Tag Archives: Air Mail

22 November 1935

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130 flying boat, China Clipper (NC14716), leaving the Golden Gate enroute to Honolulu, 22 November 1935. Photographed by Clyde Herwood Sunderland, Jr. (1900–1989).

22 November 1935: The Pan American Airways flying boat, China Clipper, a Martin M-130, NC14716, departed Alameda, California (an island in San Francisco Bay) at 3:46 p.m., Friday, and arrived at Honolulu at 10:39 a.m., Saturday, completing the first leg of a five-day trans-Pacific flight to Manila in the Philippine Islands.

The aircraft commander was Captain Edwin Charles Musick, with First Officer Robert Oliver Daniel (“Rod”) Sullivan. The navigator was Frederick Joseph Noonan, who would later accompany Amelia Earhart on her around-the-world flight attempt. There were also a Second Officer and two Flight Engineers. The cargo consisted of 110,000 pieces of U.S. Mail.

Captain Edwin Musick and R.O.D. Sullivan, at the center of the image, next to the China Clipper before leaving San Francisco Bay with the first transpacific airmail, 22 November 1935. The three men at the right of the image are (left to right) Postmaster General James Farley; Assistant Postmaster General Harllee Branch; and Pan American Airways’ President Juan Trippe.

Pan Am personnel called the Clipper “Sweet Sixteen,” referring to its Civil Aeronautics Board registration number, NC14716. The airplane and Humphrey Bogart starred in a 1936 First National Pictures movie, “China Clipper.”

NC14716 was the first of three Martin M-130 four-engine flying boats built for Pan American Airways and was used to inaugurate the first commercial transpacific air service from San Francisco to Manila in November, 1935. Built at a cost of $417,000 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, it was delivered to Pan Am on October 9, 1935. The airplane’s serial number was 558.

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130m China Clipper, NC14716, over San Francisco, California. (Clyde Herwood Sunderland, Jr./Library of Congress 94509045)

The M-130 was operated by a flight crew of 6–9, depending on the length of the flight, plus cabin staff, and could carry 18 passengers on overnight flights, or a maximum 36 passengers.

Cutaway illustration of Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130 China Clipper. Detail from larger image. (National Air and Space Museum SI-89-1216-A)
Martin M-130 3-view drawing. (Flight)

The Martin M-130 was 90 feet, 10.5 inches (27.699 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 0 inches (39.624 meters). It was 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) high. The total wing area was 2,315 square feet (215 square meters), including the “sea wings”. Its maximum takeoff weight was 52,252 pounds (23,701 kilograms).

The flying boat was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1.  They had a normal power rating 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S2A5-G was 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.441 meters) long, and weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms).

Martin M-130 NC14716, right rear quarter view.

The airplane had a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The M-130’s service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its range was 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers).

Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale.
Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale. (Unattributed)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1926

Chief Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s modified De Havilland DH-4, Number 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circe 1926. (SDA&SM)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1926. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

3 November 1926: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, chief pilot of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, was flying a night air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois. His airplane was a modified De Havilland DH-4B, U.S. Postal Service Airmail Plane Number 109.

Lindbergh was flying Contract Air Mail Route 2, or “C.A.M. No. 2.” He departed St. Louis at 4:20 p.m. and made his first stop at Springfield, Illinois, at 5:15 p.m. He then continued on the second stage, Springfield to Peoria, Illinois.

Visibility was poor, about a half-mile (800 meters) in fog. Lindbergh flew at 600 feet (183 meters) but was unable to see the ground. Near the air field at Peoria, he could see lights from 200 feet (61 meters) altitude, but was unable to land.

After circling for 30 minutes, he continued toward Chicago. Lindbergh occasionally saw lights on the ground through the fog, but with his fuel running low, he decided that he was going to have to abandon his airplane. He headed out over more open country and climbed to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).

Robertson Aircraft Corporation Dh-4 No. 109. The airplane's fuselage is painted "Tuscan Red" and the wings and tail surafces are silver. The lettering on the side is white. (Minnesota Historical Society)
Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio/Minnesota Historical Society)

At 8:10 p.m., the de Havilland’s fuel supply was exhausted and the engine stopped. Lindbergh switched off the battery and magnetos, then stepped over the side. He immediately pulled the ripcord of his parachute and safely descended to the ground.

Airmail Plane Number 109 crashed on the farm of Charles and Lillie Thompson, near Covell, a small town southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. Lindbergh had been unable to find the wreck in the darkness, but in daylight, it was clearly visible just 500 feet (152 meters) from the Thompson’s house.

This was the fourth time that Charles Lindbergh has used a parachute to escape from an airplane. The last time was just six weeks earlier.

Charles A. Lindbergh (fourth from left) with the wreckage of Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 112, 16 September 1926. (Yale University Library)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis. Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew his new airplane across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, solo, 20–21 May 1927.

Robertson Aircraft Corporation's four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112.
Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112. The airplanes’ fuselages are painted “Tuscan Red” and their wings and tail surfaces are silver. The lettering on their sides is white. No. 112 is the last airplane in this group. “Lucky Lindy” bailed out of it on the night of 16 September 1926.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. The DH.4 (DH-4 in American service) was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The fuselage and wings were constructed of wood and covered with doped fabric. The airplane was produced by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

The DH-4 was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) and height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,391 pounds, (1,085 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,297 pounds (1,949 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 67 gallons (254 liters).

Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by Liberty 12 aircraft engines in place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built DH.4 version. The L-12 was water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty 12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4 had a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Many DH-4s were rebuilt as DH-4Bs. These can be identified by the relocated pilot’s cockpit, which was moved aft, closer to the observer’s position. The an enlarged fuel tank was place ahead of the pilot’s cockpit. Following World War II, many were rebuilt with tubular metal frames for the fuselage, replacing the original wooden structure. These aircraft were redesignated DH-4M.

The prototype American DH-4, Dayton-Wright-built airplane, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Aviation and Space Museum.

Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation's de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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