Tag Archives: Flying Boat

11 January 1938

A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42.
A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42.

11 January 1938: Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, took off from Pago Pago, American Samoa, enroute Auckland, New Zealand. The airplane had a crew of seven, commanded by Captain Edwin C. Musick, the airline’s senior pilot, and a cargo of mail.

About two hours out, the number four engine began leaking oil. Captain Musick ordered the engine shut down. The flight radioed that they were returning to Pago Pago. They never arrived. Wreckage, a large oil slick, various documents and articles of the crew’s clothing were found by the U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Avocet (AVP-4), 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) west of the island. It was apparent that the S-42 had exploded in mid-air.

The cause of the explosion is not known with certainty but based on Captain Musick’s handling of a similar problem with Samoan Clipper‘s number four engine on an earlier flight, a possible cause can be suggested.

Pan American Airways’ Samoan Clipper. (Hawaii Aviation)

On the earlier flight, the engine had begun seriously overheating and Musick ordered the flight engineer to shut it down. Because of the decreased power with only three engines, Captain Musick ordered the crew to begin dumping fuel to decrease the weight of the airplane before landing.

Pan American had tested the fuel dumping characteristics of the Sikorsky S-42 using dye, and learned that because of the air flow patterns around the wings, the fluid tended to accumulate around the trailing edge of the wings, and that it could actually be sucked into the wings themselves.

On the previous flight as fuel was being dumped, fuel vapors were present in the cabin, which required that all electrical systems to be shut off, even though it was night. Liquid gasoline was dripping into the cockpit from the wing above.

Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734 at Pago Pago, 24 December 1937. (Unattributed)

Samoan Clipper had been very heavy with fuel when it departed for the long transoceanic flight to Auckland. Presuming that Captain Musick once again ordered fuel to be dumped prior to landing back at Pago Pago, and that the vapors collected around the wings, the fuel could have been detonated by the electrical motors which were used to lower the flaps for flight at slower speed, or by coming into contact with the hot exhaust of the engines.

Two independent investigations were carried out by Pan American and by the United States Navy, and both came to this conclusion.

Captain Edwin Charles Musick, Chief Pilot, Pan American Airways. (1894–1938)

There were no survivors of the explosion. Killed along with Captain Musick were Captain Cecil G. Sellers, Second Officer P.S. Brunk, Navigator F.J. MacLean, Flight Engineer J.W. Stickrod, Flight Mechanic J.A. Brooks and Radio Operator T.D. Findley.

The Sikorsky S-42B was a four-engine long-range flying boat built for Pan American Airways by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies at Stratford, Connecticut. It was 68 feet (20.726 meters) long with a wingspan of 118 feet, 2 inches (36.017 meters). The flying boat had a useful load of 16,800 pounds (7,620 kilograms) and seats for 37 passengers.

The S-42B was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G had a Normal Power rating of 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).

The S-42B has a cruise speed 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 188 miles per hour (303 kilometers per hour). Its range was 1,930 miles (3,106 kilometers).

Ten Sikorsky S-42, S-42A and S-42B flying boats were built for Pan Am. None remain in existence.

Pan American Airways' Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, moored at mechanic's Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, December 1937. The flying boat in the background is a Short S.23 Empire, G-ADUT, named Centaurus. (Turnbull Library)
Pan American Airways’ Sikorsky S-42B NC16734, Samoan Clipper, moored at Mechanic’s Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, December 1937. The flying boat in the background is a Short S.23 Empire, G-ADUT, named Centaurus. (Turnbull Library)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 January 1914

Antony H. Jannus, 1914
Antony H. Jannus, 1914

1 January 1914: The world’s first scheduled commercial passenger flight took place when Antony H. Jannus (1889–1916) piloted a St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line Benoist Type XIV flying boat from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida. The passenger was St. Petersburg’s mayor, Abraham C. Pheil. Over 3,000 people witnessed the departure.

The federal government determined that pilots of commercial flights should be licensed. Jannus became the first federally-licensed pilot.

SPT Airboat Lines was started by a local St. Petersburg businessman, Percival E. Fansler. Arrangements were made for the City of St. Petersburg to provide a $2,400 subsidy, payable at $40 per day, if SPT maintained a schedule of two flights per day, six days per week, for three months. Passenger tickets were priced at $5.00.

St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line timetable. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum)
St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line timetable. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum)
Thomas Wesley Benoist (State Historical Society of Missouri)

The Benoist Type XIV was a biplane designed by Thomas W. Benoist. The airplane was 26 feet (7.925 meters) long. The upper and lower wings both had a span of 44 feet (13.411 meters). Empty, the Type XIV weighed 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms).

