24 June 1939

Boeing 314 NC18603, Yankee Clipper (Harris and Ewing)
Boeing 314 NC18603, Yankee Clipper (Harris & Ewing)

24 June 1939: The Pan American Airways System began scheduled air service from the United States to Britain. The Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper, NC18603, made the first flight from Port Washington, New York, departing at 8:21 a.m. It made intermediate stops at Shediac, New Brunswick, and Botwood, Newfoundland, where fog delayed the flying boat until 12:49 p.m., 28 June. Continuing across the Atlantic, Yankee Clipper made another stop at Foynes, Ireland, and finally arrived at Southampton at 7:25 p.m. that evening.

The largest airplane of the time, the Pan American Clipper flying boat could carry 77 passengers in “one class” luxury, with a ticket priced at $675—that’s in 1939 dollars. ($12,389.82 in 2020) Uniformed waiters served five and six course meals on silver service. Seats could be folded down into beds.

The flight deck of a Boeing 314. At the left, standing, is the airliner's navigator. Beyond him are the captain (left) and co-pilot. On the right side of the cabin are the radio operator and flight engineer. (Unattributed)
The flight deck of a Boeing 314. At the left, standing, is the airliner’s navigator. Beyond him are the captain (left) and co-pilot. On the right side of the cabin are the radio operator and flight engineer. (Unattributed)

The Boeing Model 314 was a large four-engine, high-wing monoplane flying boat designed and built by the Boeing Airplane Company to take off and land on water. It had a crew of 10. The wings and engine nacelles had been designed for Boeing XB-15 heavy bomber. It was 106 feet (32.309 meters) long with a wingspan of 152 feet (46.330 meters). It had a maximum take off weight of 82,500 pounds (37,421 kilograms).

The Boeing 314 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 2,603.737-cubic-inch-displacement (42.668 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 14 GR2600A2, two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7.1:1. They were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,550 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff, burning 91/96 octane gasoline. These engines (also commonly called “Twin Cyclone”) drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic full-feathering constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 14 feet (4.267 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The GR2600A2 was 5 feet, 2.06 inches (1.576 meters) long and 4 feet, 7 inches (1.387 meters) in diameter. It weighed 1,935 pounds (878 kilograms). The engines could be serviced in flight, with access through the wings.

Pan American Airways’ Boeing 314 NC18603, Yankee Clipper.

The Boeing 314 had a maximum speed of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), with a  range of 3,685 miles (5,930 kilometers) at its normal cruising speed of 183 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,400 feet (4,084 meters). The fuel capacity was 4,246 gallons (16,073 liters).

Boeing built six Model 314 and another six 314A flying boats for Pan American Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation.

Yankee Clipper was destroyed 22 February 1943 at Lisbon, Portugal. A wing hit the water on landing. 24 of the 39 persons aboard were killed.

This iluustration shows the interior arrangement of the Boeing 314. (Unattributed)
This illustration shows the interior arrangement of the Boeing 314. It was published in LIFE Magazine, circa 1937. (Boeing)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

20 thoughts on “24 June 1939

  1. My Dad used to watch them land & take off when he worked at the Pearl Harbor NAVY Yard. I also had an old BUDDY of mine who was a Flight Engineer on them.

    1. Very cool, Brian! Your Flight Engineer pal must have been a very busy guy! I have a cousin who was a crewman on the Martin Mars from Pearl harbor to San Francisco Bay. The great civil flying boats like the China Clipper in the Pacific and Yankee Clipper in the Atlantic, and the rest, were certainly part of the “romance” of aviation. Thank you for your comment, and thank you very much for checking in on my blog. I hope you find it interesting and will stop in again. — Bryan Swopes

  2. I wish somebody would re-engineer these great airplanes and start the routes and the romance again!

    1. There is a great photograph—staged, I’m sure—of a woman standing among palm trees looking at a Martin flying boat. You can see her wondering about where it might take her…. (See: 28 April 1937). Thanks for your comment, Chris, and thank you for visiting my blog. — Bryan Swopes

  3. As a boy of 7 the Pan American Clippers regularly were in the sky over my home. I remember that the American flag was painted on the bottom of each fuselage sponson. Strombecker sold a solid small wood model of these planes and I had one with tiny stamped metal propellers that would rotate in a breeze. The model was in kit form and the pieces were machine shaped, but, being a kid I didn’t know about sanding and finshing to final shape so I just went assembled everything as is. One may consider this an early ARF that really flew in my imagination.

