Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pan-Am's Boeing Clippers

The Model 314 ' s 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
Boeing Company's diagram of the different areas of the plane.
Night Over Water is a fictionalized account of the final flight of the Pan American Clipper passenger airplane during the first few days of World War II, early September, 1939. Follett is careful to state that, though the flight and all of the characters are fictional the plane, a Boeing 314, was real and was nicknamed the "Pan Am Clipper." It was a seaplane, an aircraft that landed in the sea, not on an airstrip, powered by 4 propeller engines. It was capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in little more than 24 hours with intermediate stops in Shannon Estuary at Foynes, Ireland, Bay of Exploits at Botwood, Newfoundland and Shediac Bay, Canada, at each of which stop Follett adds a scene or two of intrigue. This route made the Pan Am Clipper the fastest mode of transatlantic travel at the time — and very appealing to those who wanted to escape from Britain before the start of the war. The tale begins with several separated threads, telling the individual stories of the people who later all end up in this last flight to New York. Though Follett manages to bundle all these together, the events the characters share while travelling with the clipper are still told through the perspectives introduced before. Each of these main characters is heading for his own interests in the beginning but soon they melt together. 
On Pan Am flights, passengers had access to dressing rooms and a dining salon that could be converted into a lounge or bridal suite.

Seating accommodations converted into births for overnight flights.
Crew sleeping accommodations
Sparse complement of instruments in the cockpit suggests that flying a Clipper was a strenuous job. 
Flight Deck-It carried a crew of 10 to 16 depending on the length of the flight.
 urinal a part of the facilities in the washroom
Ladies power room

War time passenger President Franklin Roosevelt.

There was only one class on a Pan American clipper and that was first class.  Meals were prepared fresh on the aircraft and served on china.  Pan-American advertisements focused on the fact that each aircraft has at least two Stewards on every flight, to attend to food and drink.  Besides breakfast lunch and dinner, snacks and drinks were always available.

