Yesterday, April 17, marked 88 years since the Pioneer Clipper flying boat first arrived in Hawaii, just shy of 18 hours after the Sikorsky S-42 took off from Alameda, California, on April 16. On its departure, the Clipper flew past San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which was still under construction. The powerful four-engine plane reached Hawaii with ample fuel to spare.
The historically successful first survey flight had four Pan Am aviators/captains, led by Edwin Musick. Captain Musick was the highly regarded chief pilot for the airline. He led four survey flights Trans-Pacific. Steamships were used in advance to carry everything needed to Hawaii to assemble the bases and facilities, including the construction crew and all materials.
The Pioneer Clipper and its survey flight crew continued on a nine-hour flight to Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam before returning to Hawaii on June 13, 1935. In August, Pan Am flew again to Hawaii, which turned the event into something more routine than on its first flight. Later that year, in November, the Martin M-130 China Clipper would arrive in Honolulu on its way to Manila, as seen in the historical video below.
And, by the following year, weekly passenger service regularly carried cargo, airmail, and passengers to Hawaii. It is believed that the first flight may have carried as many as 100,000 pieces of mail. When that first regular flight was offered on October 21, 1936, only seven-passenger tickets were sold, although more than 1,000 people applied to be among them.
The Martin M-130 Clippers, including the China Clipper, first flew Pacific Service and was followed by a fleet of other clippers, including the Hawaii Clipper and the Philippine Clipper.
The plane skimmed the waters on arrival at Honolulu.
It circled over Diamond Head and Oahu before landing in the water. This was arguably the biggest thing to happen here, and certainly in Hawaii air travel when the first Clippers arrived regularly. The flight marked the beginning of Pan American World Airways’ illustrious time in the Pacific and was the first trans-oceanic route by commercial plane.
It was a flight heralded by the New York Times:
“With its engines purring so softly that the crowd of 1,500 persons on hand to greet the Pan American Clipper could scarcely hear them, the craft floated down to the waters of Pearl Harbor at 7:57 A.M. So rapidly had Captain Musick and his five companions covered the 2,400 miles between California and Hawaii that they were over Honolulu at 7:05 A.M., and they spent fifty-two minutes flying back and forth above the city until the hour scheduled for their arrival.”
It’s incredible that now more than 10 million passengers arrive in Hawaii by air each year. But back then, it was something not to take for granted.
Pan Am was the largest international airline in the United States.
They flew from 1927 until operations ceased in 1991. The first flights started between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba. Later its flagship of operations became New York City. Many firsts were attributed to the airline, including it being the first to have primarily jet aircraft, the first widebody jets, and a state-of-the-art reservation system that some don’t have to this day. Pan Am is still considered to be a cultural icon of its time.
Pan Am got to Hawaii by default.
The airline initially planned another trans-oceanic route that would not have touched Hawaii. But when those plans failed, they opted for new routes through the Central Pacific that brought them to Hawaii. Pan Am’s Juan Trippe and their investors planned to fly to European destinations instead. But due to delays, they decided to start trans-oceanic service and opted for Hawaii.
How fortuitous that was for them and Hawaii visitors.
Image credit: Facebook/Pan Am Historical Foundation