The Pan Am Series – Part XXII: The Boeing 747

Boeing 747 Machat

Pan American Goes “Top of the World” With the 747

“Would you build it if I bought it?”

“Would you buy it if I built it?”

As legend has it, these were the utterances between Juan Trippe of Pan American and Bill Allen of Boeing while fishing from the Wild Goose in Puget Sound one summer’s day. By the end of their outing, there was, according to Bob Gandt in Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, a verbal commitment to build an aircraft  what in Trippe’s mind would be a “stopgap airplane” top fill the void between the first generation jets –  the Boeing 707 and the DC-8 – and the yet-to-be-built Supersonic Transport, the SST.

Pan American had been enjoying unprecedented growth during the decade of the 1960s, with traffic, according to R.E.G. Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, increasing an average of about 15% per year. Business was booming and it was time to move forward. What was the next step? In Robert Daley’s An American Saga, the next step could have been the Supersonic Transport. At the time, the British and French were planning the Concorde. In the US, there were also plans for an SST, but the costs were beyond what the government could afford. Because of that, President Kennedy was put into a position as to whether to back the US project or not, and before he could decide, asked the then head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Najeeb Halaby (who would later become Pan Am’s Chairman) to ask Juan Trippe not to buy the foreign Concorde. Trippe, however, was aware that Kennedy was wavering and decided to force the President’s hand. He traveled to England and France in May 1963 and , according to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument, “took an option on eight planes. . . [and] became the first airline other than Air France and B.O.A.C. to order a supersonic airliner”. This did not go over well with the President.

Shortly thereafter, however, President Kennedy “gave the signal for a commercial supersonic program to proceed and Trippe signed up for fifteen [Boeing] S.S.T.s.”

Unfortunately, the SST would not become operational for another ten years, and something needed to be done with the anticipated increase in airline travel. What would that be? According to Ron Davies, “Trippe had always been bolder than his contemporaries in going for larger aircraft; indeed he seemed to have followed a policy of ordering types which were typically twice the size of the previous generation. * * * [and] [t]he only way to increase capacity, apart from adding frequencies –  another method of coping with increased demand, but which was practically impossible, because of airport and airway congestion –  was to increase the aircraft size.” And that resulted in what Bob Gandt referred to as the “Everyman Airplane”: “The first jets had made world travel available to Everyman, not just the rich and elite. Now they had to build an airplane to satisfy the new yearning to travel – an Everyman airplane.” Thus lay the seeds for the Boeing 747.

By cajoling Bill Allen into such a project, according to Davies, “Juan Trippe went for broke.” To Bender and Altschul, it was a “spectacular gamble”. For Bill Allen of Boeing, according to Gandt, “[i]t would be the perfect swan song if he could step down knowing that he had launched the world’s mightiest ship of the sky. It would secure Boeing’s future well into the century. Or it could ruin Boeing“. The same fate faced Juan Trippe, according to Bender and Altschul, “by placing his company, its employees and its shareholders at enormous risk. If he judged correctly and was lucky to boot, Pan Am’s leadership would be maintained. If he was wrong or fate was cruel, the airline might well go bankrupt.”

On 22 December 1965, Juan Trippe and Bill Allen signed a Letter of Intent for the Boeing 747. On 13 April 1966, Pan American formally ordered twenty-five airplanes. But before the April agreement, a huge obstacle arose: On 30 March, President Johnson invited the Business Council to a dinner. Both Juan Trippe and Bill Allen were in attendance. During the dinner Johnson pleaded for austerity due to economic problems caused by the war in Southeast Asia. This jolted both Trippe and Allen, whose 747 project was not exactly austere. Was the project in jeopardy? After the dinner, Trippe, who had previously no success in having a personal meeting with Johnson, approached him to press his case. Johnson asked Trippe if anyone knew about the project and Trippe said “no, except for Bill Allen”.  Johnson then asked Trippe to be at the White House the next day “to see someone”. The next day Trippe was taken to the Pentagon to discuss the project with the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. At the time, another large capacity aircraft, known as the C-5A, was being developed for the Pentagon by Lockheed. McNamara pressed Trippe on the possibility of his waiting for a commercial version of the C-5A. Trippe argued his case for the 747 noting the impracticability of creating a commercial version of the C-5A. McNamara agreed and brought Trippe back to the White House where Johnson ordered that they “work it out”.  Both Trippe and Allen hammered it out with the White House and the Pentagon, and then went for approval from their respective Boards of Directors. With Johnson’s approval, the Pan Am directors were convinced. So convinced, that an option for an additional ten planes was authorized for incorporation into the contract, thus making it, according to Bender and Altschul, “the largest single order for a single aircraft model in the history of commercial aviation”.

