The Electra Enigma

Written by Henry M. Holden

The skies in the 1950s were ruled by the radial piston engine airliners like the Douglas DC-7 and the Lockheed Super Constellation. And although the long-range Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 jets were in production and soon to be enter the market, some airlines felt the need existed for a large, medium range turboprop airliner.

Lockheed began construction of this airliner in December 1955, with two firm orders on the books (one from American Airlines for 35 and the other from Eastern Airlines for 40) In all, 14 airlines U.S and international would order 170 Electras.

On December 6, 1957, the prototype Lockheed Electra flew, two weeks ahead of the initial flight of the Boeing 707.

The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area. (Author’s collection)

The airplane was the second Electra. In the 1930s Lockheed had built an earlier aircraft named the Electra, a twin-engine aircraft that was over shadowed by the Douglas DC-3.

Eastern Airlines flew the Electra, designated L-188A, on its first revenue flight on January 12, 1959, and American Airlines followed on January 23 of the same year. The L-188C, with increased fuel capacity offered greater range, and went into service later in 1959.

An early Braniff example wearing “Electra II” titles added after completion of the LEAP Program. (Author’s collection)

Behind this new airplane were four years of research and more than $50 million in developmental courses. It had gone through 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests, and everyone was sure it was the safest and best airplane ever manufactured. But nowhere in the 40,000 miles of blueprints and more than 7,000 mathematical calculations did a phenomenon called “whirl mode” appear.

The Electra looked like a regular airliner, except for the thick, 13-foot propeller blades, and the four large engine nacelles housing the General Electric/Allison 501–314 turboprop engines. The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area.

The wings look small and stubby [they were only 5 1/2 feet shorter than the fuselage]. The wide fuselage made it one of the roomiest airliners of its time. Pilots soon got used to its appearance and came to respect the airplane. The Electra had incredible reserve power. One pilot said, “it climbs like a damn fighter plane! “

The Lockheed L-188 had excellent cockpit visibility, improved safety features and it was hailed by many as “a pilots airplane.“ Many airline officials considered the Electra a better all-around airplane then the Boeing 707. According to some, the Electra had more reserve power than any transport aircraft build to date.

This shot was taken at World Chamberlin Field, Minneapolis in the winter of 1959. N122US had been delivered the previous July and was one of 18 ordered by the airline. On 17 Mar 1960, N121US, NWA’s first Electra was operating a flight from Chicago to Miami when the starboard wing separated over Tell City, Indiana, during violent thunderstorm activity.  All 63 passengers and crew were killed. (Author’s collection)

Its safety features were state-of-the-art. For example, there was a single control for an engine fire: One pull feathered the prop, shut off the fuel and oil supply, armed the chemical fire extinguisher and discharged the CO2 bottles all in one-second. On older aircraft these four functions had taken up to 10 seconds.

But the promising new airplane begin killing people. On February 5, 1959, an American Airlines Electra crashed into the East River while on final approach to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Sixty-five people were killed. Although the crash was eventually attributed to a combination of pilot error, bad weather and an unfamiliar altimeter, the crash stained the Electra’s reputation. That stain would soon spread.

The Tell City accident did account for NWA’s decision to hold off delivery of the final eight of its 18 until the modifications could be built into the new aircraft. The airline also went out and replaced the publicity shots it had had of N121US with ones showing the last of the first batch, N130US seen here. (Author’s collection)

It was September 29, 1959. Six crew members and 28 passengers, on Braniff Flight 542, from Houston to New York, were relaxing in the new Electra. It was a few minutes after 12 midnight, and a farmer in the rural town of Buffalo, Texas, had just shut off his TV. Suddenly, the sky outside his home turned an eerie yellow, and there was a continuous roar. The farmer and his wife ran out to the pasture, where they encountered small shards of aluminum raining down on them. His wife remarked it was raining.

But it wasn’t raining; it was aircraft fuel. When the farmer shown a flashlight into a tree he could see a large chunk of metal. On it were the words “Fly Braniff.“ What caused this brand-new airplane to disintegrate over Buffalo, Texas?

It was March 17, 1960, and the CAA was still piecing together the tragedy when Northwest Airlines flight 710, another Electra, bound from Minneapolis to Miami, made a routine scheduled stop at Chicago. The Electra took off bound for Miami with 56 passengers, 33 men, 23 women, one infant, and six crew. The Electra had settled into a normal flight, cruising above the cloud cover at 18,000 feet. At 1p.m. over Tell City, Indiana, something happened.

Witnesses on the ground heard tearing sounds in the sky. Several saw the thick fuselage of the Electra emerging from the clouds. The entire right wing was missing, and only a stub of the left-wing remained attached to the fuselage.

The airliner seemed to float for a while, according to some witnesses, defying the laws of gravity. But then it dipped, driving straight down, trailing white smoke and pieces of aircraft. It telescoped into a soybean field at an estimated 618 mph. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, creating a smoking hole that was 60 feet deep. There were no bodies. Rescuers found nothing at the impact site except scraps of metal that were not much larger than a spoon. But 11,000 feet away they found the left wing.

This was, beyond alarming. In a period of less than six months, two brand new Electras lost their wings and disintegrated with much loss of life. Could it have been severe clear-air turbulence (CAT) or was there something drastically wrong with these airliners? One week earlier the airframe, with only 1800 hours had undergone a major inspection. The captain, Edgar E. LaParle had 27,523 hours in his logbook. What had gone wrong?

Meetings were held with the recently formed FAA, which was at the time headed by Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada, the legendary Air Force general, pilot, and aviation authority. The ensuing crisis was fueled by rumor and innuendo, and Quesada was on the hot seat. When he hesitated to ground the L-188 some said it was because of a former employee relationship he had with the manufacturer. Quesada’s actions and inactions would become as controversial as the L-188 itself.

Pressure to ground the airplane mounted quickly, and the flying public avoided the 96 Electras already flying (only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type). The airline experience up to a 35-percent dip in the loads on the aircraft, a catastrophic loss of revenue in an industry where a 10-percent decrease is damaging.

But the Braniff Electra had not disintegrated, and the painful reconstruction had begun. And as they pieced together the wreckage, a clue emerged. It was something alarming. Shards of what appeared to be the left wing were found some distance from the rest of the wreckage. Could this tragedy have been caused by a severe clear air turbulence (CAT)?

The public had lost faith in the Electras and the media was calling for the FAA to ground the airplane, and the sick jokes didn’t help.

“I’d like a ticket on the Electra to New York!” The passenger reportedly said to the ticket agent.

“We don’t sell Electra tickets; we sell chances,” the agent answered, according to the story. And then there was the Eastern AirLines Electra where flight attendants were reportedly wearing phony stewardess wings with the wings broken off.  Or National Airlines: “Look Ma, No Wings!” Electra service to Miami.

N5514 delivered to Eastern Air Lines on February 13, 1959 went through more than eight owners before beings scrapped in March 1979. (Author’s collection)

All tests seem to indicate the Electra was basically safe and airworthy at slow speeds. Three days after that Tell City crash, the Feds instead of grounding the Electras, ordered the Electras not to fly more than 275 knots (316 mph).slowed down to the speed of a Connie or a DC-6. The representatives from the from the Northwest accident investigation team reminded the FAA that 275 knots is the speed at which the Braniff Electra was flying when it broke up. The FAA then reduced its top speed to 225 knots (259 mph). The speed restriction was arbitrary and imposed to give the public more confidence in the airplane. But it didn’t.

