Pan Am Series – Part XL: Round-the-World Flight

Pan American’s Round-the-World Services

48-First RTW

John T. McCoy’s painting of Clipper America arriving at San Francisco, completing the first commercial airline round-the-world flight, 29 June 1947.

 Setting the Stage

With the Fifth Freedom rights granted by Britain in the Bermuda Agreement of 1946, the United States obtained the authority for its international air carriers to pick up passengers in Britain (and in British colonies such as India and Hong Kong) to beyond points in Europe and Asia. What this meant was that Pan American would be able to launch a “round-the-world” service.

At the time, with World War II ended, the U.S. international air transportation system was taking on a whole new complexion. Prior to the war, Pan American Airways was the de facto U.S. flag international air carrier. This was achieved largely by Juan Trippe’s ability to (1) win Foreign Air Mail contracts and (2) negotiate landing concessions with countries of interest. This worked very well in Latin America because for all intents and purposes, Pan American’s activities in the region were in line with the U.S. desire to keep the Germans from establishing any presence there.

With the end of the war, however, as a result of their support to the war effort, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded the likes of TWA, Northwest, United and American Export (AOA, later acquired by Pan American) international routes, much to the chagrin of Pan American.  Juan Trippe had fought tooth-and-nail to be the designated U.S. flag international carrier (the “Chosen Instrument”), but was thwarted along the way by politicians and his competition. This story and its political intrigue is covered in detail in The Chosen Instrument, by Marylin Bender and Selig Alschul and An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley.

Nevertheless, Pan American had the beyond authority as granted in the Bermuda Agreement and on 17 June 1947, Juan Trippe departed on the inauguration of Pan American Airways’ round-the-world service, the first for a scheduled commercial airline.

The aircraft used was a Lockheed Constellation model 749, Clipper America, powered by four 2.200-horsepower Wright engines, with a cruising speed of 260 miles per hour and a pressurization system that permitted flying at altitudes between 18,000-20,000 feet.

Clipper America departed from New York’s LaGuardia airport and stopped in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake Island, Midway, Honolulu, San Francisco and Chicago, arriving back in New York on 30 June. The journey entailed 22,170 miles. Not having domestic authority, the flight between San Francisco and New York was a “ferry-flight” and thereafter all of Pan American’s round-the-world flights departed from one coast of the U.S. and terminated on the other.

The round-the-world service was a fixture in Pan American’s timetables from then on, until the final round-the-world flight in October, 1982. During this time, the iconic round-the-world flights 1 and 2 represented the summit of Pan American’s power and glory.

Pan American’s Round-the-World Schedules

Below are descriptions of Pan American’s round-the-world service from selected timetables over the years. While a variety of flight numbers operated on the route, flights 1 and 2 were a constant and are focused on here.

Initially the Constellation and the DC-4 were employed in the round-the-world service, as shown in the June 1948 timetable. On the eastbound flight 2, the Constellation operated from New York to Calcutta and handed over to the DC-4 to continue the route to San Francisco. In the timetable, flight 2 departed New York on Saturday and arrived in Calcutta the following Tuesday, with stops in Gander, London, Brussels, Istanbul, Damascus, Karachi and Delhi. Flight 2 continued its journey to San Francisco, departing Wednesday evening and arriving in San Francisco on Thursday with stops Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo, Wake Island and Honolulu. The flight gained a day crossing the International Date Line between Wake Island and Honolulu. The DC-4 from Calcutta featured “Sleeperette Service”, specially reclining seats with “curtained privacy”.

1948 RTW

Constellation-1     DC-4

Constellation (left, source unknown) and DC-4 (right, PAA postcard).

By 1952, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (“Strato Clipper”) was deployed into the service as illustrated in the April 1952 timetable. The westbound flight 1, a Strato Clipper, departed San Francisco on Tuesdays and Thursdays, arriving at Manila on Thursdays and Sundays with stops in Honolulu, Wake Island and Guam. The flight lost Wednesday when crossing the International Date Line. From Honolulu, “Sleeperette Service” was offered. Flight 1 changed gauge at Manila to a DC-4, leaving on Fridays and Mondays for Hong Kong, where a Constellation took over on Mondays for London via Bangkok, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Basra, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Brussels. The flight arrived in London on Wednesday morning where flight 1 was paired with flight 101 for New York with a Strato Clipper. There were optional fuel stops in Shannon or Gander on this segment.