Retired Pan American Captain John Marshall, who flew for the airline for years, wrote about the development of the Boeing 747 in an article that appeared in Airways Magazine. Below are excerpts from that article:

“Pan Am’s Juan Trippe was a visionary executive who dreamed in only one dimension: big.  Pan Am was the launch customer for the first successful jet transport, the Boeing 707, and it was Trippe who saw the need for an even larger airplane to keep up with the burgeoning growth in air traffic in the early ’70s.  In the mid-60’s, when the 707 was still a novelty in the world’s skies, Trippe took his ideas to Boeing’s Bill Allen.  He and Allen were alumni of the old school, both of them men of courage and daring, and after many long and sometimes contentious meetings between Pan Am’s planners and Boeing’s engineers, the decision was made to go ahead with the giant aircraft. 

“It was a tremendous gamble.  The 747 would embrace new design and technology that up to then had only existed in the dreams of engineers.  The technical hurdles that had to be cleared were enormous.  The new airplane would carry up to 500 passengers; one of the early questions was, how do you evacuate 500 people from an airplane in just 90 seconds?  The FAA, approached by Boeing to relax its 90-second evacuation criteria, dug in its heels and remained firm.  90 seconds was the limit, or the airplane would not be certified.  Engineers wrestled for days with the problem, and eventually redesigned the interior of the cabin to include not just one center aisle, but two, running the entire length of the airplane, with cross-aisles at each of the four main entry doors (there was an additional over-wing escape exit).  The doors were redesigned to permit egress of a staggered two-abreast.

“Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the aircraft’s designers was that of the engines.  While Pratt & Whitney was working on the prototype of the huge JT-9D engine, it had yet to be tested, and it was far from certain that it would be ready in time to mate with the 747.  Boeing had bitter memories of the B-29 bomber and its star-crossed marriage with the Wright Cyclone engines, which had a nasty habit of catching fire and burning off the wing.  The giant JT-9D engine would be the first jet engine mated to an airframe that had not earned its stripes on the wing of a military airplane.  It was an enormous gamble.

“The initial design specifications of the new airplane had the takeoff gross weight pegged at 550,000 pounds.  As the 747 design grew and matured, it put on weight, the bane of every aeronautical engineer.  A massive effort was directed at slimming-down the airplane, and eventually an all-up weight of 710,000 pounds became the final design target.  Four engines, each producing 41,000 pounds of thrust, would be required to get the 747 airborne, and as the airframe design came closer to being finalized, Pratt was way behind the power curve.  Engine development and production proceeded so slowly that the entire project threatened to sink under its own weight.  At one point there were so many engine-less airframes sitting on the ramp at the Everett production facility that their cost exceeded the net worth of the Boeing company.

“The early JT-9D-3 engines that powered the early model 747s were fraught with problems; they suffered from frequent compressor stalls, and would overtemp at the drop of a hat.  It quickly became a procedure that once the engines were running, while the airplane was on the ground at least one of the three cockpit crewmembers had to constantly monitor the engine temperatures for overheat.  Even the first scheduled passenger flight of the giant airplane was delayed several hours because of engine problems, severe enough to force an ignominious change to a backup aircraft.  The sheer weight of the engine and nacelle resulted in a new, heretofore unknown phenomenon, the “ovalizing” of the engine itself.  Its weight was literally pulling the engine out of round.  One of Boeing’s engineers put the situation into cleverly-phrased perspective.  “We have an unround situation,” he said.