It would be an economic disaster to ground the whole Electra fleet. PSA, for example at the time had only four airplanes in its fleet, all Electras. It was an admittedly risky gamble, but the FAA allowed the Electra to fly, but at a much slower speed.

Passenger still hesitated to get on these “flying cylinders of death” as some call them. The airlines tried to get around the bad publicity. Eastern advertised it’s “Golden Falcon Service” and National Airlines advertised its “Jet Powered Service.”

Meanwhile, the investigations continued. Boeing volunteered staff and simulators to Lockheed. Douglas contributed engineers and equipment. The investigation, occurring in the early 1960s, was the first serious use of computer stress analysis in the field. NASA attempted to re-create the conditions in its wind tunnel.

The Electras were flown in every possible form of turbulence. Test pilots rammed it through the Sierra Madre Mountain’s airwaves over and over again. The Electras were put through every possible flight maneuver that may cause a wing failure. Still nothing!

Only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type. (Author’s collection)

Basically, the problem was a high speed aircraft in a conventional design. The Electra’s powerplants were housed in four enormous engine nacelles protruding far forward of the straight stubby wing. It was the two outboard engines that were involved in the Electra’s destruction.

Then in May 1960, NASA announced the cause of the accident that took 97 lives. Wing vibration, or flutter, is inherent in the design and is expected. In engineering terms, there are more than 100 different types of flutter, or “modes”, in which metal can vibrate. The mode that destroyed the Electra’s wing was called a whirl mode.

Whirl mode was not new, nor was it a mysterious phenomenon. Its a form of vibration inherent in rotating machinery such as oil drills, table fans and an automobile’s driveshaft.

The theory was devastating simple. A propeller has gyroscopic tendencies. Engine turbines spin at 13,820 rpm and the propellers at 1,280 rpm. These forces are designed to stay in a smooth moving plain of rotation unless displaced by a strong external force, (just as a spinning top can be made to wobble if a finger is placed against it).

An early livery on the Department of Commerce P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

Now suppose a force drives the propeller upward. The stiffness that’s part of the nacelle’s structure promptly resists the force in a downward motion. The propeller continues to move in one direction, but the rapidly developing whirl mode is vibrating in the opposite direction. The moment such a force is applied to an engine, it starts a chain reaction. The propellers normal plane rotation is disturbed, sending inharmonious forces back to the wing. The result, if not checked, is a wobbling effect that begins to transmit its motion to a natural outlet: the wing. The wing now begins to flex and flutter, sending discordant forces back to the engine-prop package, which in turn creates more and violent vibrations, feeding the mode new energy. It took less than 30 seconds for the energy to separate the wing.

Whirl mode did occasionally develop in propeller-driven airlines. It was always encountered by the powerful stiffness of the entire package, the nacelles in the engine mounting, and the truss holding the engine to the wing. This usually isn’t a problem. But on examination of the Electras engines, investigators found that something caused the engine loosen and wobble causing a severe whirl mode.

Investigators discovered that the engine mounts weren’t strong enough to damp the whirl mode that originated in the outboard engine nacelle. The oscillation transmitted to the wing caused severe up-and-down vibration, which increased until the wings separated.

On the Braniff Electra, they discovered an over speeding prop that produced a particular sound. When a tape of the sound was played to the crash witnesses they verified the sound. Examination of the wreckage found loose and wobbly prop on the left wing’s outboard engine. The world mode caused from the over speeding prop was unchecked by the engine mount.

The lucky few who deplaned the Northwest Electra in Chicago told investigators about experiencing a “hard landing.” Tell City had reported CAT. Investigators concluded that the combination of the hard landing and the CAT weakened in the Electras outboard engine mounts. When the pilot tried to pull up and compensate for the turbulence a whirl mode followed, tearing off the already weakened wings.

Lockheed began a retrofit program called LEAP (Lockheed Electra Adaptation Program). All Electras had their wings strengthened, the engine nacelles reinforced and mount, which was ordinarily a bar, redesign to a strong “V”-shaped to withstand more stress.

Electras took to the skies with restored confidence. And then on October 3, 1960, an Eastern Airlines Electra departing Boston for New York, crashed, killing all 72 aboard. Again, a cry went up to ground Electras but this crash was different. A large number of English starlings had been ingested into the Electra’s wide engine intakes. This caused the engines to flame out. The plane lost lift stalled and fell into Boston Bay. Although this problem was serious for all airliners it wasn’t associated with the Electra’s design.

But there were more Electra crashes. On September 14, 1960, an American Airlines Electra landing at LaGuardia airport tore across the Grand Central Parkway where it came to a stop, upside down. Miraculously all aboard survived. Then on September 17, 1961, another Northwest Electra crash near Chicago, killing 37 people.

Neither crash was the result of a design or structural flaw. The first involved excessive landing speed and a skid; the second caused by an improperly placed aileron cable.

The majority of the Electras were retired from the major airlines by 1975, but Eastern Air Line’s retired the last one on November 1, 1977. Today the remaining Electras continue as services charters, sprayers and freighters.

In 1958, the U.S. Navy replaced their aging fleet Neptune anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft with the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Name for the winter constellation of the mighty hunter, the Orion was retrofitted from the Lockheed Electra.

A U.S. Navy “slick” version of the P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

The initial P-3 was modified from the third Electra airframe. While based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the aircraft was structurally different with seven feet (2.1m) less fuselage forward of the wings and military additions such as wing hard points, nose radome and a distinctive tail “stinger” for detection of submarines by magnetic anomaly detector.

The Navy still flies the P-3 Orion over the long-range landplane and the antisubmarine platform.

In June 1988, the U.S. Customs Service welcomed to first three Airborne Early Warning aircraft (AEW) into its fleet. They use it as a long-range radar detection platform to perform on the southern U.S. border, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The aircraft is a distinctive 24-foot diameter rotodome fuselage. It is coupled with an APS-138 radar system. The Customs P-3 also comes in a second variant without the dome (Slick). The dome can detect targets over land and water in an encompassing 196,250 mi.² per 360° sweep. It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

According to Robert Sterling, author of “The Electra Story” Lockheed had made the decision to close the production line March 17, 1960 – just hours before the Tell City crash. Sales had dried up because airlines decided to wait for the short haul pure jets on the drawing board. Once the BAC-111, 727 and DC-9 went into service passengers didn’t want anything to do with props.

The two publicized in-flight breakups in the first 16 months of service – Sept 1959 and March 1960 – gave the plane a similar ‘reputation’ as the Comet, the Electra was in trouble. Initially it did not sell well overseas. There was strong competition for turbo prop airliners from several manufacturers.

A U.S. Customs P-3 “dome’ This photo shows the insignia on the tail of the Department of Homeland Security, formed after September 11, 2001. (Author’s collection)

Lockheed shut down the assembly line after only 170 airframes completed with huge losses, estimated at over $50 million. Production ended in 1961, just three years after introduction.

