Tag Archives: Pan American World Airways

8 July 1947

First flight, Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser
First flight, Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser NX90700, c/n 15922. After the flight test program was completed, this airplane was upgraded to the 377-10-26 standard and placed in service with Pan American World Airways as Clipper Nightingale, N1022V

8 July 1947: First flight, Boeing Model 377-10-19 Stratocruiser, Project Test Pilot John Bernard Fornasero. (Fornasero had been the co-pilot on the first flight of the XC-97 Stratofreighter, nearly three years earlier.)

Flight deck of the Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)
Flight deck of the Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)

The Model 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized, and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

Airline stewardesses examine a cutaway model of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. (Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

Boeing Model 377-10-19 Stratocruiser NX90700. (Boeing)
Boeing Model 377-10-19 Stratocruiser NX90700. (Boeing)

The 377-10-19 prototype was powered by four 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B5 four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines. This engine had a compression ratio of 6.375:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It had a Normal and Maximum Continuous Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and Take Off Power rating of 3,250 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection. The Wasp Major B5 was 4 feet, 6.00 inches in diameter and 8 feet, 0.75 inches long. The engine weighed 3,490 pounds (1,583 kilograms).

The following production Stratocruisers were equipped with Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 engines rated at 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. (with water/alcohol injection) for takeoff, and a Normal Power of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters). The Maximum Continuous Power rating for the B6 was 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The Wasp Major B6 was 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter and 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long. It weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms), dry.

Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)
Pan American World Airways’ Boeing Model 377-10-26 Stratocruiser, Clipper Nightingale, N1022V, c/n 15922. (Boeing)

The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The propeller assembly weighed 761 pounds (345 kilograms).

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Lower deck passenger lounge of a Boeing 377 Stratoliner. (Boeing)
Lower deck passenger lounge of a Boeing 377 Stratoliner. (Boeing)

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

Following the flight testing program, NX90700 was brought up to the 377-10-26 standard and placed in service with Pan American World Airways, 24 October 1950. It was named Clipper Nightingale and registered N1022V. The airliner remained in Pan Am service until 1960, when it was sold back to Boeing.

N1022V was next sold to Rutas Aéreas Nacionales, S.A. (RANSA) and converted to a freighter. The new owners named it Carlos. It was re-registered YV-C-ERI. The Stratocruiser was finally retired in 1969 and scrapped.

The prototype Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was sold to RANSA and converted to a freighter. It was named "Carlos" and registered YV-C-ERI.
The prototype Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was sold to RANSA and converted to a freighter. It was named “Carlos” and registered YV-C-ERI.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 May 1951

Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cocpit of his North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, N1202, Excalibur III, 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., standing in the cockpit of Pan American World Airways’ North American Aviation P-51C Mustang, Excalibur III, Bardufoss, Norway, 29 May 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

29 May 1951: Pan American World Airways Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., flew a modified North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, NX12012, Excalibur III, from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska, via the North Pole. He flew the 3,260 miles (5,246.5 kilometers) non-stop in 10 hours, 27 minutes.

After departing Bardufoss at 3:58 p.m., Captain Blair flew north along the E. 20° meridian until crossing the North Pole at an altitude of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters), then south along the W. 160° meridian until reaching N. 70° latitude, and then southeast to Fairbanks.

During the transpolar flight, the Mustang was subjected to air temperatures as low as -25 °F. (-31.6 °C.).

Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Captain Charles F. Blair, Jr., checks his astrocompass shortly before beginning his transpolar flight, 29 May 1951. ( National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Captain Blair navigated by using a system of pre-plotted sun lines calculated by Captain Phillip Van Horns Weems, U.S. Navy (Ret.), as a magnetic compass was useless near the Pole and there were no radio navigation aids available.

Blair was presented the Harmon International Trophy by President Harry S. Truman, in a ceremony at the White House, 18 November 1952. The Harmon awards are for “the most outstanding international achievements in the art and/or science of aeronautics for the previous year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Excalibur III being fueled at Bardufoss, Norway, May 1951. (Arkivverkets digitale fotoarkiv)

Charles Blair was commissioned in the United States Naval Reserve in 1931. He was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, in 1937. During World War II, Blair served as a transport pilot in the U.S. Navy and rose to the rank of captain.

Blair resigned from the Navy in 1952 and the following year accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel. In 1959 he was promoted to brigadier general.