“Engineers devised a unique, space-age solution.  It required that the largest amount of weight be placed in the smallest package, in the cowling of the engine itself.  The result was the use of one of the densest metals known, spent uranium, which was embedded in the engine cowl.  It solved the problem

“Trippe envisioned the 747 as a bridge aircraft which would carry the airlines through the adolescent years of the jet age until the supersonic transports, or SSTs, came along.  He insisted on the double deck design for the jumbo, with the flight deck perched high above the main level, so that when the airplane had outlived its passenger-carrying days, it could readily be converted into a very economic cargo carrier.  The nose cone would swing upward to reveal a nearly 200-foot straight-in main deck, accommodating cargo of a size and weight that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

747 Cargo

“Here the visionary pioneer made a major miscalculation.  The SST would be personified only by the Anglo-French Concorde, and even then only a few would be built.  Esthetic and graceful, it was nearly an economic disaster.  Designed when jet fuel was literally pennies per gallon, by the time it had completed what was then the most exhaustive test program ever devised, the oil crisis of the early ’70s had made the airplane almost prohibitively expensive to operate.  It soon became obvious that there would not be squadrons of supersonic transports gracing the skies, criss-crossing the oceans and continents to the world’s capitals, slicing flying times from hours and hours to hours and minutes.  The United State’s answer to the Angle-French Concorde, Boeing’s 2707, was slain by the stroke of a Congressional pen.  The B-747 would have to carry the transoceanic burden, at least for the foreseeable future.

“The introduction of the Boeing 747 represented a quantum leap in air transport technology and design.  Twice as big as its predecessor the 707, the Jumbo not only dwarfed anything it might encounter on the world’s airport ramps, but provided wonderful grist for anecdotal tales that were told among the airlines that were fortunate to have been at the head of the line to fly her.  Untold numbers of photos were snapped of comely stewardesses (still so-called in the early ’70s) standing in the cowling of the huge Pratt JT-9 engines, surrounded by the great shroud that enclosed the big fans.  “Artist’s renderings” was a fanciful term applied to the surrealistic drawings of the new 747 that appeared in promotional material.  The airplane was parked at a futuristic terminal, with a jetway conveniently nestled against each of her eight main entry doors.  There were piano bars (an innovation that briefly came to pass with at least one jumbo operator) and movie amphitheaters, a Radio City in the sky.  Passengers would be able to pass to and fro, as though attending a wonderful, celestial cocktail party. 

Pan American’s 1967 Annual Report noted that its order for the Boeing 747 “led the airline industry to a new generation of heavy duty transports. . .[and that] new standards of passenger comfort and convenience will be introduced. Simplified ticketing, computerized check-in and automated baggage handling will be provided. Pan Am’s 747s will have two aisles and seat 366 passengers.” In the 1968 Annual Report, Pan American noted that the “year 1969 will mark the beginning of the second stage of the jet age – the time of the Boeing 747 and other wide-bodied, advance-technology jet transports. Pan Am again is the leader. * * * Pan Am will be the first to put it into service to the major world markets we serve. Pan Am’s fleet of thirty-three 747s will be the largest. * * * Pan Am’s operating and marketing plans for the 747 program have already been formulated. Ground facilities are also being prepared. The men and women of Pan Am at home and abroad will be ready to put the plane in service”.

Development of the Boeing 747 as described above, was not without other challenges affecting performance and costs – the addition of a spiral staircase, for example. Building the massive aircraft also required a larger  assembly plant. That was achieved by construction of a new plant at Everett, Washington, near Paine Field.  In addition, Pan Am built a maintenance facility and extended the Pan American terminal to accommodate the big jetliners.

The illustrations below were taken from Pan American’s 1968 annual report.

The first 747 was delivered on time and was christened by the First Lady Pat Nixon on 15 January 1970. Six days later, on 21 January, the first commercial flight of a wide-body jet, Pan American flight 2, was scheduled for departure at 1900 hours for London. Clipper Young America was assigned the duty. Unfortunately, an overheating engine delayed the departure and also required a substitute aircraft, Clipper Constitution.  Never-the-less, at 0152 hours on 22 January, the 747 departed New York and arrived later that morning in London, completing an historic flight, opening the door to new era of commercial airline operations and making the Boeing 747 one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world.

In preparing this article, the following sources were used: John Marshall’s article in Airways Magazine, “The Big Jumbo”; The Chosen Instrument by Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul; An American Saga –  Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley; Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, by Ron Davies; and Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, by Robert Gandt; and Pan American’s 1967 and 1968 annual reports.

On interesting side-note:  Pan Am’s order for twenty-five 747s and an option for ten more in 1966 was the biggest ever at the time. In November 2013 Emirates airline rewrote all records in civil aviation with an order for 150 Boeing 777X, comprising 35 Boeing 777-8Xs and 115 Boeing 777-9Xs, plus 50 purchase rights; and an additional 50 Airbus A380 aircraft.