According to the Lockheed L-188 Electra Wikipedia.org site, the Electras went on to fly for more than 29 different airlines as freight dogs, sprayers and charters for decades.

On September22, 1978, a U.S. Navy P-3B Orion msn 185-5199 registration 152757 went down because of a suspected whirl mode. It is the only military Orion lost to the phenomenon known as whirl mode.

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The “Queen” at 50 – Early 747 Safety Cards

Written by Brian Barron

September 30, 2018 marks 50 years since the “Queen of the Skies” made her first public appearance at Everett, Washington.  She would take off into the heavens and into our hearts a few short months later.

The 747 would fundamentally change the course of commercial aviation and opened the feasibility of air travel to the masses.  50 years later, the 747 is still an integral part of the world’s Airline and Cargo fleets.

From a Safety perspective, the 747 presented many challenges that had never been considered before.  It was the first double aisle jet, the first to regularly carry up to 500 people.  In order to meet FAA and other world authority certification, a full Jumbo would need to be evacuated within 90 seconds.

A tall challenge for Boeing indeed.  In order to meet the goal, the 747 featured double lane slides as well as the first over wing mounted slide installation.   With 10 main deck doors and 20 slide lanes, this was the only way to meet the strict evacuation requirements

In the early days, 747 Upper Decks were largely limited to lounge use and often were not certified to be occupied by passengers during routine take-off and landings.   All early 747’s featured a spiral staircase to access the Upper Deck.  While these were certainly elegant for the day and age, they were not the easiest to maneuver, especially in turbulence or an emergency.    Primarily installed for Flight Deck crews, 747 Upper Decks did feature a narrow single lane slide exit.  Nearly 5 stories high, using this slide would be a frightening experience for even a seasoned traveler.

We will now explore first/early issue 747 safety cards from the first generation of operators focusing on 747-100/200 aircraft.

Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747 and the first card was appropriately issued in January 1970, the same month of entering commercial service.

This 14 page booklet was mostly text with some graphic illustrations.   This would be the standard until 1975 when Pan Am changed to a more graphics based cards

For a brief time in 1970-71, Pan Am issued a larger and more colorful 747 Safety Card. This illustration from this September 1970 card shows the main level evacuation plan as well as door operation.

National Airlines largely followed Pan Am’s booklet format for its 747 cards

The other launch customer was TWA, and the first to fly the Queen domestically between LAX and JFK in February, 1970.

TWA used the 747 launch to introduce a new safety card design.  Prior to 1970, all TWA cards were text heavy with limited illustrations.

The 747 was a Top hinged plastic folder that was heavy of graphics and limited on text.  This is the January 1970 release.   These cards were used for many years with the same 1-70 date.  A unique collectible is the version of this card Printed In Italy.

TWA’s new graphic style apparently made an impression on other early 747 operators as they decided to adapt the TWA style for their own first issue cards.

This included Northwest Orient, who was the third 747 operator from the U.S. and the first to fly the Jumbo across the Pacific.  In 1989, Northwest would also be the launch carrier for the most popular variant of the 747, the 747-400.

Others to use the TWA style include Aer Lingus –Undated card – from ca 1971 [all 4 panels shown]

Air India – Undated ca 1972.   Note the Flight Attendant in Indian dress

Braniff International – which christened their Jumbo as 747 Braniff Place. This card is dated August 1975

EL AL – Undated ca 1972

Other early U.S. operators generally stayed fairly close to their established Safety Card formats

Delta Air Lines – October 1970 issue.  Delta first flew a 747 in late 1970 and flew the last passenger flight by a major U.S. Carrier in December 2017.   However, Delta’s 747 operation is not continuous, operating -100’s from 1970-1977 and then not again until flying -400 series from 2009-2017 following its acquisition of Northwest Airlines

United Air Lines – July 1970 issue – United had the longest continuous 747 operation of any U.S carrier from 1970-2017.

Continental Airlines – May 1970 issue.  Like Delta and National, Continental’s initial 747 operation lasted only for a few years.   The 747 proved too big for these smaller legacy carriers and they quickly found out that tri-jets such as the DC-10 or L-1011 were a better fit for their operations.

American Airlines first 747 card touted the Queen as the “Astroliner”.  This terminology would later be changed to LuxuryLiner. This card is undated from ca. 1970

Air Canada issued their 747 in the same format as its other cards of the time, although the 747 was a smaller sized Tri-Fold than that used on the DC-8’s .  This card was issued March 1971.

We now cross the Atlantic and review the first issue of Europe’s national carriers.

Lufthansa was the first foreign airline to receive a 747 in spring of 1970 and now holds the title of longest continuous 747 operator.  A title it will likely keep as it operates the newest member of the 747 family, the 747-8i.  This card is from 1972

Lufthansa’s first card was interesting as it featured black and white demonstration photos, including the then unique two lane and over wing slide utilization

Next up is BOAC, the predecessor to today’s British Airways.  This undated ca. 1971 card is a large A4 folder with thick loose lamination.

Air France’s first 747 card would follow their common format of the era.  These early cards were printed on Thick Vinyl making them very sturdy.

Two of my favorite 747 cards are the first issues from Alitalia and Iberia.

Alitalia introduced its iconic livery in conjunction with the 747 entering service.  It also changed its Safety Card format to a heavily graphic style.  This card is from July 1970

Iberia’s first card was an 8 panel plastic bound safety card featuring colorful illustrations. Iberia would continue to use this unique design until shortly after their livery changed in 1977. This card is ca. 1971

Iberia was one of the few early 747 operators to show detailed instructions for the Upper Deck door operation.

TAP Air Portugal top-folding card ca. 1972.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, SAS, Swissair and KLM had a collective maintenance agreement for their new widebody 747’s and DC-10’s.   Unfortunately, for the collector this agreement resulted in the very generic Safety card without airline name or logo used by all three carriers.   These cards are known among collectors as the KSSU Format (KLM, SAS, Swissair union)

We move now to Asia.  While 747-400 operations were dominated by the Asian carriers, the early 747 was not in high demand and early operators only ordered a few examples until the economic boom of the mid 80’s

Japan Air Lines was the first Asian based carrier to fly the 747.  Their safety cards of this era had a detailed floorplan as evidenced by this ca. 1970 example

Korean Air Lines would introduce the 747 in 1972.   Their card was similar in design to JAL but without the detail.  A unique feature of Korean’s early 747 operation was the location of a Cargo compartment in the last section.  As such exit from door 5 was only possible on the right hand side.

In 1972, Singapore Airlines was a new airline from a very small country.  Their acquisition of 747’s was considered a big risk for such a small country.  Needless to say, the risk worked out and SIA is now one of the most prestigious airlines in service today.  The naming of type as 747B was commonly used by early -200 operators.

Next we move down under to QANTAS.  QANTAS was unique in that it operated an exclusively 747 fleet between 1979 and 1985.   This card is undated and would be from ca. 1972-74

In the early 1970’s, the only airline in Africa that had the traffic to justify a 747 operation was South African Airways.   They would be the only 747 airline based in Africa for nearly a decade and the only African airline to operate 4 versions of the Jumbo.  Their first 747 safety card (ca. 1972) was this large placemat sized example.

Thank you for reading this brief history of early 747 safety cards and celebrate the airlines that flew the Queen from the beginning.