  4. Excellent article! The photo of the flight deck brings back vivid memories. I was a flight radio officer on the B314 in the Pacific 1942-1945. This was during the wartime contract with the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS). They increased the allowable gross weight from 82,500 pounds to 90,000 pounds with the newer engines generating 1600 horsepower each. Also increased the fuel capacity to a maximum of 5,100 gallons. See my book “The Long Way Home – Revised Edition” for the story of the B314 NC18602 and the westbound flight around the world following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

    1. Wow! Thanks, Ed. One of the real pleasures of writing TDiA is when I hear from people who have a personal involvement with one of my posts, even more when they are actual crew members.

  5. A must visit is the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Co. Limerick, Ireland where a full scale Clipper flying boat is open to the public. The museum includes films and memorabilia from the days when Foynes was the departure point for the planes heading westbound across the Atlantic. Most planes landed in Newfoundland but on one occasion after calculating fuel, wind and weather conditions the flight continued on past Newfoundland and landed in New York. Quite the feat at the time. It’s a marvelous experience for young and old. Available also is a visit to the original tower from where the controllers could manage and view the takeoffs and landings. Can one imagine the Shannon River as the runway. Unfortunately with the outbreak of war in 1939 and because Ireland was a neutral country, transatlantic passenger service was canceled and military and diplomatic service was started.

    1. There’s also some Maureen O’Hara memorabilia. Her husband was a pilot who flew flying boats, among other aircraft. A ,ot of fun. I visited last year to see the 314 mockup.

      1. Maureen O’Hara’s husband, Captain Charles F. Blair, made 1,575 Atlantic crossings. He served in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force. He flew for United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines and Pan American. He also flew the North American P-51C Mustang, “Excalibur III” across the Atlantic Ocean, and across the North Pole. O’Hara and Blair were married in 1968. It was the fourth marriage for each of them.

  6. Famous American singer Jane Froman was one of the fifteen survivors, Froman sustained severe injuries.
    She was partially crippled. Unable to walk without crutches, she nonetheless goes on to entertain U.S. troops during World War II..
    Her life story, the plane crash and her long way to recovery is shown in the movie “With a song in my Heart”.

    A must and worth reading is “Night over Water” by Ken Follet.
    It gives interesting details and information about an Atlantic crossing in a Boeing 314.

    1. The Froman crash is depicted in the biopic “With a Song in My Heart” with Susan Hayward. She was rescued by the Pan Am copilot, who she later married.

  7. I’m still looing for the Gentlemen’s Room… what’s a guy supposed to do?

  8. My father hired on to Pan Am in 1940, Brownsville, Texas. He worked as a ground handler turning airplanes around by hand with the help of others of course. Not sure after that (1942?) he was offered a job with a pay raise to $.65 cents an hour as a mechanic in Alameda, California! He got married, moved to CA., I was born 1943, he then worked at Treasure Island and moved to San Francisco. He never talked much about what he did at Alameda and Treasure Island. That was during WWII. Back in the day Pan Am was called the “PAN AM NAVY”! When the San Francisco airport opened up on the peninsula Pan Am moved there where he was a welder for 15 years. He worked as an Aircraft Inspector until 1979 at age 62 he retired.

    My career with Pan Am started in 1962 in Fleet Service, I got drafted into the Army in 1964. When my service was completed I returned and went into Aircraft Maintenance until 1991.

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