Pan Am Series – Part XLVIII: Skygods

Skygods

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

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

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

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

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

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

 * * *

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

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

Click Here for the Entire Story about Jerry Mahan

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

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

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

Jun 1940 Timetable0001   Jun 1940 Timetable0002

 

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Bill Nash (Courtesy Bill Nash)

Captain Bill Nash (Courtesy Bill Nash)

 

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

Oct 1945 Timetable0001   Oct 1945 Timetable0003

 

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

“’Back in the Boat Days. . .’” 

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

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

s42_afloat     China Clipper

New Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’We’re going to Tehran.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13-Skygodincockpit   gandt formation

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

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

The Pan Am Series – Part VII: Aviation History

   China Clipper    707-121

Pan American World Airways’ Role in Aviation History

During the next three months, anniversaries of many “firsts” and significant events in the history of Pan American World Airways will be observed.  There are quite a few particularly noteworthy events.  Suffice to say, below is a list:

October: Launch of the Pan Am Shuttle on 1 October 1986; first to order American-built jet transports from Boeing on 13 October 1955; ditching of flight 943, a Boeing 377, in the Pacific on 15 October 1956; first airliner trip to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica on 15 October 1957; first flight on 19 October 1927 (chartered from West Indian Aerial Express); first trans-Pacific passenger service on 21 October 1936; first flight to Hong Kong on 23 October 1936; first Amazon route service on 25 October 1933, first trans-Atlantic service with the Boeing 707 on 26 October 1958; first scheduled Pan Am flight on 28 October 1927 and first to make a round-the-world flight via the North and South Poles on the same date in 1977, marking the 50th anniversary of the airline.

November:  First delivery of the Douglas DC-4 on 3 November 1945; first service to Fiji on 5 November 1941; first service to Barcelona on 8 November 1948; first Great Circle route to Tokyo on 17 November 1959; first “Clipper” flight on 19 November 1931 and the first trans-Pacific flight (mail) by the China Clipper a Martin M-130 on 22 November 1935.

December: First service to Bolama (West Africa) on 1 December 1940; runway overrun by flight 812, a Boeing 707, after an aborted takeoff caused by bird strikes and a related engine failure in Sydney on 1 December 1969; first to open the largest single air terminal in the world at New York Kennedy Airport on 5 December 1973; first service to Leopoldville on 6 December 1941; first delivery of the wide-body Boeing 747 on 12 December 1969; first jet service to Sydney on 15 December 1959; first delivery of the Ford Tri-Motor on 28 December 1928 and first delivery of the Fokker F-10-A on 31 December 1928.

On a sadder note, during this same period will be the anniversaries of Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, the last trans-Atlantic flight from Frankfurt on 1 November 1991 and finally, the cessation of all operations on 4 December 1991.

It has been suggested that the history of Pan Am could be considered the history of international commercial air transportation.  The above events, plus the geographic location of the US and the events of World War II, lend a lot of validity to this assertion. At the time of Pan Am’s founding, the notion of using air carriers for shipping the mail was gaining in viability, and getting mail to the countries of Latin America by air became an attractive idea.  A special inter-departmental committee called by then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover reported its recommendations just about one month after Pan Am successfully delivered its first load of mail to Cuba. This committee was headed by Undersecretary of State Francis White, a Yale alumnus known to Pan Am’s founder Juan Trippe, and a supporter of the new airline. The committee included representatives from the Commerce, War, and Navy Departments, as well as the Post Office – several being Yale grads and known to Trippe. Their conclusions, among other things, included the suggestion that foreign airmail contracts be let to the bidder that in the judgment of the Postmaster General, would best serve the interests of the United States, which was a critical distinction, freeing the Post Office from selections based solely on low bids. They also suggested development of two routes south from Florida, both of which had been suggested by Trippe. It was this meeting that for all practical purposes crowned Pan American Airways as America’s chosen instrument for developing international air 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. Trippe, was able to do it. He carried out then, what the US Departments of State and Transportation do today with respect to foreign routes. But to realize his vision, Trippe needed the U.S. government’s cooperation and as a result, Pan Am worked closely with a small group of influential and informed government officials to create and exploit the opportunity that would permit Pan Am to flourish and grow.

Another factor was that the US had virtually no colonial empire as compared to its European counterparts. The “foreign routes” of European airlines, for the most part government-owned (unlike the privately owned US carriers), were largely made up of routes to their colonies in Africa and Asia. There was no need to obtain operating rights. Pan Am, however, was required to obtain rights to operate not only to the European countries, but to their colonies as well. This was basically the situation at the beginning of World War II.

During World War II, because of the nature of the war in the Pacific, the US faced a need to develop large, long-range aircraft, in transports (the C-54) and bombers. These aircraft featured large fuselages, a wide wingspan and big capacity. Translated to a peace environment, these would convert to large passenger aircraft that would give the US a decided advantage in long-haul, intercontinental commercial airline operations. Because of this and other factors, the Chicago Conference was called in 1944 to deal with such issues that many anticipated would arise at the end of the war. What emerged from that conference was the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Freedoms of the Air and the framework for traffic rights between countries through Bilateral Agreements.

At the end of the war, with the benefit of conversion of wartime aircraft to large passenger aircraft, Pan Am emerged as a truly global airline, culminating in the operation of the first commercial round-the world-flight in 1947.  The war also caused the development of a mighty U.S. based aircraft industry, capable and ready to beat the proverbial sword into plows to supply newly-developed aircraft to both U.S. and foreign airlines.