I am always looking for ideas/themes for upcoming Safety Card articles.  Input from the Safety Card community is always welcome.

Thank You

Brian Barron

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Illustrated Airmail Envelopes II

Please note that this first appeared in the American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine, #97, February 2016
Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.

It is no secret that I am enamored of all things related to commercial aviation. In the May 2013 issue of American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine #70, I wrote about U.S envelopes preprinted to indicate airmail service. I can show some more, this time adding foreign ones. They speak for themselves and I will let them do that after a few brief comments.

The designs seem to fall into three basic categories: hand-drawn, those made by airline companies and those either generic or specific to a non-airline company.

Hand-drawn ones have a charm all their own. They are usually made for non-philatelic purposes, manifesting the sender’s imagination. They are direct descendants of the 19th century British pen and ink covers (whose artistry is usually quite a bit more evident). The 1939 cover was carried from Belgium on the first flight from France to the U.S. The use of an air etiquette to help define the shape of the drawing shows some design sense. First flight covers rarely have such flamboyance.

Figure 1a

Figure 1b

Cpl. Holmes, stationed at Hawaii, received a rather striking cover from New York. It even has a tied-on Christmas seal.

Figure 2a

Figure 2b

A charming pen drawing graced the upper left corner of a 1946 cover from Belgium; the sketch shows a Belgian factory and an American skyline.

Figure 3

Something seen from time to time is the usual red and blue airmail border being added by hand. That makes sense in this return card for which the sender wanted air service.

Figure 4

Figures 5-8 show four generic envelope designs: U.S. 1931, Denmark 1950, Guatemala 1937, and Mexico 1945 with extra pizzazz from the censor label.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8a

Figure 8b

Envelopes produced for use by airlines tend to be a bit more eye-catching: Brazil Condor 1934 (Figure 9), Brazil Panair 1939 of which there are a number of varieties (Figure 10), Paraguay Panagra/Panair carried on first Pan American flight from Asuncion to Rio (Figure 11), Peru Lufthansa 1938 (Figure 12) and Indochina Air Orient 1930 (Figure 13).

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 14 is a rather interesting outlier. The Uruguay 1931 envelope specifies that there was an additional fee of 50¢ to Comision Gral. De Aeronautica (General Commission not specifying an airline) for air service. The image at the upper left is typical of the remarkable graphics seen in Uruguay at this time.

Figure 14

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Art Deco of LaGuardia Airport – Time Travel to the Past

Written by Henry M. Holden

Municipal poster showing the iconic DC-3 and Boeing 314 Clipper Ship advertising the only two airports in the New York City area at the time, Floyd Bennett Field, and North Beach Airport. (author’s collection)

Hardly more than a decade after Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris, the world’s first Transatlantic passenger flights were regularly departing LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Terminal. Designed in the Art Deco style, the terminal is a “modern” example of travel prior to World War II.

The Airmail Act of 1925 created a revolution in mail transport and led to what would be called “The Golden Age of Aviation.” By the early 1930s, commercial airlines and airports were being developed, the result of the Federal government’s use of commercial airliners and private contractors for mail transport.

The history of the Marine Terminal coincides with that of commercial aviation in United States. Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947) had been an enthusiastic advocate of aviation from its earliest days. While in private law practice, he had as a client, Giuseppe Bellanco, a pioneering aviator and flight instructor. LaGuardia took flying lessons in 1913, in Minneola, Long Island.

The outside of the Marine Air Terminal sports the flying fish on the upper portion of the building. The flying fish represented the Boeing 314 Clipper ships. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

When the United States entered World War I, although LaGuardia had been recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps. He served in the Eighth Aviation Instruction Center in Fogia, Italy. He also flew as a pilot/bombardier with the Fifth Squadron on the Italian-Austrian Front, reaching the rank of Major.

LaGuardia was an early proponent of military of aviation, and also recognized the potential of commercial passenger airlines. The airport, which became his namesake is a tribute to this aspect of the career of one of New York’s most colorful and inspirational political leaders.

In the fall of 1933, now New York City’s mayor, LaGuardia was flying home from a vacation in Florida. On the final leg of his journey from Pittsburgh to New York, his TWA DC-2 landed at the only commercial airport to serve New York City; Newark Airport, in New Jersey. Insisting his ticket said New York, LaGuardia refused to get off the plane. LaGuardia demanded to be flown to New York City’s Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, which then had no scheduled airline service. TWA relented, and the plane flew on to Brooklyn. LaGuardia had dramatically made his point. One of the world’s great cities needed an airport closer to Manhattan than the commercially unsuccessful Floyd Bennett Field. Incredibly, New York City, an epicenter of global business, and culture, was not served by any airline.

The Boeing 314 is shown docked outside the Marine Air Terminal with the landplane airport in the background. (photo author’s collection)

Floyd Bennett Field was difficult to get to, and from, due to the distance, approximately 15 miles from New York City on the poorly kept, mostly dirt roads. Floyd Bennett Field led some planners to look at a parcel of land called North Beach, in Queens County, closer to mid-town Manhattan.

North Beach Airport

In 1929, North Beach was home to a private airport, built by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. The Depression had forced the closing of the airport.

Mayor LaGuardia realized the need for an airport for one of the world’s great cities. LaGuardia campaigned relentlessly for a new airport, and North Beach seemed ideal. The airport was small, about 100 acres, but only five miles from Manhattan, on a main highway, and had unobstructed water approaches, critical for the flying boats of the era.

The landplane terminal lobby circa 1940 shows some of the Art Deco architecture sans murals popular at the time. Around the perimeter are the airline ticket and check-in counters. LaGuardia Airport was one of the first airports to have shopping, kiosk although it appeared it was for the wealthy passengers. The stairway leads to the departure area. (PANYNJ)

Plans for the airport, which was to be federally sponsored and funded through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), were approved by President Roosevelt on September 3, 1937. Just six days later, the Mayor presided over groundbreaking ceremonies and construction began.

Construction begins quickly

Construction at North Beach proceeded rapidly. First came the land-filling of a portion of Bowery Bay, the Rikers Island channel, and Flushing Bay, which more than doubled the acreage of the original site. Initially some 5,000 men were employed, but when building construction began the work force gradually increased to 23,000 workers by 1939. A 558-acre airport with almost four miles of runways and taxi strips emerged. Not only was LaGuardia the largest airport in the world at the time, it was also the costliest at $40,000,000, the greatest single undertaking of the WPA in those days.

This section of the Brooks mural shows navigators plotting a course with a slide rule for the next clipper flight. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

The original buildings included the landplane administration building, six hangers, office buildings, and a seaplane hangar at the Marine Air Terminal.

The airport officially opened on October 15, 1939 with a crowd estimated to be more than 325,000 just as the World’s Fair was opening a short drive away. It had a circular rotunda, restaurants, customs facilities, and a control tower. Today, only the Marine Air Terminal remains of the original buildings.

Among the 150 airplanes which took part in the festivities were three that circled overhead as the mayor made his address, skywriting “Name it LaGuardia.” This inaugurated a campaign to rechristened it, and on November 2, the City Council officially agreed upon New York City Municipal Airport LaGuardia Field.

