The Boeing 314 (known erroneously as the Clipper or Super Clipper, after the name given by Pan American World Airways) was a long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941 and is comparable to the British Short S.26. One of the largest aircraft of the time, it used the massive wing of Boeing’s earlier XB-15 bomber prototype to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Twelve Clippers were built for Pan Am, three of which were sold to BOAC in 1941 before delivery.
Design and development
The 314 was a response to Pan American's request for a flying boat with unprecedented range capability that could augment the airline's trans-Pacific Martin M-130. Boeing's bid was successful and Pan American signed a contract for six aircraft on 21 July 1936. Boeing engineers adapted the cancelled XB-15's 149 foot (45.5 m) wing, and replaced the original 850 hp (640 kW) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines with the more powerful 1,600 hp (1,194 kW) Wright Twin Cyclone. The Clipper's triple tail was chosen after Boeing tested conventional and twin tails which did not provide enough controllability for safe flight.
Internally, the 314 used a series of heavy ribs and spars to create a robust fuselage and cantilevered wing. This sturdy structure negated the need for external drag-inducing struts to brace the wings, something other flying boats of the day could not boast. Boeing addressed the flying boats' other drag-inducing issue, stabilizing pontoons, by incorporating sponsons into the hull structure. The sponsons, which were broad lateral extensions placed at the water line, on both the port and starboard sides of the hull, served several purposes: they provided a wide platform to stabilize the craft while floating on water, they acted as an entryway for passengers boarding the aircraft and they were shaped to contribute lift while the aircraft was in flight. To fly the long ranges needed for trans-Pacific service, the 314 carried 4,246 US gallons (16,100 L) of gasoline. The later 314A model carried a further 1,200 US gallons (4,540 L). To quench the radial engines’ thirst for oil, a capacity of 300 US gallons (1,135 L) was required.
Pan Am's "Clippers" were built for luxury, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. The seats could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation; with a cruise speed of only 188 mph (300 km/h), many flights lasted over twelve hours. The aircraft had a lounge and dining area, and the galleys were crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service. Although the transatlantic flights were only operated for three months in 1939, their standard of luxury has not been matched by heavier-than-air transport since then; they were a form of travel for the super-rich, at $675 return from New York to Southampton, comparable to a round trip aboard Concorde in 2006.
Equally critical to the 314's success was the proficiency of its Pan Am flight crews, who were extremely skilled at long-distance, over-water flight operations and navigation. Only the very best and most experienced flight crews were assigned Boeing 314 flying boat duty. Before coming aboard, all Pan Am captains as well as first and second officers had thousands of hours of flight time in other seaplanes and flying boats. Rigorous training in dead reckoning, timed turns, judging drift from sea current, astral navigation, and radio navigation were conducted. In conditions of poor or no visibility, pilots sometimes made successful landings at fogged-in harbors by landing out to sea, then taxiing the plane into port.
The first 314, Honolulu Clipper, entered regular service on the San Francisco-Hong Kong route in January 1939. A one-way trip on this route took over six days to complete. Commercial passenger service lasted less than three years, ending when the United States entered World War II in December 1941.
At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, the Pacific Clipper was enroute to New Zealand. Rather than risk flying back to Honolulu and being shot down by Japanese aircraft, it was decided to fly west to New York. Starting on December 8, 1941 at Auckland, New Zealand, the Pacific Clipper covered over 8,500 miles via such exotic locales as Surabaya, Karachi, Bahrain, Khartoum and Leopoldville. The Pacific Clipper landed at Pan American's LaGuardia Field seaplane base at 7:12 on the morning of 6 January 1942.
The Yankee Clipper flew across the Atlantic on a route from Southampton to New York with intermediate stops at Foynes, Ireland, Botwood, Newfoundland, and Shediac, New Brunswick. The inaugural trip occurred on 24 June 1939.