While serving as a reserve officer, Charlie Blair continued his civilian career as an airline pilot for United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and then with Pan American.

Captain Blair was married to actress Maureen O’Hara, whom he had met during one of his 1,575 transatlantic crossings.

Excalibur III is a Dallas, Texas-built North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, one of a group of 400 fighters which had been contracted on 5 March 1943. Its North American Aviation serial number is 111-29080, and the U.S. Army Air Force assigned it serial number 44-10947.

After World War II, 44-10947 was purchased by Paul Mantz, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration registered it as NX1202. Mantz had it painted red and named it Blaze of Noon. Paul Mantz flew NX1202 to win the 1946 and 1947 Bendix Trophy Races. Flown by Linton Carney and renamed The Houstonian, NX1202 placed second in the 1948 Bendix race, and with “Fish” salmon in the cockpit, it took third place in 1949. Paul Mantz had set several speed records with the Mustang before selling it to Pan American World Airways, Inc., Blair’s employer. Blair named the Mustang Stormy Petrel, but later changed it to Excalibur III.

To increase the Mustang’s range for these long-distance flights, Mantz had removed the standard 90-gallon pressure-molded Firestone self-sealing tanks from each wing and converted the entire wing to a fuel tank (what is known as a “wet wing”).

Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Test pilot Herman “Fish” Salmon awaits the starter’s signal at the beginning of the 1949 Bendix Trophy Race on Rosamond Dry Lake, California. Paul Mantz had won the 1946 and 1947 races with this P-51C, NX1202, “Blaze of Noon.” (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The P-51B and P-51C Mustang are virtually Identical. The P-51Bs were built by North American Aviation, Inc, at Inglewood, California. P-51Cs were built at North American’s Dallas, Texas plant. They were 32 feet, 2.97 inches (9.829 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0.31-inch (11.282 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.167 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 6,985 pounds (3,168 kilograms) and a maximum gross weight of 11,800 pounds (5,352 kilograms).

North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, "Excalibur III," at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT 44-10947, “Excalibur III,” at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

P-51Bs and Cs were powered by a right-hand tractor, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, at 3,000 r.p.m and 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3) or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). (Military Power rating, 15 minute limit.) These engines were license-built versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

The P-51B/C had a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour (583 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), slightly faster than the more numerous P-51D Mustang. The service ceiling was 41,900 feet (12,771 meters). With internal fuel the combat range was 755 miles (1,215 kilometers).

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)
Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

In military service, armament consisted of four Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns, mounted two in each wing, with 350 rounds per gun for the inboard guns and 280 rounds per gun for the outboard.

1,988 P-51B Mustangs were built at North American’s Inglewood, California plant and another 1,750 P-51Cs were produced at Dallas, Texas. This was nearly 23% of the total P-51 production.

Though the P-51D with its bubble canopy was built in far greater numbers during World War II, the earlier P-51B and P-51C Mustangs were actually faster, so many surplus airplanes were used for racing and record attempts after the war.

In 1952, Pan American World Airways donated Excalibur III to the Smithsonian Institution. Today, completely restored, it is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Charles F. Blair, Jr.'s North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang, Excalibur III, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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1–3 May 1976

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747SP-21 N533PA, s/n 21025, renamed Clipper New Horizons in 1977, with the “Flight 50” insignia. (CNN.com)

1–3 May 1976: Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747SP–21 Clipper Liberty Bell, N533PA, departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on a record-setting around the world flight. Under the command of Captain Walter H. Mullikan, the airline’s chief pilot, the flight crew included co-pilots Albert A. Frink, Lyman G. Watt, and flight engineers Frank Cassaniti and Edwards Shields. The airliner carried 98 passengers. The flight set a new speed record for a flight around the world, eastbound, and three speed records for commercial airline routes.

Clipper Liberty Bell flew eastward from New York JFK to Indira Ghandi International Airport (DEL), New Delhi, India, a distance of 8,081 miles (13,005.1 kilometers), at an average speed of 869.63 kilometers per hour (540.363 miles per hour).¹ After servicing the 747, it continued on its journey. The next destination was Tokyo International Airport (HND), Tokyo, Japan. This stage covered 7,539 miles (12,132.8 kilometers). The airliner’s average speed was 421.20 kilometers per hour (261.722 miles per hour).² Striking Pan Am workers at Tokyo delayed preparing the airliner for the next leg of the journey. After refueling, the Pan American flight continued on to its starting point, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, New York. This final leg was 7,517 miles (12,097.4 kilometers). The average speed was 912.50 kilometers per hour (567.001 miles per hour).³

The total duration of the flight was 46 hours, 1 second. The actual flight time was 39 hours, 25 minutes, 53 seconds. Total distance flown was 23,137 miles (37,235.4 kilometers). The average speed for the entire flight was 809.24 kilometers per hour (502.838 miles per hour).⁴

Clipper Liberty Bell had been christened in a ceremony at Indianapolis on 30 April 1976 by Betty Ford, First Lady of the United States of America.