By 1940, LaGuardia eclipsed Newark Airport. In March 1940, the Marine Air terminal was dedicated. At the ceremony two new Pan-American Boeing 314 clipper ships were on display. The clipper ships represented both the culmination of the development of seaplanes, and also the inauguration of a new era commercial flying.

The narrative of the mural begins with the mythology of Icarus and Daedalus. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

The clipper ships caused a genuine sensation and were described in the New York Herald Tribune as “breathtaking” in size. Clare Booth Luce in a Life Magazine article made a prediction, “Fifty years from now, people will look back on the Clipper flights of today as the most romantic voyage of history.”

The accommodations aboard these planes were indeed luxurious by today’s standards. The two deck interior featured dining rooms, private compartments, and sleeping sections.

But this glamorous era was brought to an abrupt end by World War II. The clippers were pressed into war service and functioned as passenger planes on government missions and cargo carriers.

The Marine Air Terminal today is a reminder of its original use. The building was planned for convenience of both passengers and crew. The clippers taxied in from Long Island Sound pulled by small motorboats and docked outside the terminal. For maintenance, they were hauled out of the water and moved along special railroad track into a nearby hangar.

Although a very large airport for the era in which it was built, by the late 1940s it was the world’s busiest airport, and clearly too small for the increasing amount of air traffic. Through the years, its runways were lengthened, and facilities were improved to handle larger and faster aircraft and more people.

Art Deco Rules

The Marine Air Terminal is a Art Deco masterpiece. It is rich colors, bold geometric shapes, and lavish ornamentation. The exterior boasts two cheerful frieze of flying fish intended to represent the flying-boat clippers of that era. The terminal is facing brick, originally buff colored with black brick detailing, but stainless steel, one of the new materials favored in the Art Deco circles, makes a sleek appearance on the exterior and interior of the building. Faceted circles, again a nod to the Art Deco style, were created by setting the black brick in vertical, angled courses between the banks of windows. The apparent simplicity of the Marine Terminal design is deceptive. It is a building of subtle interlocking geometric relationships, well scaled, well-balanced, and well-planned.

The mural pays homage to DaVinci, the Wright brothers and ends with the pre-World War II Boeing 314 Clippers. The display beneath the mural tells the story of the terminal in photos. Publisher and historian Geoffrey Arend, who was responsible for the mural’s restoration used the display to gin up interest in the mural’s restoration. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

Murals tell the history of flight

The Marine Air Terminal’s mural measures 12 feet (3.7m) in height and 237-feet (72m) in circular length, called “Flight,” and divided into three sections, that had a very specific focus according to artist James Brooks. “The aim of the design,” said Brooks, “is to identify the spectator with the broad scope of man’s yearning for flight and its final recognition.”

This was the last and largest mural produced under the WPA. The WPA, a key part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Administration, was the nation’s largest employer in the years leading up to World War II.

Almost anyone can recognize the references to Icarus and Daedalus, to DaVince on the mural; and the prewar aviators who navigated the seas with little to guide them but a compass, dead reckoning and the stars.
The mural tells the story of the global desire to fly from humankind’s earliest dream of becoming airborne, to the visions of Leonardo Da Vinci. It shows the flight of Icarus and Daedalus, in Greek Mythology. The Wright brothers are pictured and the mural ends at the point in aviation history where Pan American Airways’ flying boats were dominant.

But artistic and political tastes can deviate and change. In the early 1950s, just a decade after Brooks finished the mural, someone at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered that the mural be painted over. There was no official reason ever given for covering the mural, but the widely repeated story is that, in the anti-Communist fervor of that era, someone saw left-wing sympathies in Brooks’ mural.

The Bowing 314 Clipper ships was one of the latest aerial technological advances in 1939. It was the zenith of man’s dream and the golden age of the ‘flying boat. (Photo by Henry M. Holden)

In the representation in the mural of an ordinary man and woman, with the woman holding binoculars, it is possible to see why someone might have felt uneasy amid the Cold War paranoia. Brooks portrayed flight as being important for the common citizen, and not just society’s military, business and political elites.

What James Brooks left for us was the ability to travel through time: first, back to when air travel for the masses was a glittering promise, and then to when it became a subversive idea.

By the end of the war, technological advances in airplane design had made the Clippers obsolete. The terminal was closed for airline traffic in the 1950s (though it was still used as a waiting area for passengers who were bused to the main terminals) and it fell into a state of disrepair. In 1966, it was renovated and reopened for corporate jets.

It was only in the late 1970s, when publisher-historian, Geoffrey Arend, launched a campaign to restore the mural did many become aware of the mural. Arend published Air Cargo News and had an office in the terminal building. To attract attention to the “missing” artwork, Arend placed old photos of the mural in the terminal lobby, in sight of travelers who used the building to board corporate and private aircraft. Eventually he was approached by Laurence Rockefeller, and Reader’s Digest founder DeWitt Wallace, who agreed to finance the restoration. After an extensive restoration project headed by Arend, the mural was rededicated on September 18, 1980.

The Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport remains the only active airport terminal dating from the first generation of passenger travel in the United States, the “Golden age of the flying boat.”

In 1982, the terminal was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Airlines of Asia – Past and Present

Written by Charlie Dolan

Air Ceylon         AE             1947 – 1979     Went bankrupt

Air India   (Tata)       1932 -1949       Became Air India

Air India            AI     AIC   1949 – present

Air Koryo          JB     KOR           1950 – present
North Korea’s flag carrier. Only airline awarded one star in 2014 by Skytrax

Air Siam             VG             1970 – 1976

All Nippon Airways   NH    ANA          1952 – present

Ariana Afghan Airlines       FG    AFG           1955 – present
(with breaks during hostilities)

Asiana Airlines           OZ    AAR           1988 – present

C A A C
Civil Aviation Administration of China CA  CCA  1949 – 1988
Split into six smaller operators

Dragonair
Hong Kong Dragon Airlines       KA    HDA          1985 – present

Merpati Nusantara Airlines        MZ    MNA          1962 – 2014

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Eastern Airlines Memories

Written by Lester Anderson

Mel Lawrence Photo-Shea Oakley Collection

I will state, without reservation, that I was a fan of Eastern Air lines and I want to share some of those memories.

My First 727 Flight

I graduated high school in 1965 and (along with my traveling companions, two other high school students graduating the same high school) we celebrated our graduation by taking a flying trip to Hartford from New York.  We had no thoughts of going into the city, we wanted to fly from a NY airport to the Hartford airport, and then fly home.

We planned this through research using the OAG (Official Airline Guide).  This was a book that was about the same size as the New Jersey Bell telephone directory.  For those of you under 40 and have no idea what that means, it was an 8 ½” x 11 book, with soft covers, about 300 pages, printed on newsprint paper.  It listed every flight in the United States, listing the airline, type of aircraft, departure and arrival times, days of travel and fares. It was published twice a month to keep current. We could never afford a subscription, but I had a travel agency that I befriended (Greenwald Travel in Clifton) and they would give me a copy of the expired last issue.

We all had mail subscriptions to the airline timetables, but they were mainly useful to see the flight details.  But the OAG it gave all fares and which airlines were authorized to offer special fares.  In the 1960’s all fares were approved by the CAB, and between city pairs, and unlike today they changed only when the CAB gave the OK. Classes included First on all aircraft (F) and Economy on jets (Y) and Tourist on piston engine (T). But important to us were deeply discounted fares, often on weekends, called Weekend Excursion (YE) fares.