The Clipper fleet was pressed into military service during World War II, and the aircraft were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific fronts. In actual fact, only the markings on the planes changed: the Clippers continued to be flown by their experienced Pan Am civilian crews. American military cargo was carried via Natal, Brazil to Liberia, to supply the British forces at Cairo and even the Russians, via Teheran. The Clipper was the only aircraft in the world that could make the 2,150 statute-mile crossing over water. These shuttle aircraft were given the military designation C-98. Since the Pan Am pilots and crews had extensive expertise in using flying boats for extreme long-distance, over-water flights, the company's pilots and navigators continued to serve as flight crew. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to the Casablanca Conference in a Pan-Am crewed Boeing 314. Winston Churchill also flew on the aircraft several times, adding to the aircraft's fame during the war.
After the war, several Clippers were returned to Pan American hands. However, even before hostilities had ended, the Clipper had become obsolete. The introduction of long-range airliners such as the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-4, together with a prodigious wartime runway construction program, made the flying boat all but obsolete. The new landplanes were relatively easy to fly, and did not require the extensive pilot training programs required for seaplane operations. One of the 314's most experienced pilots said, "We were indeed glad to change to DC-4s and I argued daily for eliminating all flying boats. The landplanes were much safer. No one in the operations department... had any idea of the hazards of flying boat operations. The main problem now was lack of the very high level of experience and competence required of seaplane pilots" The 314 was removed from scheduled service in 1946 and grounded permanently in 1950. Of the 12 aircraft built, three were lost to accidents, although only one of those resulted in fatalities, with 24 perishing in Lisbon, Portugal, 22 February 1943. The last remaining four to six sat for long time on San Diego's Lindbergh Field. They were eventually sold to a scrap dealer and no aircraft survive.
Howard Hughes attempted to buy a 314 before the war, but was unsuccessful. One source states that Hughes eventually succeeded in purchasing a 314 after the war and put it in a hanger in San Diego. It never flew, and was later scrapped.
Diverted flight of Pacific Clipper
Pacific Clipper was a Boeing 314 famous for having completed Pan American World Airways' first flight between California and New York the long way by traveling West. The flight began 2 December 1941 at the Pan Am base on Treasure Island, California for its scheduled passenger service to Auckland, New Zealand.
Pacific Clipper made scheduled stops in San Pedro, California, Honolulu, Hawaii, Canton Island, Suva, Fiji and Nouméa, New Caledonia. The aircraft was en route to Auckland when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Cut off from the United States and commanding a valuable military asset, Captain Robert Ford was directed to strip company markings, registration and insignia from the aircraft and proceed in secret to the Marine Terminal, LaGuardia Field, New York.
Ford and his crew successfully flew over 31,500 miles to home via
At Surabaya, Captain Ford had to refuel with automobile-grade gasoline. "We took off from Surabaya on the 100 octane, climbed a couple of thousand feet, and pulled back the power to cool off the engines," said Ford. "Then we switched to the automobile gas and held our breaths. The engines almost jumped out of their mounts, but they ran. We figured it was either that or leave the airplane to the Japs."
On the way to Trincomalee, they were confronted by a Japanese submarine, and Ford had to jam the throttle to climb out of range of the submarine's guns. On Christmas Eve, when they took off, black oil began gushing out of the number 3 engine and pouring back over the wing. Ford shut down the engine and returned to Trincomalee. He discovered one of the engine's cylinders had failed.
When Captain Ford was planning his flight from Bahrain, he was warned by the British authorities not to fly across Arabia. Ford said, "The Saudis had apparently already caught some British fliers who had been forced down there. The natives had dug a hole, buried them in it up to their necks, and just left them." Ford flew right over Mecca because the Saudis did not have anti-aircraft guns.
A Pan American Airport Manager and a Radio Officer had been dispatched to meet the Clipper at Leopoldville. When Ford landed they handed him a cold beer. Ford said, "That was one of the high points of the whole trip."
Specifications (314A Clipper)
Data from Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II
The Boeing 314 "Pan Am Clipper" has been featured in many instances of pop culture.
The Boeing 314 also appears in the film "Wake Island" (1942), moments before the Japanese attack on the island. The aircraft is both seen and spoken about by William Bendix's character.
Dover, Ed. The Long Way Home - Revised Edition Albuquerque, New Mexico 2008 []
Published in July 2009.
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