    48-First RTW-comp    377-n

 John T. McCoy’s watercolor of Pan Am’s first round-the-world flight (left) and the “converted bomber” (right) .

The people of Pan Am have been in the forefront of the airline’s glorious history. And probably no other airline chief ever received the loyalty that Juan Trippe earned, carrying on through decades long after he stepped down as Pan Am’s Chairman, his passing and finally the passing of the airline he founded. Many of the Pan Am family played major roles in Pan Am’s history and have had the selflessness to share their recollections with us.

In Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of Its People, published by BlueWaterPress, seventy-one such Pan Amers did just that, giving us 71 stories about their part in some of Pan Am’s history-making events.

Here are some of the writers:

2-KathleenClair  W.Crew-1BW   8-Jump Rope   10-Arriving JFK

Left to right:  Kathleen Clair, writes about her experiences as Juan Trippe’s personal assistant; Jay Koren (2nd from right in picture) writes about the first 707 flight; Kari Mette Pigman remembers November 22, 1963 in Dallas; and Gillian Kellogg L’Eplattenier tells about the excitement of flying the Beatles to New York.

13-Skygodincockpit   15-HelenDaveytodayBW   Chief Pilot, Berlin. 1982   26-McGhee

Left to right:  Bob Gandt tells of his experiences flying with the “Skygods”; Helen Davey recalls the R&R flights during Viet Nam; John Bigelow brings back memories helping Ariana Afghan Airlines; and John McGhee recounts the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans.

28-toppingtodayBW   30-Dorothy Kelly and Carla Johnson-comp   34-Mother Teresa-comp   37-Doubleday-3BW

Left to Right:  Allan Topping recollects his role in Pan Am’s last flight out of Saigon; Dorothy Kelly recalls the horrors of Tenerife; Ron Marasco tells us about Pan Am’s special relationship with Mother Teresa; and George Doubleday brings back memories of resuming service to China.

38-BenefieldBW   42-ClarktodayBW   48-OnboardBW   53-PAAnewHire

Left to right:  Harvey Benefield recalls evacuating Pan Am employees from Tehran; Mike Clark remembers his role in the merger with National Airlines; Merle Richman tells about Pan Am’s last round-the-world flight; and Diane Vander-Zanden recollects the sale of Pan Am’s venerable Pacific routes.

57-Kelly&JaneNamakama LGA   60-ReinerTodayBW   62-Don Cooper-1    68-NScully-1BW   69-mark pyle

Left to right:  Kelly Cusack writes about starting the Pan Am Shuttle; Arnie Reiner recalls the initial investigation of the Lockerbie tragedy; Don Cooper tells about the Internal German Service out of Berlin; Nancy Scully recollects her experiences working Pan Am’s White House Press Charters; and Mark Pyle remembers piloting the Last Clipper to Miami.

 

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

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

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

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

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

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

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

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

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

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

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

From Readers,

“This is a superb collection of very short tales by a wide range of former employees ranging from flight crew to “ground pounders.” Taken together they provide an accurate, intimate view of what made this airline great.”

“Pan Am – nostalgia – memories – incredible stories. A must read if you enjoy air travel and get to wondering just what kind of lives did – and do – airline personnel live.”

“A nice compiling of stories by former Pan Am employees.  Well worth the read for any fan of Pan Am or airlines in general. Pan Am was the pioneer and the stories in the book prove it!”

From Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Group,

“Fathered by the legendary Juan Trippe, Pan American was the leader in international aviation exploration and development. A relentless risk-taker, Trippe was an innovator and ultimate entrepreneur……………and this book captures many of Pan Am’s most memorable events from personal accounts of the employees who were there.”

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

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

This book is also available from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/American-Airways-Aviation-History-Through/dp/1604520728/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381238392&sr=1-1&keywords=Pan+American+World+Airways+-+Aviation+History

For more information about Pan American World Airways history visit the website of the Pan Am Historical Foundation at  http://panam.org/

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

Boeing 314 - Flying Boat

Boeing 314 – Flying Boat

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

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

Flight Deck

Flight Deck

Passengers Dining

Passengers Dining

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

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

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

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

At Anchor in San Francisco

At Anchor in San Francisco

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

The words of Captain Nash:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

From the preface:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are some comments:

From Michael Manning, Broadcast Journalist and Media Consultant,

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

From Bobby Booth, long time airline consultant and aficionado,

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

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

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

This book is available for purchase directly from the publisher:

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

The Greatest Airliner of All Time?

Pan American World Airways Boeing 707-321 - Clipper Stargazer - at Los Angeles International Airport sometime in 1969

Pan American World Airways Boeing 707-321 – Clipper Stargazer – at Los Angeles International Airport sometime in 1969

 

Boeing 707's of Two Iconic Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport sometime in 1969.

Boeing 707’s of Two Iconic Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport sometime in 1969.

 

It has been suggested that the Boeing 707 could be regarded as one of the greatest airliners of all time.  It was the aircraft that launched daily scheduled passenger jet operations across the Atlantic and eventually around the world.  Sadly, it was instrumental in the demise of trans-Atlantic ocean liner crossings and passenger rail services in the United States.  However, the aircraft and its successors, aided by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and the liberalization of economic regulation in the rest of the world, have made air travel available to the masses.  Interestingly, the availablity of air travel to the masses was not that recent a phenomenon.  Back in the post World War II and 1950’s era, Pan American World Airways pioneered “Tourist” travel with the DC-6B.  Affordable fares were offered to points in Pan Am’s worldwide system.  I was one of the beneficiaries when my family traveled through Central and South America in the late 1950s.  Below is a picture of the iconic DC-6B:

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

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