So a month after our high school graduation we flew on an Eastern Air Lines Excursion Fare from JFK to Hartford and return to Newark for the magical fare of $12.00 ($11.43 plus 57 cents tax). (See the Eastern Air Lines ticket image).  The validation franking (even though the official name had changed to JFK) was International Airport, New York, NY.  (As a side note, I was a fan of the James Bond movies, and the airline code for all airline issued tickets by Eastern was 007).

The first flight was on an Eastern DC-7B.  Since my first flight ever was on a DC-6B this was like the big brother of an old friend.  I must admit while I remember taking the flight, I cannot give any outstanding details about either the flight or the aircraft, other than remembering the taxi time at JFK was much longer than LGA or EWR.

The return flight was a major reason for the trip, it was a new Whisperjet 727.  Eastern had begun flying the 727 the year before, so this was a brand new airplane. I sat mid-cabin across from the galley.  My first major memory was that it was far from whisper-quiet.  Engine noise was not there, but the wind noise was even louder!  I was later told that the degree of soundproofing insulation was an airline option

I was over 18 and in those days you could drink alcoholic beverages in NY at 18, so I was interested in the galley liquor display.  Unlike today when everyone gets a small bottle, about 8 full size bottles were mounted vertically on the bulkhead with a dispenser at the bottom. If someone bought a drink the stewardess (yes that is what they were called) put a glass under the spout and the correct amount was dispensed.  Both because it was expensive for us (plus it was a mid-afternoon flight) we passed on buying drinks on the plane.

For all of our flights, leaving JFK, arriving and departing Hartford, and arriving Newark, access to the airplane was outside using steps, not the Jetway that became the standard way of boarding years later.

And one other change—the back cover of the ticket package reminded you that if you were on a round trip ticket and stayed overnight you needed to reconfirm you return reservation.

Ionosphere Club

When they started, airline clubs were the exclusive facilities that only the most valued customers of an airline could visit.  In the 1970’s airlines were forced by congress to open their clubs to any passenger who would pay a membership fee. And for me, that was the golden ticket.  For $25 for a year, I signed up for a membership at Newark Airport.  A few months later they sent me an invitation to upgrade to a 5-year membership, which I also gladly did.  Then a few months later (they had an effective marketing department), I was given the opportunity to become a lifetime member, for me and (eventually) my wife.  The total cost was just about $500, and this has given me club access through all of Eastern’s existence, then Continental’s President’s Clubs (with only a minor requirement of flights to affect the transfer) and now we are lifetime members of the United Club.  When I did sign up for the lifetime membership they send me a wood wall plaque (see picture) attesting to my membership. It is still on my wall (basement wall, but still my wall).

I got a good deal on this and so did Eastern because as I travelled on business, having the advantage of the Ionosphere Club, did get me to book as much travel on Eastern as I could.

As a member of the Ionosphere club, I was also invited to open an account in the Eastern Airlines Credit Union.  While I had no real need for another bank account, the checks on that account were pictures of Eastern airplanes, so how could I say no.  And while I visited only once, I found that the “local branch office” for making deposits and withdrawals was in Eastern Flight-Operations.  In those days of little security, just showing my Eastern Credit Union membership card got me in the door of flight-ops.

Flight  Memories

When I was in the computer business I did a lot of business travel by air.  And although I eventually did have multi-year memberships in the United Red Carpet Club and the Delta Crown room, my favorite was Eastern and the Ionosphere Club. I was never able to convince my employer to pay for the memberships, but I found them invaluable whenever there was a flight delay or cancellation (the line at the counter had 100 people, the club may have had 2 or 3 in line).  Plus in those days, flight changes and sometimes upgrades were at the discretion of the agent, and the club agents were very generous, especially to we frequent travelers.

If you flew south, with Eastern (and Delta for that matter) odds are very high you were going thru Atlanta.  Eastern had a great presence there.   They occupied concourse C fully and split the gates of Concourse B with Delta, and both concourses had Ionosphere Clubs.  And if you were making a connection (as you often were), they had a great “cheat corridor.” There was a passageway built under the tarmac of the gates with a moving walkway between the two Eastern Concourses so you could easily go from one concourse to the next if that was needed for your connection.  From what I can find on the web, the passageway still exists but it is closed off since there is no more need for it.

Airline Food

What is there to say about it.  But two things I can relate about Eastern.  They had what I called their “Apple Snack”, a plastic tray with an apple, two wrapped pieces of cheese, and some crackers, all in a shrink wrapped package the flight attendants (times, and job designations, changed from the 60’s) could easily distribute to the 100-150 passengers even on hour long flights. And it was the perfect snack for an afternoon flight. The regular meals were OK (nothing great, nothing terrible) but Eastern had probably the best selection of “special meals” you could order in advance.  I took advantage of that often, and it gave me a meal of which my seat-mates often would be envious.

Eastern’s frequent flyer program, OnePass, gave each member a book of tickets, about the size of small checks. When you turned in your ticket (all flights used paper tickets), you also turned in this OnePass form which had your information already printed on it, and you just wrote in the date and flight number.  And it worked very well.

Although I traveled a lot (and therefore got my share of first-class upgrades), I never had a position where I was authorized to fly first class on a first class ticket.  But Eastern had a Y-ONEPASS fare which, if the ticket was written as full “Y” fare, you could book confirmed space in the first-class cabin.  A great marketing way around a customer who needed to fly “Y”, but would love to sit in “F.”

And during the times of “saving every dime” Eastern did a power-back at the Atlanta airport gates with the 727 and DC9 aircraft to avoid needing the tug.  My memory of that (and I knew what was coming so I was never concerned) is the aircraft moved forward a foot or so towards the terminal before starting to back up.

Some Sadness

Eastern declared bankruptcy in New York (where Eastern management felt they would have a better chance).  It was a Miami company, but due to the rules of bankruptcy, the first Eastern entity to declare was Ionosphere Clubs Inc. which was a New York corporation. Then Eastern Air Lines could join its sister company in the bankruptcy filing and it would be adjudicated in New York which management thought might be friendlier than if they declared in Florida.   History shows how that worked out.

But my greatest sorrow was going thru the Atlanta Airport after Eastern finally ceased all operations.   The tram that goes between the concourses just bypassed the darkened Eastern only concourse C and the Eastern/Delta Concourse B was partially blocked. I also walked between concourses (ATL has a moving walkway) and it was upsetting to walk past the C entrance with all lights off, and the B entrance partially closed off’ a sad memory of Eastern’s demise.

But I am glad that I have so many more good and vibrant memories of Eastern, and that spirit of the “Wings of Man” still lives on in me.

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Junior Wings of Panagra ~ Pan American Grace Airways

Written by Lane Kranz


In the late 1920’s Pan American Airways attempted to extend its route network to the western coast of South America.  However, a shipping conglomerate known as the W.R. Grace Company had a near monopoly, albeit by land and sea.  Pan Am knew that it would be extremely difficult to acquire landing rights.  In 1929 a deal was struck and a new company was formed.  Pan American Grace Airways, known as Panagra, was established with Pan American and W.R. Grace each owning 50% of the new airline.