In 1977, Captain Mullikin flew the same 747SP on another circumnavigation, 29–31 October 1977, but this time it crossed both the North and South Poles. Renamed Clipper New Horizons, 21025 set 7 world records on that flight, with a total flight time of 54 hours, 7 minutes, 12 seconds. This trip was called “Flight 50.”

The Boeing 747SP (“Special Performance”) is a very long range variant of the 747–100 series airliners. The airplane is 48 feet, 5 inches (14.757 meters) shorter than the –100, the vertical fin is 5 feet (1.5 meters) taller and the span of horizontal stabilizer has been  increased. The weight savings allows it to carry more fuel for longer flights, and it is also faster. The maximum number of passengers that could be carried was 400, with a maximum of 45 on the upper deck. Boeing built 45 747SPs.

The 747SP is 184 feet, 9 inches (56.312 meters) long, with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters). It has an overall height of 65 feet, 1 inch, at maximum gross weight and 65 feet, 10 inches (19.837–20.066 meters), empty. It has an operating empty weight of 337,100 pounds (152,906 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight of 700,000 pounds (317,515 kilograms).

Boeing 747SP three-view illustration with dimensions

The 747SP could be ordered with Pratt & Whitney JT9D- or Rolls-Royce RB211-series engines. These engines had a range of thrust of 43,500–51,980 pounds (193.50–231.22 kilonewtons) for takeoff (5-minute limit), and resulted in variations of the airliner’s empty weight and fuel capacity.

The airliner had a design cruising speed (VC) of 0.86 Mach, and a maximum operating speed (VMO/MMO) of 375 knots KEAS, or 0.92 Mach. The service ceiling is 45,100 feet (13,746 meters) and the design range is 5,830 nautical miles (6,709 statute miles/10,797 kilometers). The fuel capacity is 48,780 U.S. gallons (184,652 liters), and it carries 600 gallons (2,271 liters) of water for engine injection.

Boeing 747SP–21 N40135, c/n 21025, 1 January 1975. (747SP.com)

The record-setting Boeing 747SP-21, serial number 21025, was the fourth Special Performance 747 built, and one of 10 that had been ordered by Pan American World Airways. It first flew 8 October 1975, in Boeing’s corporate paint scheme. It was then retained for use in the test fleet. When flight testing was completed, the airliner was refurbished and repainted in the Pan Am livery. It was delivered to the airline 5 March 1976 and registered N533PA.

While in the Pan Am fleet, N533PA also carried the names Clipper New Horizons, Clipper Young America and Clipper San Francisco.

Pan Am Boeing 747SP–21, N533PA, c/n 21025, renamed Clipper Young America, circa 1985.  It still carries the “Flight 50” insignia. (747SP.com)
Compare this standard Boeing 747–121, Pan American’s Clipper Sea Serpent, N655PA, to the 747SP in the photograph above. (Detail from image by Bruno Geiger)

Pan American sold its fleet of Boeing 747SPs to United Airlines in 1986. 21025 was re-registered N143UA to reflect its new ownership. Twenty years after its first flight, 21025 was removed from service in 1995 and placed in storage at Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was scrapped in December 1997. The airliner had accumulated 78,941 total flight hours on its airframe (TTAF) with 10,733 cycles.

United Air Lines’ Boeing 747SP–21 N143UA, c/n 21025. (747SP.com)

¹ FAI Record File Number 5671

² FAI Record File Number 5669

³ FAI Record File Number 1338

⁴ FAI Record File Number 5670

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 March 1977

A recent photograph looking west-northwest (300° Magnetic) along Runway 30 at Los Rodeos Airport (TFN), Tenerife, Canary Islands. (© Claudio)

27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.