1952 RTW    Boeing 377-n

“Strato Clipper” (right, PAA photograph).

By 1954, the Constellation was no longer operating this route and the DC-6B had been introduced, offering “Rainbow” tourist service in addition to the “President” first class service. On the eastbound route, flight 2 was paired with flight 70, a DC-6B offering “Rainbow” service and flight 100, a Strato Clipper offering “President” service, on the New York-London segment. Although the service was offered five days a week, flight two only operated on Mondays. From London, a DC-6B took over and offered both “Rainbow” and “President” service, departing on Tuesday and arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, with stops in Düsseldorf, Istanbul, Beirut, Karachi, Rangoon and Bangkok. From Hong Kong, flight 2 continued to Tokyo where it laid over until Saturday morning when a Strato Clipper continued the flight to Los Angeles via Wake Island and Honolulu. In addition, from Hong Kong on Thursdays, a DC-4, flight 6, operated to Manila, where a Strato Clipper continued to San Francisco via Guam, Wake Island and Honolulu.

1954 RTW    DC-6B

DC-6B (right, PAA photograph).

By 1956, the Super Stratocruiser and the DC-7B were operating in the round-the-world service. In the April 1956 timetable, eastbound flight 2 from New York was paired with flights 100, 102 and 64. Flights 100 and 102 were Super Stratocruisers departing on Sundays for London with the latter stopping in Boston and Shannon. Both flights arrived in London on Monday and connected to flight 2, a DC-6B, which departed on Tuesday for Tokyo via Frankfurt, Istanbul, Beirut (receiving traffic from flight 64), Karachi, Rangoon, Bangkok and Hong Kong.  At Tokyo, a Strato Clipper took over for the remainder of the trip to Seattle with stops in Wake Island, Honolulu and Portland. Flight 64 was a DC-7B that operated from New York to Beirut where it connected with flight 2. The intermediate stops were Shannon, Paris and Rome. In this timetable, Pan American offered a daily round-the-world service with different flight numbers. With the exception of the service described above, the eastbound flights all terminated in San Francisco.

RTW 1956

377-3 RA Scholefield   DC-7B-n2

 Super Stratocruiser (left, credit R.A. Scholefield Collection) and DC-7B (right, PAA photograph).

 By 1959, the DC-7C and the Boeing 707-121 were seen in the round-the-world service. In the April 1959 timetable, westbound flight 1 operated on Saturdays with a DC-7C from San Francisco to Tokyo with stops in Honolulu and Wake Island. Flight 805, also a DC-7C, operated on Saturdays from Los Angeles to Honolulu, where it connected to flight 1. “Sleeperette Service” was available on both segments. Flight 1 arrived in Tokyo on Monday where a Strato Clipper took over for the segment to Hong Kong where the flight was handed over to a DC-6B. This aircraft continued to London with stops in Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. From London a DC-7C took over for the trip to New York, with stops in Shannon and Boston. In Beirut, flight 1 also connected to flight 115, a service to New York via Rome and Paris. From Beirut a DC-6B operated to Rome. From Rome, a Boeing 707-121 operated to Paris and then on to New York.

1959 RTW

DC-7C at IDL Allan Van Wickler    707-121 IDL Bob Proctor

DC-7C (left, photo by Allan Van Wickler) and Boeing 707-121 (right, photo by Jon Proctor) at New York.