Over the next 38 years, Panagra would grow and connect points from New York to Santiago and Buenos Aires.  They would operate numerous different types of aircraft, including the DC-3, DC-6, DC-7, and DC-8.  In February 1967 the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and President Lyndon Johnson approved a merger between Panagra and Braniff International.  Braniff would operate these South American routes until its bankruptcy in 1982.  The CAB then awarded these routes to Eastern Airlines in a 5-0 decision.  In 1990, Eastern Airlines signed an agreement to sell its Central and Latin American routes to American Airlines, which continues to operate many of these routes today.

Over a period of nearly 4 decades, Panagra issued some of the most beautiful and detailed Junior Wings.  There are 10 different known junior wings, each made of metal, and each wing is considered quite rare and highly collectable.  These wings represent a period of history known for innovation and resilience.  Panagra is a prime example of the power of compromise.

Panagra Junior Pilot and Junior Hostess with block lettering.

Panagra Junior Pilot and Junior Hostess with green background and script lettering.

Panagra Junior Pilot and Junior Hostess with script lettering and no color.

Panagra Junior Pilot and Junior Hostess with dark green background and short pin.

Panagra Junior Pilot and Junior Hostess with light green background and long pin.

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Inter-Island Airways, Ltd.

Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.

Inter-Island Airways was founded in early 1929 by a local steamship company to link Honolulu with the outer islands in November of that year.

Sometime thereafter, either 1930 or 1931, they established an Air Express service to carry mail between Honolulu and Hilo. By 1934, the name had become Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. which officially carried mail as AM Route 33 (revised) as of October 8, 1934.

Recently I came across a group of seven covers from 1931 to 1933 with various hand stamps for the Inter-Island Airways, Ltd. Air Express. There were two hand stamps used. One is three-line reading “Shipped by Air Express/[ a pair of wings]/Inter-Island Airways., Ltd.” used 1931 to 1933 in blue and purple (Type 1). The second reads “Received by Inter-Island Airways, Ltd/Date:…./To Be Called For” in purple in 1932-1933 (Type 2).

Of the seven covers, five are definitely commercial while two are probably philatelic. The rating and hand stamps on the commercial covers are as follows: 1) Aug 1, 1931 unfranked but has several numbers on it probably some form of accountancy, Type 1 in blue; 2) October 28, 1932 (hand-dated) on R.R.B. cover, Type 1 in blue; 3) April 1, 1932 2¢ Washington Bicentennial postal envelope, Type 1 in blue (Figure 1); 4 & 5) not dated,, lightly tied with Type 2 in purple, one franked 2¢ postal envelope + 1¢ Franklin, the other with 4¢ + 8¢ Washington Bicentennial issue stamps (Figure 2). The two suspected philatelic covers have 1) 3¢ William Penn tied with Type 2 with Type 1 alongside, both in purple (Figure 3) and 2) 3¢ Oglethorpe tied by Type 2 in purple. None have back stamps.

From this small sample we can surmise that Type 1 was in blue 1931-1932, later purple and that Type 2 appeared in 1933 in purple. The 12¢ rate is an outlier, perhaps a multiple weight.

So much for the description of the group, I have been able to find no information about the service or any catalogue listing. That surprises me. I ask if anyone can help. I can be reached here.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

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Aviation Miscellany

Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.

Over the years I have devoted a number of columns to various aspects of aviation paraphilately. This column will describe some bits of more or less philatelic ephemera. I have not been able to accumulate enough for a column devoted to any one of these topics so let’s call this a miscellany.

Covers have been used for advertising and promotional purposes since the mid-19th century. I have written about how government promoted the development of aviation in the U.S. using various pieces of ephemera. This, of course, happened elsewhere as well. Examples from Belgium, Czechoslovakia France and Germany show how the slogans on machine cancelling devices of the 1930s sent the same message: use airmail. (Figures 1-4)

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Beloved of philatelists are fancy cancels. I have found only this 1951 one that notes the 5¢ airmail rate. (Figure 5) Adjuncts are the myriad private hand stamps such as the 1953 “Air Mail Hubba Hubba” used from APO 704 in Japan (Figure 6) and the 1973 “Air Mail Wiki Wiki” from Hawaii. (Figure 7)

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Particularly popular, beginning in the 1930s, were the recently created meter machine slogans. They were particularly popular with companies as free visual advertising. Thus, Imperial suggested to use their airmail from Singapore in 1936 on a cover franked with the scarce Universal “Midget” imprint. (Figure 8) Lufthansa had many different slogans for their services during the 1934-9 period; they used Francotype machines, in this case, type D multi-value. (Figure 9) The de Havilland Aviation Co. at Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire mentioned their production of aircraft, engines and propellers in 1955 on the Universal “Multi-value” machine. (Figure 10)

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 10

Amongst the rarest of such slogans are those found on permit imprints. The one shown in Figure 11 is known in red, blue and green, all from the same company with the same permit number 13399.

Figure 11

In keeping with the tradition of the advertising cover, many airlines used envelopes imprinted with their name, often franked with slogan meters and, on occasion, found with their own airmail etiquettes. Examples of the former, from Egypt (MISR), India (Air India) and Italy (LAI) (Figure 12-14), and of the latter from Australia (Qantas) and France (Air France) are a sampling of what can be found. (Figures 15-16)

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 14

Figure 15

Figure 16

These covers neatly bridge the philately/paraphilately aspects of our hobby and are examples of how to enhance one’s collection (and exhibit, if one wishes) with collateral material. Or is it collateral? You decide.

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Pan Am’s Flying Clippers

Written by Henry M. Holden
henry39holden@gmail.com
www.henrymholden.com

By the mid-1930s, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) used Martin M-130 and Sikorsky S-42 flying boats to cover their their Caribbean and South American routes.

When passenger demand increased for trans-Pacific and Atlantic travel toward the end of the 1930s, Pan Am went to Boeing for a long-range flying boat. In response, Boeing developed the Model 314, nicknamed the “Clipper” after the great ocean-going sailing ships.

Pan American wanted a flying boat with an extraordinary range that could supplement the airline’s trans-Pacific Martin M-130. On July 21, 1936, Pan American signed a contract for six Model 314s. The first deliveries occurred in March 1939. The Model 314 was the largest civil aircraft in service at the time.

NC18602 (No. 18) was the California Clipper. It was the last Pan Am 314 to be retired. By 1946, when it retired, had accumulated more than a million flight miles. (Photo Boeing Archives)

It was twice the size of the Sikorsky S-42, and outweighed the Martin M-130 China Clipper by 15 tons. The Boeing 314 weighed 40 tons and cost $550 000 per copy. Initially it had poor directional control due to the single vertical stabilizer. Boeing eventually settled on the triple-tail arrangement which became a feature of the design.

It had a central hull and adapted the experimental XB-15 bomber’s 149 ft. (45 metres) wing and engine nacelles on the flying boat’s large (for its day), whale-shaped body.

In the place of the traditional floating stabilizers at the wingtips, sponsons mounted on the sides of the hull were used. The sponsons were developed by Claude Dornier, and used on the Dornier Do X and Dornier Do 18. The sponsons also contained fuel tanks, which brought the capacity of the total fuel on board to almost 3,525 gallons (16 ,00 liters).

