A look back at luxury…

Stuffed in the back of the sardine can on the way back from SLC yesterday, got pretzels and a little glass of Coke… sigh…

Granted it was a quicker trip, but…

An interesting bit of history that most of you are too young to remember. The docks where the Clippers tied up on Guam are now part of the marina on Naval Station.

Flying the Atlantic during the late 1930’s in the Pan Am Clipper.

You jet jockeys and frequent fliers will really appreciate this nostalgic look back in time at the Pan Am Clipper! Be sure to look at it all. The ‘fate’ of the Pan-Am Clipper was shocking.

Clipper passengers took their meals at real tables, not their seats. See below…

For most travelers in the  21st century flying is a dreary experience full of inconvenience, indignity and discomfort.

That wasn’t the case in the late 1930’s when those with the money to afford trans-oceanic flight got to take the Boeing Model 314, better known as the Clipper. Even Franklin Roosevelt used the plane celebrating his 61st birthday on board. Between 1938 and 1941 Boeing built 12 of the jumbo planes for Pan American World Airways.

The Clipper had a range of 3,500 miles — enough to cross either the Atlantic or Pacific with room for 74 passengers onboard. Of course modern aviation offers an amazing first class experience (and it’s a whole lot safer), but nothing in the air today matches the romanticism of crossing the oceans in the famed Clipper.

The nickname Clipper came from an especially fast type of sailing ship used in the 19th century. The ship analogy was appropriate, as the Clipper landed on the water, not runways.

On the Pan Am flights passengers had access to dressing rooms and a dining salon that could be converted into a lounge or bridal suite.
 The galley served up meals catered from four-star hotels. If you want to sit at a table to eat with other people these days you have to fly in a private jet. There was room for a crew of 10 to serve as many as 74 passengers.

On overnight flights the 74 seats could be turned into 40 bunks for comfortable sleeping.  The bunk beds came with curtains for privacy.

Unlike some modern jets that come with joysticks the Clipper had controls that resembled car steering wheels.

Navigating across the oceans required more manpower in the air.
The Clipper made its maiden Trans-Atlantic voyage on June 28, 1939.

But once the U. S. entered World War II the Clippers were pressed into service to transport materials and personnel.


Prior to WWII the Japanese military became very interested in the new Pratt & Whitney radial engines that powered the PanAm Clipper.

On a flight from San Francisco to China a Clipper landed on Truk Lagoon to be refueled by Japanese authorities.  Later the Clipper was assumed lost over the Pacific. Years later it was revealed that the crew and passengers were arrested and executed.  The engines were retrieved and sent to Japan and the Clipper was sunk in deep water off Truk Lagoon.

Sadly, none of these aircraft exist today.


A look back at luxury… — 22 Comments

  1. It was a more elegant age in many respects. I’m not going to say that it was a kinder age or that it was a safer age, but the Clippers had a lot of style.

    First Class today is ok. It’s better than the back of the bus. But there is not the ‘roam around’ experience that allowed you to actually enjoy the flight. Today’s pods (sleeping and sitting in first class) aren’t bad and you have a modicum of privacy, but I don’t think that anyone would call them elegant. They’re just not horrible.

    These days, I only fly first class, Old NFO. And you can point out that it’s a waste of money. My only response is that it’s a little less horrible.

  2. I don’t no stinking instruments!
    I guess the flight engineer had most of them at his station.

  3. LL- Agreed. And no, it’s NOT a waste of money on long trips, or any trip for that matter… My back agrees with you… sigh

    Gerry- Yep, the flight engineer literally ‘ran’ the engines. All the pilots did was fly the bus! 🙂

  4. My dad had a framed print on his office wall for many years. It measures 27 X 23 inches. My guess is that he found it in a poster shop in the SF bay area. The image is in black and white, and a bit grainy from enlargement. It was also cropped in to just take in the bridge towers. It appears washed out from over exposure, although I’m sure it has faded some over time.

    The glass got cracked on our last move, and I just recently got around to getting it replaced (with UV glass). Now it hangs in my home office. I got to wondering if an original might be found online. Yes indeed–


    It is in the process of being framed now. Love this old aviation history.