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 XIV: Crossing the Pacific

Crossing the Pacific – The “Unsung Hero”

On the date 22 November, Pan American World Airways was part of two historic events. The first, in 1935, was the inauguration of trans-Pacific airline service, and the second, in 1963, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In this installment is the story of the China Clipper, which crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1935; in the next will be the story of Pan Am’s part in the tragic events in Dallas, Texas in 1963.

Whenever there is reference to the first airliner crossing of the Pacific Ocean, invariably it is the Martin M-130 China Clipper that comes to mind. This, event, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, was “one of the most noteworthy and historic dates in the history of transport”. The Clipper, commanded by Edwin C. Musick, departed San Francisco Friday afternoon, 22 November 1935 and arrived in Manila, Philippines Friday afternoon, 29 November, having stopped in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam along the way. The 8210 mile trip took 59 hours and 48 minutes flying time.

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

The Atlantic

Crossing the Pacific, however, was not the original intent of Juan Trippe in his desire to cross an ocean. It was the Atlantic. However the geopolitical situation coupled with technological limitations made that option impossible. The details are spelled out with precision in Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul’s The Chosen instrument. In a nutshell, the path to Europe was through Newfoundland. Unfortunately, negotiations between Juan Trippe, Britain, Canada and Newfoundland in 1932 did not provide the access desired, although some understanding was achieved between Pan American and Britain’s Imperial Airways 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. In addition, a survey trip made by Charles Lindbergh in the summer of 1933 brought into question the feasibility of using flying boats for regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic service.

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 Juan 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.

The Pacific

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.  According to Bender and Altschul, the British “[g]overnment pulled the strings for Imperial, and if it viewed Pan American Airways as a similar instrument of national policy, then it would want to settle matters with the United States government.” Juan Trippe had overestimated his diplomatic skills and his “go-it-alone diplomacy” was not working. He admitted that he did not see much future for Pan American in the North Atlantic. In addition, as pointed out by Bob Gandt in China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats, “[t]he British, in 1934, had nothing like the S-42 or the coming M-130. Until Imperial Airways . . . possessed an airplane that could commence scheduled flights from Britain to the United States, Pan American would find itself blocked from the British crown colonies”.

One point of interest here is that during this time the state-owned flag carriers of several European nations were establishing 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 in that part of the world.

The focus thus switched to the Pacific. After a “great circle” trans-Pacific route through the north was ruled out due to issues between the 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. This left Wake, a tiny island, discovered by Juan Trippe in the New York Public Library, and, according to Daley, “[f]or a brief time – only the blink of an eye as history is measured – it was one of the most famous places in the world”.

Wake Island

The tiny island of Wake, an uninhabited coral atoll, was to become one of the most important way points on the route west to the Orient. It lay over 4000 miles from the U.S. mainland in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was a minor trophy of the Spanish-American War. Inside was a lagoon with surface water smooth enough to handle landings of flying boats, but the presence of coral heads made landings impossible. Its location, however, made it a critical point for the trans-Pacific flight. Juan Trippe eventually got permission to use the island as a base, and on 27 March 1935, the S.S. North Haven, a cargo ship, sailed west with provisions to set up bases for Pan American at Midway and Wake. At Wake, an entire village was built, including a hotel for passengers en-route to or from the Orient. Everything used in building the base was shipped from the mainland. In addition, a swimmer from Columbia University, Bill Mullahey, who boarded the ship in Honolulu in a swimsuit, straw hat and a surfboard over his shoulder, was brought on board as the one man demolition expert to clear the lagoon for landings. Wherever there was a coral head in the lagoon, he would dive down and place dynamite sticks in holes in the coral heads and attach detonator wires to them. After he surfaced the dynamite was blasted, and afterward he would go down to inspect. The channel to be cleared was one mile long and three hundred yards wide and it took months to clear the channel of several hundred coral heads. His only gear was a pair of marine goggles; fins, face-masks, snorkels and scuba tanks had not yet been invented.

The below illustrations of Wake Island are from Robert Daley’s An American Saga. Shown is the treacherous surf outside the lagoon the workers bringing in gear had to brave, the village and the hotel’s lobby. Because there was no anchorage, the North Haven anchored offshore.