Jannus’ Benoist was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 477.129-cubic-inch-displacement (7.819 liter) Roberts Motor Company 1913 Model 6-X two-cycle inline six-cylinder engine which produced 66 horsepower at 1,000 r.p.m., and  75 horsepower at 1,225 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine which turned a 10-foot (3.048 meter) diameter two-bladed wooden propeller in a pusher configuration. The engine was 4 feet, 4.5 inches (1.334 meters) long,  2 feet, 1 inch (0.635 meters) high and 2 feet, 0 inch (0.610 meters) wide. It weighed 275 pounds (125 kilograms).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 64 miles per hour (103 kilometers per hour) and a range of 125 miles (201 kilometers).

Percival E. Fansler, Mayor Abraham C. Pheil, and Antony H. Jannus with the Benoist Type XIV flying boat Lark of Duluth, 1 January 1914. (Florida State Archives, Florida Memory)
Percival E. Fansler, Mayor Abraham C. Pheil, and Antony H. Jannus with the Benoist Type XIV flying boat Lark of Duluth, 1 January 1914. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

There were two Benoist Type XIVs, both purchased by the St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat Lines. They were named Lark of Duluth and Florida. Over the next three months, the two flying boats carried 1,205 passengers and flew over 11,000 miles (17,702 kilometers). When the city subsidy ceased, the airline was no longer profitable and the operation came to an end. Lark of Duluth was used to fly passengers at several cities around the United States, but was damaged beyond repair at San Diego, California.

Designer Thomas W. Benoist was killed in a trolley accident at Sandusky, Ohio, 14 June 1917.

Tony Jannus became a test pilot for Glenn Curtiss. In 1916 he was demonstrating a new Curtiss Model H airplane in Russia, and training pilots. The airplane crashed into the Black Sea near Sevastopol. Jannus and two passengers were killed.

SPT Airlines' Benoist Type XIV flying boat takes off on the first scheduled commercial passenger flight, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1 January 1914.
SPT Airlines’ Benoist Type XIV flying boat takes off on the first scheduled commercial passenger flight, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1 January 1914. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1935

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper
Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, over Oakland, California, 1936. (Unattributed)
Captain Edwin C.Musick
Captain Edwin C. Musick

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.

The aircraft commander was Captain Edwin C. 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.

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

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.

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. It 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.

Martin M-130 China Clipper, NC14716, at Honolulu, Ohau, Hawaiian Islands. (Unattributed)
Martin M-130 China Clipper, NC14716, at Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaiian Islands. (Unattributed)

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. 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).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour) and a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and the 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)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 November 1947

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times. (Los Angeles Times)
“Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 L.A. Times.” (Los Angeles Times)

2 November 1947: Howard Hughes’ Hughes Aircraft Company H-4 Hercules flying boat, NX37602, made its first and only flight at the harbor of Los Angeles, California. The new media called it “The Spruce Goose” due to its strong but lightweight wooden construction. As with the famous de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito fighter-bomber, the use of wood freed up valuable metal alloys during World War II.

Conceived by Henry J. Kaiser, the airplane was initially called the HK-1. It was designed to carry as many as 750 fully-equipped soldiers on transoceanic flights.

Hughes H-4 Hercules NX37602 in San Pedro Bay, 2 November 1947. Two U.S. Navy heavy cruisers and a fleet oiler are in the background. On the horizon is Santa Catalina Island, "Twenty-six miles across the sea...." (LIFE Magazine)
Hughes H-4 Hercules NX37602 in San Pedro Bay, 2 November 1947. Two U.S. Navy heavy cruisers and a fleet oiler are in the background. On the horizon is Santa Catalina Island. (LIFE Magazine)

The H-4 is 218 feet, 8 inches (66.650 meters) long with a wingspan of 320 feet, 11 inches (97.815 meters). Its height is 79 feet, 4 inches (24.181 meters). The Hercules’ designed loaded weight is 400,000 pounds (181,437 kilograms).

Eight 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major VSB11-G (R-4360-4A) four-row 28-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7:1. The R-4360-4A had a Normal Power rating of 2,500 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 2,200 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 14,500 feet (4,420 meters), and a Takeoff rating of 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The Military Power rating was also 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., to an altitude of 1,500 feet (457 meters), then decreased to 2,400 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 13,500 feet (4,115 meters). The engines turned four-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers with a diameters of 17 feet, 2 inches (5.232 meters) through a 0.425:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-4A was 8 feet, 0.75 inches (2.457 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,390 pounds (1,538 kilograms).

On its only flight, the H-4 Hercules traveled approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers) at 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), remaining in ground effect. It never flew again, and its estimated performance was never verified through flight testing.

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., in the cockpit of the H-4 Hercules, 6 November 1947. (J.R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., in the cockpit of the H-4 Hercules, 6 November 1947. (J.R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)

The airplane is on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 June 1939

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

24 June 1939: Pan American World Airways 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. ($11,400 in 2016) 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 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 2,603.9-cubic-inch-displacement (42.671 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright Aeronautical Corporation Cyclone 14 GR2600A2, two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 1,550 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engines 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.

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)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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