A terrorist incident at Gran Canaria International Airport (LPA) on the island of Gran Canaria resulted in the airport being closed for flight operations. This forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller Los Rodeos Airport (TFN) on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways at Los Rodeos were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, which led to many delays.

A Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, N750PA, similar to N736PA. (Michael Gilliand via Wikipedia)

Los Rodeos Airport has only one runway, Runway 12/30, with a parallel taxiway and four short taxiways joining the two.

Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor ¹ was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on Runway 12 (“One-Two”) because the parallel taxiway was jammed with airplanes. The airliner proceeded east-southeast, intending to exit the runway to the parallel taxiway after passing by the congestion around the terminal.

Also on the runway was Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn (“Rhine”). The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members on board. Flight 4805 had back-taxied for the entire length of Runway 12, then made a 180° turn to align itself with Runway 30, the “active” runway.

KLM Royal Dutch Airways’ Boeing 747-206B PH-BUF, Rijn. (clipperarctic via Wikipedia)

Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet (305 meters). Takeoff rules required a minimum of 2,300 feet (701 meters). What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners.

The control tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on Runway 30 (“Three-Zero”) for takeoff, and to hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and to report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner because of the fog, and their flight crews could not see each other.

The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten, apparently misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.

The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, immediately turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet (18 meters) on the runway because its extreme nose up angle.

Computer-generated illustration of the moment of impact as KLM Flight 4805 hits Pan Am Flight 1736 on the runway at Tenerife. (PBS Nova)

KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet (91 meters) from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over American airliner’s fuselage, but the rest of the Dutch airplane hit at 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards (229 meters) down the runway, and it also caught fire and exploded.

All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, including the co-pilot, but the remaining 335 died.

Two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway at Tenerife, 27 March 1977. (Unattributed)

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,520 have been delivered to date. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.

¹ Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to  make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America. On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 March 1955

Pan American World Airways' Boeing 377-10-26 Stratocruiser serial number 15932, N1032V.
Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Clipper United States, N1032V.

26 March 1955: At 8:15 a.m. Saturday morning, Pan American World Airways Flight 845/26, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Clipper United States, N1032V, departed Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA, or “SeaTac”) on a flight to Sydney, Australia, with intermediate stops at Portland, Oregon, and Honolulu, Hawaii. The airliner departed Portland (PDX) at 10:21 a.m., with a crew of 8 and 15 passengers on board.

Captain Herman S. Joslyn was in command of N1032V, with First Officer Angus Gustavus Hendrick, Jr.; Second Officer Michael F. Kerwick; Flight Engineer Donald Read Fowler; and Assistant Flight Engineer Stuart Bachman. The cabin crew were Purser Natalie R. Parker, Stewardess Elizabeth M. Thompson, and Steward James D. Peppin.

Clipper United States was cruising at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) when a severe vibration began, lasting 5–8 seconds. The Number 3 engine (inboard, right) was violently torn off of the starboard wing. The damage to the airplane resulted in severe buffeting. The nose pitched down and airspeed increased. Captain Joslyn reduced engine power to limit airspeed. The Stratocruiser quickly lost 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Because of damage to the engines’ electrical system, the flight engineer was not able to increase power on the remaining three engines. The Boeing 377 was too heavy at this early stage in the flight to maintain its altitude.

At 11:12 a.m. (19:12 UTC) the flight crew ditched the Stratocruiser into the north Pacific Ocean, approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of the Oregon coastline. [N. 43° 48′ 15″, W. 125° 12′ 40″] The conditions were ideal for ditching,¹ but the impact was hard. Seats were torn loose, and several occupants were injured. Evacuation began and all three life rafts were inflated. The water temperature was 47 °F. (8.3  °C.).

A North American Aviation F-86F Sabre flown by Captain W. L. Parks, 142nd Fighter Interceptor Group, Oregon Air National Guard, located the scene of the ditching and observed smoke flares which led to two life rafts tied together. A Lockheed Constellation was also inbound to the scene from the south. After confirming that Air Force rescue aircraft were on the way, Captain Parks returned to Portland, very low on fuel.

Miss Natalie R. Parker (Medford Tribune)

The airliner’s purser, Miss Natalie R. Parks,² had been assisting passengers with their life vests and seat belts when the airliner hit the water. Standing in the aisle, she was thrown forward, knocking down five rows of seats as she hit them. She was badly bruised and suffering from shock.