 The Aircraft

On 1 October 1932, Pan American placed an order for three Sikorsky S-42s, The aircraft was a product of the joint oversight of Pan American’s Chief Engineer Andre Priester and Charles Lindbergh. What was unique about this aircraft, according to Bob Gandt, was the design of the wing, which gave it greater range and the ability to bear a greater load. By the time Pan American accepted delivery of its first S-42, the aircraft had set several aviation records that made it probably the most advanced airliner in the world. Unfortunately, it was primarily designed for service in Latin America and was not suitable for trans-oceanic passenger operations. The aircraft could only carry six or eight passengers with the required fuel. In Latin American operations, passenger capacity was up two thirty-two.

At the same time, the Martin M-130, a larger aircraft capable of trans-oceanic flight, was on the drawing board. A more advanced airliner than the S-42, Juan Trippe also placed an order for three.

Survey Flights

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

The two illustrations below are from different sources: On the left is a picture of an S-42 departing San Francisco, presumably on one of the survey flights. It was provided by the late Marcel “Skip” Conrad, Esq., who was an attorney for Oakland International Airport. The picture was on one of the walls in his office. The picture on the right is the S-42 upon arrival in Honolulu on its first survey flight. This was an illustration in Robert Daley’s An American Saga.

China Clipper

The first Martin M-130, China Clipper, was delivered 9 October 1935. On 22 November, China Clipper inaugurated trans-Pacific airline service. The planning and preparation for this service was typical of the efficient organization nurtured by Pan American, and was a manifestation of the high standards demanded of the flying crews. As described by Ron Davies, “… there was a certain inevitability about the event. . . .the planning which went into the preparation for the historic event left no stone unturned, or to be exact, no potentially damaging piece of coral reef unmoved. * * * Pan American Clippers had cut the trans-Pacific travel time from a matter of weeks to a matter of days. The world’s biggest ocean had been conquered. A new age had begun.”

Below is illustrated the cover and the inside page (showing the route map and flight schedules) of Pan Am’s June-August 1940 timetable. Note the flight numbers were 800 and 801 and the aircraft used were either the M-130 or the Boeing 314. Until the sale of its Pacific routes to United in 1986, all Pan Am flight numbers in the Pacific were numbered in the 800’s.

The Unsung Hero

The "Unsung Hero" of Pan American's historic crossing of the Pacific, Bill Mullahey. Without his bravery in blasting out each coral head in the lagoon of Wake Island, the flying boats could never have landed. (Daley, An American Saga)

The “Unsung Hero” of Pan American’s historic crossing of the Pacific, Bill Mullahey. Without his bravery in blasting out each coral head in the lagoon of Wake Island, the flying boats could never have landed. He had another role in a later Pan American historic event that occurred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Daley, An American Saga)

On 22 November 1985, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the historic flight of the China Clipper, Pan American re-enacted the event with a Boeing 747-212B, named China Clipper II. Ann Whyte, who was Manager, Public Relations at the time, was a participant. She tells about her experiences of that flight in the book, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt from her story:

“The 1935 China Clipper, piloted by Captain Edwin Musick, departed from Alameda and stopped in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam before finally landing in Manila.  * * * Our 747 would follow the exact route. The revenue passengers, in addition to many VIPs, were composed of members of our frequent flyers program, others who yearned to be a part of aviation history, and those who wanted a package tour to the Pacific. 

China Clipper II (Don Boyd photo, airliners.net)

China Clipper II (Don Boyd photo, airliners.net)

“Excitement and expectancy were evident at our airport ceremony that included music and speeches. The son of James A. Farley, Postmaster General in 1935, was there.  His father had delivered a message from President Franklin Roosevelt, who said, ‘Even at this distance, I thrill to the wonder of it all.’  San Francisco Postmaster Mrs. Mary Brown told us that a special China Clipper international 44-cent stamp had been issued at Treasure Island in February 1985 and that the original flight carried 100,000 letters to the Philippines.  Also, 5,000 envelopes which had received philatelic treatment were on board our flight and would get special cancellations at each stop.  Flight attendants paraded in the various styles of uniform worn since the early days.  We cheered members of our flight crew when they were introduced.   It was a festive atmosphere.