The giant Boeing B-314 Flying Boat lift off from the waters of Botwood Newfoundland bound for Foynes Ireland and finally Southampton England.  The aircraft named Yankee clipper and commanded by Captain La Porte carried 17 paying passengers and six hundred and 15 lbs. of mail on the July the eighth 1939 inaugural flight.  On the return journey July 13th the aircraft carried 19 passengers and 410 lbs. of mail.  A one-way ticket from South Hampton cost $375 U.S. in 1939 dollars.  Pan-American Airways had already conquered the the Pacific Ocean in November 1935 and was attempting to match that route to the Orient by providing trips across the Atlantic ocean. Trippe the founder of Pan American Airways wanted Pan American to truly become the first passenger liner to circle the globe.  Trippe recognized early on that the flights across the North Atlantic would not be an easy task.  From the point of a few of distance the northern route is the shortest distance. Only time will tell how many flights will be delayed by fog or because of cold and icy weather.  Trippe said in a newspaper interview "it was a daunting ambition and many serious obstacles stood in the way".  Aviation was still in its informative stage and the existing aircraft did not have the range and performance for the Atlantic crossing.  To be successful aircraft will also have to withstand terrible weather that routinely developed over the North Atlantic.  Support bases had to be established for the aircraft to refuel, equipped with advanced weather and navigation stations to provide the most accurate information possible for the safety of the passengers and crew.  The technology and infrastructure of the day dictated that a giant flying boat would be required.  In the 1930's airfields were mostly short grass strips that couldn't accommodate aircraft of the size and weight required for long-haul flights.  Landing and takeoff on water offered the compromise solution that led to the development of the great flying boats of that era.  Starting in the early 1930's Pan-American purchase several series of flying boats.  The first two series S 40 and the S 42 which were manufactured by Sikorsky Aviation.  Charles Lindbergh described the S 40 as " a maze of struts, braces, flying wires and outriggers".  The S 40 resembled nothing more than an aircraft that was a flying forest".  By 1935 Martin Aviation delivered to the M 130 which to the Pacific routes.  For the service across the North Atlantic Trippe realize that he would require an even larger flying boat, the largest ever built.  Eventually he settled on the Boeing P 314. It was 106 ft. long, 28 ft. tall with a wingspan of a hundred and fifty two feet..  The aircraft was powered by 4  cyclone engines, had range of 3500 statute miles and could carry 70 passengers 34 on overnight sleeper flights.  It carried a crew of 10 to 16 depending on the length of the flight.  There was only one class on a Pan American clipper and that was first class.  Meals were prepared fresh on the aircraft and served on china.  Pan-American advertisements focused on the fact that each aircraft has at least two Stewards on every flight, to attend to food and drink.  Besides breakfast lunch and dinner, snacks and drinks were always available. Sleeping compartments, dressing rooms and well-stocked bar were designed by renowned designers of the early Art Deco style of the time.  There was even a special honeymoon suite.  Trippe and the team of experts decided that the flights would depart from Port Washington N.Y.for staging at Shediac New Brunswick, Botwood Newfoundland, Foynes Ireland  and Southampton in the United.Kingdom.  Charles Lindbergh and his wife and Anne Morrow, who was his radio operator/navigator on many flights; made a refueling stop at Botwood in 1933.  Botwood eventually would become a vital refueling and navigation center for the pioneering flights. It would be a strategic link between two parts of the world and would become a lifeline during the war that was soon to grip most of the world.  Botwood and the near by Gander Center was to become a commercial juggernaut in the postwar prosperity the followed the hostilities.  Botwood's aviation history began in the 1920's and it provided a perfect area for flying boats.  Notre Dame Bay contained ample area of calm water required for landing and takeoff of large flying boats. The harbor its self was well sheltered and was an area that was a virtual a fog free zone and largely free of ice in the winter months.  Large flying boats required this type of geographical area for the ability to operate safely and efficiently.  Trippe sent Stanford B. Kaufman one of the most experienced managers and troubleshooters in the industry to Bootwood.  His journey began on the narrow gauge railway that links St. John's and what would soon to become a center of aeronautical travel.  At one point, the train had problems and all the passengers were told to disembark at half way to their destination.  Kaufman hitched a ride with the remote mailman driving what as he described it "a ramshackle car".  When he finally reached Bootwood he found that the little hotel had no rooms available.  But with the hospitality for which Newfoundlander s are famous; he was allowed to sleep in the front window of the local small department store, after the store was closed for business.  After a few days he was able to work out an arrangement with one of the occupants of a room at the hotel.  The guest worked shift on the railway; at night Kaufman could sleep in the bed and then the worker would take the bed over in the morning.  His first description of Botwood was "a godforsaken place that only British freighters visited now and then to pick up a load of wood and newspaper".  Kaufman did become impressed with the knowledge and skill of the locals however.  Saying "I approached a local who built fishing boats~~ a wonderful guy".  He said sure he could build something for me.  A sketch of a barge and boats that I wanted which would anchor offshore and were required for refueling and transportation of passengers and crew".  Within a short period of time the boats were completed.  The flying boats would be refueled and serviced on the water.  Passengers mail and cargo would be off loaded on the water in the same manner.  Quarters were constructed for the crew, in the spring of 1939 we took delivery of new Boeing B 314 flying boats that were developed for making the flight across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  They were four engine craft; the first was christened the Yankee Clipper by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt on the third of March 1939. "Pan-Am ordered 12 planes which became its entire over the ocean fleet" Kaufman wrote to in his notes. Finally on June the 24th 1939 B 314 the newly christened Yankee clipper under the command of Captain Harold Gray departed Botwood with Trippe special guests, government officials 2,543 lbs. of mail for Foynes Ireland.  The flight was a complete success and approval was given for the first full passenger trans Atlantic flight.  Mrs. Trippe wrote in her diary, " the Atlantic crossing was a never to be forgotten milestone".  It ushered in new era in Atlantic transportation.  Jaun's vision and the hard work of a fabulous group of men was made a dream come true in a relatively short time".  The Golden Age of Clippers was cut short, however: the Second World War started in September and eventually passenger service was curtailed.  The Clippers continued to arrive and depart at Botwood, but now under the control of the military.  One famous passenger on many flights was Mrs. Smith's; persona for Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt.  For a brief period, Botwood did have many famous visitors~~ like Bob Hope, Edward G. Robinson , Edger Bergman and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Frances Langford, as well as kings and queens in living exile.  The technology and infrastructure improvements produced by the war subsequently made flying boats, all but obsolete and there was apparently little nostalgia for their impact on aeronautical history.  The 28 Pan-American Clippers were destroyed or used for spare parts and none survived to today intact.
Based on an August 1st 2009 article in the St. John's Telegram  commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first full-service trans Atlantic flight.
Pictures are courtesy of Pan-Am Historical Foundation. 

For those visiting the area check out this. 

Botwood Flying Boat Museum

Tourism Region: Exploits Valley
The Botwood Flying Boat Museum, through murals, models and artifacts depicts the aviation history of our town from 1920 to 1945. It also houses the Archive of the Botwood Heritage Society.

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