pan Am’s considerable organizational strength as TWA itself did not start scheduled transatlantic service until 5 February. * * *

“Pan American took delivery of 22 Model 049 Constellations before the end of May 1946. Two went directly to Panair do Brasil, still very much a Pan Am subsidiary and which was the fortunate recipient of eleven more during the 1950s as they retired from the parent company’s routes.

“On 17 June 1947 a Constellation Model 749, an advanced version, one of four delivered to Pan Am, made the first round-the-world airline inaugural flight from New York to San Francisco. * * * Later, with the purchase of American Overseas Airlines (A.O.A), seven more of the 049 model were added for a total Connie fleet of 33.”

This round-the-world flight undoubtedly was the Constellation’s most notable achievement during its service for Pan Am. Clipper America departed on its historic flight from La Guardia Field in New York. 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. Because of the Fifth Freedom rights granted the United States (and Pan Am) in the Bermuda Agreement, Pan Am was able to carry passengers between countries along its round-the-world routes, provided one of the stops involved a British Commonwealth Country and was on Pan Am’s route.

McCoy print First RTW

 From Ron Davies:

“The Lockheed 049 Constellation was in a class of its own. It was at least 70 mph faster than the DC-4; it was pressurized – at a higher equivalent altitude than the Boeing 307 had been; it was larger, with 60 seats against the DC-4’s 44 at the same seat pitch; and it had the range to fly the North Atlantic with only one stop. It sent all the Douglas design staff back to the drawing board in a hurry to develop the un-pressurized Four into something bigger and faster and higher-flying. For the path which airlines had beaten to Santa Monica was superseded by one to Burbank, because when TWA put the Constellation into service, it quickly became evident that there were two classes of airline: those with Connies and those without them.”

Pan Am operated the Constellation for about a decade from its first deliveries in 1946. In a 1948 timetable, the airplane was used primarily on the airline’s round-the-world flights (although sharing duty with the DC-4) and on its services across the Atlantic, including Africa. The Constellation was also operated between New York and San Juan. Pan Am’s subsidiary Panair do Brasil, operated the Constellation between Istanbul and Buenos Aires through Europe and Africa. In a 1950 timetable, the Constellation still operated in the around-the-world service, sharing duties with the DC-4 and Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Of note was the Friday westbound trip originating in San Francisco designated “PA1”. The airplane continued to be used on Atlantic services, including Africa, as well as the New York-San Juan rotation. The timetable images below illustrate some of these services:

Clipper Winged Arrow

Clipper Winged Arrow

As the decade of the 1950s progressed, Constellation operations began to fade. In a 1952 timetable, its round-the-world sector was between London and Hong Kong. It’s transatlantic operations were replaced by the DC-6B and the Stratocruiser, although it still operated to southern Europe and Africa. The airplane also experienced an increased presence in Latin America. By 1956, the Constellation was only seen in Central America under the Pan Am livery, as seen in a timetable of that year. By the end of the decade the Pan Am Constellation fleet had been sold to Panair do Brasil, Cubana, Delta and Air France.

As a footnote, the Constellation holds two records for flight duration: On 29 September 1957, a TWA L-1649 Constellation  flew from Los Angeles to London in 18 hours and 32 minutes. On its inaugural London to San Francisco flight on 1 October 1957, the aircraft recorded the longest duration non-stop passenger flight, staying aloft for  23 hours and 19 minutes.

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

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