51-Comm Envelope

“For the 1935 flight, the San Francisco to Hawaii leg was the most dangerous.  It took 21 hours for the seaplane to fly over the 2,397 miles of open water.  There was no radar, no voice communication.  The flight navigator had to climb out of a hatch several times at night to take star sightings with a sextant.  Harry R. Canaday, a pioneer captain on board our flight, remembered that in the early days, even with the best equipment available, it was what they called ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’  Shure V.  Sigfred, another pioneer captain on board, was astounded by the amount of people and cargo carried on our modern 747.  ‘We loaded the ship according to the weather and weighed every ounce,’ he reminisced.

“But on our flight there was a party atmosphere.  It took just five hours for us to reach Honolulu.  I was eager to see each island for a different reason.  I had had the opportunity to look at photographs and read accounts of those early days in the archives.  What I saw were pictures of enthusiastic crowds, flowers, song and dance waiting to greet the M-130 crew in Hawaii 50 years ago.

“I could feel the hospitality as soon as we landed.  To me, Hawaii signifies music, dancing, singing, fragrant blossoms, romance and exotic fruit.  We received a warm Aloha welcome of leis, song and dance.   Next we were whisked away to Pearl Harbor where we were honored with a ceremony to dedicate a plaque commemorating 50 years of commercial air service at the location where the original China Clipper landed, Middle Loch, Pearl City Peninsula.  That evening, it was thrilling to be part of the reception, testimonial dinner and entertainment at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where our pioneers were recognized and applauded.”

At the other end of the trip, Cass Myers, Regional Director for Sales based in Hong Kong, was involved with the re-enactment of the China Clipper’s historic flight as well. His memories are also included in the above book, and are excerpted below:

“The seats on the flight were marketed commercially and there were many celebrities participating, including author James Michener, an astronaut, and other dignitaries such as Charles Lindbergh’s four grand-sons.  The Manila Hotel on Manila Bay was also nearly taken over for the group where two days of fun was planned.

“Two outside factors made this flight re-enactment especially interesting:  (1) United Airlines had already purchased Pan Am’s Pacific Division and was scheduled to take over flight operations as United Airlines in early February 1986; and (2) the President and First lady of the Philippines, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, were on their last legs as rulers, both  literally and figuratively.  In a couple months, the world would know that Imelda Marcos owned 2,000 pairs of shoes.     

“Being based at the Pan Am Regional Office in Hong Kong, I was fortunate to be one of the people responsible for the setup on the ground in Manila for the arrival, greeting and hotel transfer for the passengers and all the ceremonies and entertainment that followed. 

“The event itself was what was expected and more!   The arrival went without a hitch. The Pan Am Country Manager,  the late Joe Basso, even managed to locate the same bugler who in 1935 was a Boy Scout and then (at 58 years of age) still had the same bugle and played for the arrival. Needless to say, a great time was had by all but it was, in a way, bittersweet as Pan Am’s presence in the Pacific was rapidly coming to an end.”

The above excerpts are from two of seventy-one stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People 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 writer of this article gratefully acknowledges the four sources liberally used in its preparation:

Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul, The Chosen instrument

Robert Daley, An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire

Ron Davies, Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft

Robert Gandt, China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats

The Pan Am Series – Part XI: The First Jet Flight

Pan Am’s Inaugural Trans-Atlantic Jet Flight

THE LAST WEEK OF OCTOBER IS SIGNIFICANT IN THE HISTORY OF Pan American World Airways.  Looking at the last six days of the month, the first Amazon route service was established on the 25th in 1933. On the 26th was the first service to Buenos Aires in 1931. On the 28th was Pan Am’s first scheduled flight in 1927. And on the 29th was the first operation at Pan American Field in Miami in 1928. There were two more recent events: On the 26th was the inauguration of the first scheduled trans-Atlantic service with an American-built jet, a Boeing 707-121 in 1958, the subject of this article, and on the 28th was the record-breaking Pole-to-Pole round-the-world flight with a Boeing 747SP in 1977, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Pan Am’s first scheduled flight, to be covered next week.