By 1966, the Boeing 707 and DC-8 were operating a daily all-jet round-the-world service. On Sundays, flight 2 departed New York in the evening and arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday via London, Frankfurt, Vienna, Istanbul, Beirut, Baghdad, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Honolulu. Other stops on the route, depending on the day operated, included Belgrade, Ankara, Tehran, New Delhi, Rangoon and Saigon. By 1971, the Boeing 747 operated flights 1 and 2, between New York and Los Angeles with stops in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and, depending on the day, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran or Beirut, and then Istanbul, Frankfurt and London. After the merger with National Airlines, flights 1 and 2 continued in round-the world service between New York and Los Angeles with 747s, with stops in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and, depending on the day, Bangkok, Delhi, Bombay, Karachi or Bahrain, and then Frankfurt and London. The service also added Las Vegas to the route with a change of gauge to a 727 for the flight from/to Los Angeles.

1966 RTW   1971-72 RTW

1981 RTW

707-321 at LAX Bob Proctor    DC-8 at LAX Bob Proctor

747 at LAX Bob Proctor

Boeing 707-321 at New York (top left), DC-8-32 at Los Angeles (top right), Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles (bottom). Photographs by Jon Proctor.

By the end of 1982, Pan American’s iconic round-the-world service was history. Although flights 1 and 2 continued to operate, the service was between New York and London and onward to points on the European continent. With the sale of Pan American’s London Heathrow route to United Airlines, flights 1 and 2 were removed from the timetable.

The last round-the-world flight departed Los Angeles on 27 October 1982. Merle Richmond, who worked in public relations for Pan American, and his two children were passengers on that flight. His memories of that flight, featured in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People are excerpted below:

 “They say when French writer Jules Verne wrote Around the World in 80 Days in 1873 it was during a financially difficult time for the classic adventure novelist.  Compared to Pan Am’s travails, it was no sweat.   He couldn’t have been as financially bad off as Pan Am was over a hundred years later when the airline decided to end its historic Round-the-World Flights One and Two.  But whether it was Verne’s novel, which I had read many years earlier, or   perhaps  Nellie Bly’s 1889 epic 72-day tale which she wrote for her newspaper, the New York World, I was awed by their feat and saw the last Pan Am RTW flights as my final opportunity.

“So it was on a fall evening in 1982 during dinner with my family that I announced that I was going to fly around the world that coming weekend, leaving October  27, 1982, and listened as my 14-year- old daughter Diana quickly asked if she could join me, followed later by  my 12-year old son Dwight.  Not sure that they understood the magnitude of the undertaking, I explained that the curtailing of Pan  Am’s Flights 1 and 2, which had been operating since June 17, 1947, represented surrendering what many considered the most symbolic aspect of the airline.  No other airline in the world had previously ever even attempted to make round-the-world service commercially viable. And we would be on the last flight!

“Not only we would be on the final flight, departing Los Angeles that Friday at noon, I told Diana and Dwight that if anybody in recent history had boarded Flight 1 and remained with the plane for the entire duration of the flight until it landed at JFK in New York on Sunday afternoon, I and others I queried, were unaware of such a back-breaking marathon.

“With the advent of jet service in 1958 with the Boeing 707, Pan Am switched departure city of Flight 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Thus the route of the flight would be Los Angeles-Tokyo-Hong Kong-Bangkok- Bombay-Dubai-Istanbul-Frankfurt-London-New York on a Boeing 747.

“And so on Friday, October 28, 1982, with Capt. Carl Wallace in the left hand seat, we joined the world of Verne and Bly.  * * * For Diana and Dwight, the RTW trip was an unparalleled emotional and educational experience.   

48- kids and clipper    48-On board

“Some two full days after takeoff in Los Angeles we landed in New York on a brilliant sunny fall day.  We had made it in one piece after 56-hours of flying. We had eaten the best airline food in the world (more breakfasts than dinners when you fly west to east). . .  [a]nd yes, Diana and Dwight even did some of the homework they brought with them.

“Altogether, 18,647 miles in 39 hours and 30 min. of actual flying time.  And who knows how many steaks!!!! Worth every bite!”

 

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

 

 

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

A Round-the-World Trip Home

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

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

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

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

314a

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

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

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

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

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

“TO:              CAPTAIN ROBERT FORD

FROM:         CHIEF, FLIGHT SYSTEMS

SUBJECT:  DIVERSION PLANS FOR NC18602

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford's Flight Route

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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