  5. Great post, thanks. The pics just make it.

    On the Clipper the japs grabbed.. How very IJN of them. Pricks.

    • In Japan’s defense, as hard as it is to be, at that time they were very careful to tell people not to approach, land, fly over, sail into or through or dock anywhere in Micronesia. Since they were busy fortifying and building air strips and docking and fuel depots and all those things they did in the formerly Imperial German possessions that Japan got control of after WWI.

      (Think what Communist China is doing with their build-an-island program in the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands.)

      Many a sailor went and disappeared in Micronesia. And another pilot or two (like, oh, Amelia Earhart) or more. Back then planes and ships and boats… just disappeared.

      And Truk? Truk was the jewel of the fortified bases in Japan’s Pacific crown. Great harbor, natural defenses, ring of islands deep in the center of a huge natural reef.

      They (the Imperial Japanese) did tell people to not go there. And at the time, their treatment of people who didn’t listen to them was rather alien to us westerners.

      Not right. But they (the Imperial Japanese) were aliens. Doing alien things. Thinking alien thoughts.

      Funny how nobody at SETI ever looks at Imperial Japan or Imperial/Communist China as an example of alien cultures. They all think space aliens are going to be interstellar hippies or something.

  6. The Flight Engineer could literally climb into the wing and get access to the engines to check things, put out fires, replace components, while the plane was flying.

    Yeah, no.

    Makes me wonder what else was ever loaded in the wings.

    Interesting story about the last passenger flight of a clipper during WWII.


    Brass ones, huge, surprised they ever got off the water with ones that large.

  7. I thought I saw one of these in back of the Naval Air Museum at Pensacola back in the 80’s. But it was in Navy paint.
    Could not get over how big the thing was.

  8. The first week the Air & Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Branch was open my buddy Brian and I were looking at the big mural depicting flight. (https://www.airplanesandrockets.com/resources/images2/udvar-hazy-history-flight-mural-may-10-2012.jpg)
    Up came an elderly man who asked “See that Boeing Clipper down there?” Neither Brian and I are stupid. We know the prologue to a good story. “Yes sir!” He then told us how he was a Pan-Am mechanic on their Caribbean routes. On 8 December 1941 he and all of Pan-Am’s personnel became Navy personnel. He told us of his war time service, meeting FDR, and how much he loved the Boeing.
    At museums I always look for the guys with unit hats. They have the best stories.

  9. Hey Old NFO;

    Yeap back then flying was a class act, even up to the 1970’s people wore their “Sunday Go to meeting” clothes before they flew. A couple of flights ago, I saw a young women wearing hair rollers, bunny slippers and borderline PJ’s before getting on the plane…I still treat flying AS “magical”.

    • Why not? You’re going to get groped by the Gestapo and then deal with surly flight attendants while being herded like prisoners, why bother to dress up for the experience?

      I’m also old enough to remember when flying was an adventure. Now it’s going to a place I don’t want to go, to get to a place I don’t want to be.

  10. It’s not only a “dreary experience full of inconvenience, indignity and discomfort.” It’s full of noro virus. Which I got Every Damned Time.

  11. For all our progress and advancement we seem to live coarser, more brutish lives and air travel’s a good case in point. Crushed into a sardine can and treated like a peon serf.

    A bit like taking the bus from Gloucester to London in the old days.

  12. All- Thanks for the comments. Joe- What the Navy Museum has is a P5M, the Clipper was even bigger!!!

    Posted from my iPhone.

  13. Anyone in New England interested in seeing another one of the big flying boats, the New England Air Museum at Bradley Field in Connecticut has a lovingly restored Sikorsky transatlantic flying boat (3800 mile range) — the VS-44A “Excambrian” — on display. Not quite as big as the big Boeings, but impressive. Along with a B-29 and a few other goodies…

  14. Thanks for the post. This illustrates the malady of society today. I’m old enough to remember post deregulation airline travel, when all the airline could compete on was service. These days I refuse to fly, preferring the hell of highway traffic to the intolerable confinement and mistreatment of commercial flying.

    But the Clipper featured here is magnificent! No one dresses well enough to actually fly aboard this airplane, and the non-existent social skills preclude the dining room.