During World War II, Pan Am President Juan Trippe, Charles Lindbergh and Pan Am Chief Engineer Andre Priester explored the idea of jet propulsion.  However, the idea that jets would eventually become commercially viable did not have its genesis until the early 1950’s. Then, there was no jet airliner even in the design stage in the United States. Britain had been developing the “Comet” jet, but it lacked range. Boeing was developing a bomber, called the B-47, but its design did not lend itself to commercial flight. In December 1951, BOAC (predecessor to British Airways) took delivery of its first Comet, notwithstanding its poor economy and range. What Pan Am wanted was a plane that could carry at least 65 passengers from New York to London at 500 miles-per-hour. In mid-1952 Pan Am engineers Priester and John Borger made the rounds to Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed. What was seen was disappointing.  The manufacturers, however, soon began focusing on a commercial jet because by September 1952, jet airliners had become inevitable.  Boeing developed the Boeing 707 prototype and Douglas was working on its DC-8 project. At the same time, the turboprop engine had been developed and airlines were lining up for the likes of the Lockheed Electras and British Viscounts. Pan Am was not in the line because its engineers were of the opinion that propellers were the cause of most mechanical breakdowns.

BOAC indicated its intent to start trans-Atlantic operations with the Comet jet, even though its range required two stops westbound and one stop eastbound. Despite that, it was still 3-5 hours faster than the comfortable Startocruiser that Pan Am was using on its trans-Atlantic routes. To play it safe, Pan Am ordered three Comets although doubtful they would ever be delivered. They were not. After a number of accidents it was determined the Comet had a design flaw that required its grounding.

Other problems had to be dealt with, most foremost were the lack of airports that could handle jets, lack of fuel to “feed them”, lack of tugs to tow them, lack of suitable stairways and lack of adequate hangers to overhaul their engines. Other issues included the engine to be used, the size of the aircraft and its range, and its economics, pitting the air-frame manufacturers, the engine manufacturers and Pan Am on seemingly a collision course, given the different needs of each group.

After hard negotiations, Pan Am got what it wanted: The Boeing 707 and the DC-8. And on 13 October 1955, Juan Trippe made the announcement that he had just bought 45 jetliners. According to R.E.G. Davies, in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft:

“Each [jet] had twice the capacity of all but the largest piston airliner, had the potential for trans-Atlantic nonstop range, and was twice as fast. In economic terms this multiplied to about four or five times the productivity of the DC-7Cs . . . . and furthermore the reliability of the engines and airframes held out the prospect of far higher levels of annual utilization. “

While the 707 got all the attention given it was the first to be delivered, the jet aircraft order was for 20 Boeing and 25 Douglas machines. The fact that Pan Am ordered more DC-8’s suggests, according to Davies, that “Pan Am was prepared to support the company which had supplied it with so many reliable aircraft during the postwar years, but was also warning it that its product had to be good and that tradition and sentiment would not guarantee a continued market.” In fact, the Douglas jets were bigger and had better range than its Boeing counterparts, and because Boeing feared the foreign airlines going to Douglas, Boeing and Pan Am renegotiated the order for a bigger 707. Pan Am did take delivery of six smaller 707s in order to open service in the north-Atlantic before anyone else did (BOAC, however, did beat Pan Am, operating the first jet service to New York from London on 4 October 1958, although not daily). Boeing took Pan Am’s warning to heart. It assembled a production and marketing team that, according to Davies, “out-produced and out sold the experienced Douglas. More important, Pan American switched to Boeing as its main supplier. * * * [And] when Pan American sneezed, the rest of the aviation world felt a severe [draft] and most of it caught [a] cold or worse.”

DC-8 and Boeing 707-121 (photo by R A Scholefield)

DC-8 and Boeing 707-121 (photo by R A Scholefield)

The issue of economics of the jets was a major consideration during the transition from prop to jet. There was the belief that the jet would be a “rich man’s airplane” – “extra speed at extra prices. . . a “super-first class premium ride” for well-heeled patrons, according to Robert Daley, in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire. Pan Am took the opposite view. Daley notes that Pan Am saw the jet as a way to keep costs down as the tourist fare had just been introduced with great success resulting in increased trans-Atlantic travel 30% over the previous year. Once the jets were in service, Pan Am’s position was clear, as shown in the 1958 Annual Report to shareholders:

“In April, 1958, Pan American inaugurated transatlantic Economy class service offering fast, comfortable transportation at a greatly reduced fare. Whereas the roundtrip fare between New York and London was $783.00 First class, and $567.00 Tourist class, the new Economy class fare was $453.00.

“Economy class service increases aircraft seating capacity by use of close seat spacing required for that new class…Luxury services are curtailed. Economy class service, sponsored by your company, again emphasizes the leadership in expanding air travel by bringing it within the budgets of more and more people who heretofore could not afford to travel abroad.