Along with other crew members, Miss Parker assisted the passengers in abandoning the sinking Stratocruiser. After entering the water, some began to drift away. Miss Parker, despite her injuries, swam after one and towed him back to an inflated raft.

Her actions were particularly mentioned in the Civil Aeronautics Board accident investigation report:

The purser, a woman, although suffering from shock swam and towed the only seriously injured passenger to the nearest raft, some 200 feet [61 meters] distant.

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, History of the Flight

The airliner floated for about 20 minutes before sinking. Of the 23 persons on board, four, passengers John Peterson, David Darrow, First Officer Hendrick, and Flight Engineer Fowler, died of injuries and exposure.

The survivors were rescued after two hours by the crew of USS Bayfield (APA-33), a U.S. Navy attack transport.

The U.S. Navy attack transport USS Bayfield (APA-33) during the rescue of the survivors of Pan Am Flight 845/26, 26 March 1955. A Standard Oil Co. tanker, SS Idaho Falls, stands by to assist. Two of the airliner’s life rafts are visible at the right edge of this photograph. One is at the end of the smoke trail crossing the center of the image. The other is a bright object at the right lower corner. (U.S. Coast Guard)

During the Civil Aeronautics Board hearings into the accident, Vice Chairman Joseph P. Adams commended the flight’s purser, Miss Parker:

“. . . all of us feel inspired that a fellow citizen, or just a fellow human being, can rise to such an occasion in the manner in which you did. It is most commendable, Miss Parker.”

—Civil Aeronautics Board Accident Investigation Report SA-304 File No. 1-0039, 15 November 1955, Footnote 3

Because the engine and propeller were not recovered, the exact nature of the failure could not be determined, but the most likely cause was considered to be a fracture of a propeller blade resulting in a severely unbalanced condition, followed by the violent separation of the engine from the wing. This was the fifth time that a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser had lost an engine following the failure of a hollow-steel Hamilton Standard 2J17 propeller blade.

When the flight engineer attempted to increase the propeller r.p.m. on the three engines simultaneously, an electrical overload occurred which opened the master circuit breaker. This prevented any engine power increase.

Airline stewardesses examine a cutaway model of the Boeing Stratocruiser. (Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

Clipper United States was a Boeing Model 377-10-26, serial number 15932, registered N1032V. It was one of twenty of a specific variant built for Pan American World Airways. The airliner had been delivered to Pan Am on 21 May 1949. At the time of its loss, it had flown a total of 13,655 hours.

The Model 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

A color photograph of a Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Pan Am)
A Pan American World Airways Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in flight. (Boeing)

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). The airliner had an empty weight of 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms).

N1032V was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 engines. These were four-row, 28-cylinder, radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1.

The B6 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., at 5,500 feet (1,676 meters), and Maximum Continuous Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters). The Takeoff Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection. ³

The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction.

The Wasp Major B6 was 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter and 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long. It weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms), dry. The propeller assembly weighed 761 pounds (345 kilograms).

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

Clipper America, a Pan American World Airways Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser. (Boeing)

¹ Captain G.B. Cardew, master of the Matson Lines’ S.S. Hawaiian Educator, which had arrived on scene soon after the ditching, said, “The weather was perfect. The sea was calm and the sky warm and clear.”  —Oakland Tribune, Vol. CLXII, No. 86, Sunday, 27 March 1955, Page 2-A, Column 3

Natalie Parker, 1943. (Crater)

² Miss Natalie R. Parker was born 2 June 1925, the first child of Carold J. Parker, a potato chip manufacturer, and Ruth A. Parker, of Portland, Oregon. She attended Medford High School with the Class of 1943, where she was very active in extracurricular activities. Following graduation from high school, Miss Parker attended Reed College at Portland.

In 1945, Miss Parker enlisted in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, U.S. Public Health Service, and trained as a nurse at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated 13 June 1948.

Miss Parker joined Pan American World Airways in 1951.

Miss Natalie R. Parker married Rodney Collins Earnest, a building contractor, in Ellsworth, Maine, 21 October 1956. They resided in Seattle, Washington.

³ During a demonstration of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major engine (military designation, R-4360) a regular production engine was taken from the assembly line and run for 22 continuous hours at 4,400 horsepower, then checked and run for another hour at 4,850 horsepower. It was then run for 100 hours at 3,000 horsepower, and 50 hours at 3,500 horsepower. When the engine was disassembled for inspection, it remained in serviceable condition.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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