The new 14-cylinder double-row Wright 1,500 hp. Cyclones were the first to use 100-octane fuel. These engines on the 314A eliminated the lack of power that handicapped and ultimately canceled the XB-15 project.

Behind the upper-level flight deck were crew sleeping quarters and a giant baggage area. Between the two decks was a spiral staircase. The lower deck included a dining salon, cocktail lounge, and separate lavatory-dressing room facilities for men and women. The ultimate bow to the first class traveler was a bridal suite. One less publicized feature was the first flush toilets ever used on a transport aircraft.

On May 20, 1939, Pan American inaugurated the first transatlantic mail service. Almost a ton of mail was carried from Port Washington, N.Y., to Marseilles, France, via the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal, in 29 hours. The same aircraft opened the northern mail service to Southampton, UK on June 24, 1939.

The 314 had a 3,500-mile range and made the first passenger-scheduled trans-Atlantic flight on June 28, 1939. By the year’s end, Clippers were routinely crossing the Pacific. Passengers had a spacious lower deck that allowed seating for 74 daytime passengers on trips less than 1,000 miles over water, or 36 to 40 passengers in reclining seats for long overnight flights.

White-coated stewards served five and six-course meals on china with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314s has not been matched on heavier-than-air commercial transport since then. (Photo Boeing Archives)

Luxury Air Travel

Pan Am’s “Clippers” were built for the “First Class traveler,” a necessity given the long transoceanic flights. It had a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h), but typically flights at the maximum gross weight were flown at 155 mph (249 km/h). In 1940, Pan Am’s San Francisco, to Honolulu, Hawaii, the route took 19 hours.

The 314s had galleys crewed by chefs from five-star hotels. White-coated stewards served five and six-course meals on china with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314s has not been matched on heavier-than-air commercial transport since then. This was travel for the super-rich, priced at $675 from New York to Southampton, UK (comparable to a round trip aboard Concorde in 2006). Most of the flights were trans-Pacific, with a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong via the “stepping-stone” islands costing $760 (or $1,368 round-trip)

The 314 proved to be an excellent airplane. The XP–15 wing design increased the range t0 3,500-miles. It was a huge wing that not only gave the 314 the incredible range, but also the capability of making some in-flight repairs on the engines. Like the XP 15, there was a passageway inside each wing through which a crew member could crawl.

The lower deck included a dining salon, cocktail lounge, and separate lavatory-dressing room facilities for men and women. (Photo Boeing Archives)

World War II

On September 3, 1939, the golden age of the clipper ships came to a dead stop with the outbreak of World War II in Europe. The war curtailed Pan American’s opportunity to build on its success, and the northern trans-Atlantic route was abandoned on October 3, 1939.

At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, the Pacific Clipper was en route to New Zealand. Rather than risk flying back to Honolulu, and being shot down by Japanese fighters, the captain decided to fly west to New York. Starting at Auckland, New Zealand, the Pacific Clipper reached New York after traveling over 31,500 miles (50,695km).

The Clipper fleet was pressed immediately into military service for the war effort. The flying boats were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific Theaters. The aircraft were purchased by the War Department, and leased back to Pan Am for a dollar.

Few other aircraft of the day could meet the wartime distance and load requirements. President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled on Dixie Clipper to meet with Winston Churchill at the Casablanca conference in 1943.

On the Marine Air Terminal interior wall is a mural representing the history of flight. The last mural depicts the Clipper ships and the crew plotting their flight. At that point, 1939, the Clipper represented the latest in aviation technology. (Photo Henry M. Holden)

The Clippers had long legs. American military cargo was carried via Brazil to Liberia, to supply the British forces at Cairo, and to the Russians, via Teheran. The 314 was then the only aircraft in the world that could make the 2,150-statute-mile (3,460 km) crossing over water, and was 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 experienced pilots and navigators continued to serve as a civilian flight crew.

Success breeds more

With the success of the Boeing 314, Pan American ordered six more aircraft with increased engine power and passenger capacity, as the Boeing 314A, to be delivered in 1941.

Initially, the goal was to double the service on both the Atlantic and Pacific routes. However, the fall of France, in 1940, caused some doubt about whether the Atlantic service could continue. Passenger numbers were declining due to the war, and if Spain or Portugal joined the Axis, then the flights to Lisbon would end.

LaGuardia Airport, in New York City, was the clipper’s east coast operating base. A special building, the Marine Air Terminal, built in 1939, was for clipper passengers. The flying fish on the side of the building represented the Clipper ships. (Photo Henry M. Holden)

The 314A was a great improvement, it had increased fuel capacity of nearly,1 000 gallons (4,500 liters). The first 314A flew as a prototype on March 20, 1941, but with WW II raging, only half the order went to Pan Am. Three were bought by the British government and allotted to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for use as transport aircraft, primarily intended for the UK – West Africa route. The sale made a small net profit for Pan Am – priced at cost plus five percent – and provided a vital communications link for Britain. Churchill later flew on Bristol Clipper and Berwick Clipper, which he praised strongly, adding to the Clippers’ fame during the war.

They faded quickly

Twelve Boeing 314 Clippers were produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. Of the 12 three were lost to accidents, although only one of those resulted in fatalities: 24 passengers and crew aboard the Yankee Clipper died in a landing accident, in Lisbon, Portugal, on February 22, 1943. Among the fatalities was a prominent American author, and war correspondent, Benjamin Robertson. American singer and film actress Jane Froman was seriously injured. Two more Clippers were sunk in collisions with rescue ships after being forced to land due to engine trouble.

Three Pan American Airways S-42s over Miami Beach, Florida. When passenger demand increased for trans-Pacific and Atlantic travel toward the end of the 1930s, Pan Am went to Boeing for a long-range, four-engine flying boat. (Photo Florida State Archives)

The last Pan Am 314 to be retired, the California Clipper, in 1946, had accumulated more than a million flight miles. All Pan-Am’s 314 were removed from scheduled service in 1946, and five serviceable B-314s were purchased by the start-up airline New World Airways. These sat at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field until 1950 when all were sold for scrap. The last of the fleet, the Anzac Clipper, was resold and scrapped at Baltimore, Maryland in late 1951.

BOAC’s 314As were withdrawn from the Baltimore-to-Bermuda route in January 1948, replaced by Lockheed Constellations flying from New York and Baltimore to Bermuda.

The Boeing clippers served Pan Am and BOAC well during their short careers. The advent of the four-engine land planes, which traded luxury for speed and greater operating economy, doomed the flying boats. The passing of the flying boat, however, was inevitable even before war broke out. The same Boeing engineering capability responsible for the advanced technology found in the clippers made their extinction predictable. For even as the 314 was being developed, so too was another prewar airliner with technology even more cutting edge, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner.

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Airliners International™

 2019 Atlanta, Georgia


June 19-22 / 2019

The Worlds Largest Airline Collectibles
 Show & Convention
returns to Atlanta, Georgia
 for our 43rd Annual Show!

WAHS LogoWorld Airline Historical Society, Inc.
PO Box 83339, Hollywood, Florida 33081 USA
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