“Over 100 transatlantic Clipper flights per week are scheduled during the 1959 season, all offering Economy class service. Jet Clippers will operate 50 of these flights with the remainder being flown with long-range Super-7 Clippers”.

1959 timetable -0002

This page from a 1959 timetable (above) demonstrates the extent of Economy (“Clipper Thrift”) class service on trans-Atlantic flights. Every flight offered it. Tourist (“Rainbow”) service was only available on a handful of flights. It should be noted, however, that Rainbow (and not Economy) service was available on all flights beyond the UK and European gateway cities, probably due to limitations in the bilateral agreements between the US and the countries concerned. Deluxe “President Special” service was only available on jets. The other aircraft used on the trans-Atlantic routes was the DC-7C with a change of gauge to DC-6Bs once “over the pond”. One interesting note is that some flights offered three-class service: First, Tourist and Economy.

Pan Am’s first scheduled jet flight was No. 114 from New York to Paris on 26 October 1958. The flight was operated with the smaller 707-121 and required a fuel stop in Gander along the way.

Former Pan Am purser Jay Koren was a flight attendant on the first trans-Atlantic jet flight. His story about his experiences on that flight is featured in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People published by BlueWaterPress. Below are excerpts from his story:

“Pan American flight 114 to Paris, slated to depart New York on October 26th, would not only mark America’s entry into the Jet Age, it would mark the inauguration of the world’s first daily trans-Atlantic jet service. * * *

“Crew rosters had been posted weeks earlier and the lucky chosen few notified of their assignment to the first fights.  Four days before the inauguration, my supervisor called. “We’ve decided to add a seventh flight attendant to the inaugural, Jay, and you’ve been selected.”  I couldn’t have been more excited if I were being sent to the moon.  Day before our departure, we were given an extensive briefing.  * * * First Class on the Boeing 707s, with seats and aisles wider than any pre-jet aircraft, was designated Deluxe Class and Pan Am’s President Special dining service would be featured. * * *

:On the eve of participating in this historic event, although supercharged with anticipation, we all confessed to a sense of apprehension.  We were about to zap across the Atlantic at more than eighty percent of the speed of sound—nearly twice as fast as any of us had ever flown before—at an altitude nearly twice as high, and in an aircraft capable of carrying double the load of our old, familiar, piston-engine airplanes. * * *

Until boarding began we were busy checking out our new workplace: its closets and cabinets, galleys and equipment, food and bar provisioning.  * * * [Captain Miller announced], ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the runway. Flight Service, prepare for take-off’.  * * * As we began our roll down the runway and Captain Miller opened the throttles to full thrust, the powerful force of our rapid acceleration pressed our backs into the thinly-padded bulkhead behind us.  Even more startling was the unexpected vibration and violent roar of the jet engines as we gathered speed for our leap up into the night.  We grasped hands and stared wide-eyed at one another in disbelief.  Where is that vibration-free, quiet-as-a-whisper ambiance the airline ads have been touting? We discovered why the first-class section is now located in the front. Just opposite to piston-engine aircraft—where the cabin becomes quieter toward the rear—we were seated in the noisiest spot in a jet. * * * 

“Also unlike conventional airplanes that lift off the runway in a horizontal attitude, jets do it nose up. No one has given us prior warning of this characteristic either. As we attain take-off speed approaching 200 mph, Captain Miller rotates the nose of the Clipper sharply upward. This causes us, seated in the very tail of the jet, to drop sharply downward—a sensation I would never become totally comfortable with. We are airborne!

“In half the time required of the “pre-jets,” we reached cruising altitude. The vibration disappeared completely and the engine roar subsided to little more than a gentle hum.”

John T. McCoy watercolor of the takeoff of Flight 114.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the takeoff of Flight 114.

Arrival in Paris

The introduction of jet service changed the travel industry forever. Slowly, trans-Atlantic travel by passenger steamship as a mode of transportation (as opposed to cruising or pleasure) disappeared. Similarly did long-haul rail service in the United States. Because of the jet, more places are available to more people than anytime in history. What Juan Trippe envisioned some 80 years ago not only has become a reality, but also a part of the life we live today.

Jay Koren’s story about his first flight on Pan Am jets is one of 71 stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People 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