The Yankee Clipper project dated
back to 1935, with the start of a series of negotiations between Pan
American World Airways and Boeing for the production of a flying-boat
capable of guaranteeing transatlantic passenger flights with a high degree
of safety, comfort, and speed.1
On July 21,1936 Pan American signed a contract for six aircraft, the first
of which (designation Model 314) made initial see runs on Puget Sound on
May 31,1938, and took to the air on June 7, 1938.
When it made its appearance this flying-boat was the largest civil
aircraft in service.
When the Boeing 314 flying boat first made its appearance, it was the
largest civil aircraft in service. The aircraft shown above is the
It outstripped all rivals in
size, with twice the size of the Sikorsky S-42 and outweighed the Martin
M-130 China Clipper by 15 tons.3
The 14-cylinder double-row Wright Cyclones were the first to use
100-octane fuel. The Boeing 314, the finest flying boat to go into regular
commercial service, weighed 40 tons, and the first batch cost $550,000 per
It had a central hull and adopted the wing and engine assembly of the
experimental Boeing XB-15 heavy bomber. In the place of the traditional
floating stabilizers at the wingtips, sponsons mounted on the sides of the
hull were used. The sponsons were based on the formula developed by the
German engineer Claude Dornier and incorporated into such aircraft as the
Dornier Do X and Dornier Do 18. The sponsons also contained fuel tanks,
the capacity of which (together with those situated in the wings) totalled
almost 3,525 gallons (16,000 litres).
Mechanics performing maintenance repairs on the California Clipper. The
number on the centre vertical stabilizer is No 18 and the number on the
left hand vertical stabilizer is NC 18602
At first, Boeing had problems with the single vertical
stabilizer, which resulted in inadequate directional control. It tried a
twin-tail arrangement, and finally settled on the three fins which became
a feature of the design.
In the spacious fuselage there was ample room for 74 daytime passengers,
or for 40 passengers in reclining seats for long night-flights.
On May 20,1939, Pan American inaugurated the first transatlantic mail
service. Under the command of Captain A. E. LaPorte, almost a ton of mail
was carried from Port Washington to Marseilles, via the Azores and Lisbon.
in 29 hours. The same aircraft, commanded by Captain Harold Gray, opened
the northern mail service to Southampton on June 24,1939.
On June 28,1939 Pan American inaugurated the first regular passenger
service, from New York to Southampton, via Newfoundland. Under the command
of Captain R.0.D. Sullivan, the "Dixie Clipper" carried the first
scheduled passengers across the North Atlantic. Twenty-two privileged
persons had the option of paying $375 one-way (about $4,000 in today's
money) or $675 return (say about $7,000 or $8,000, or twice Concorde
levels). The Yankee Clipper opened the northern passenger route on July
8,1939, carrying 17 passengers at the same fare. Today, the North Atlantic
route is still the most prestigious of all today despite the immense
growth of the airlines.
The golden age of the commercial flying-boats was abruptly interrupted by
the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe on September 3,1939. The
war curtailed Pan American's opportunity to build on its success, The
northern transatlantic route was abandoned after only three months, on
With the success of the Boeing 314, Pan American ordered another six with
the designation Boeing 314A. The 314A was considerably improved. They had
a carrying capacity (77 daytime passengers), engine power, and increase in
fuel capacity by about 1,000 gallons (4,500 litres). The first of the
Boeing 314A aircraft flew as a prototype on March 20, 1941, but with WW II
in full swing, only half the order went to Pan American. Three models were
bought by the British government and allotted to BOAC for use as transport
Aircraft shown is the Atlantic Clipper. The number on the left hand
vertical stabilizer is NC 18604
Subsequently, the Boeing 314s continued flying all over the
globe, maintaining especially the Atlantic crossing by the central route,
or via Brazil and West Africa. They made many important flights during the
war, in support of military operations as far afield as southeast Asia.
The Boeing 314 airplanes were well known for the fact that they carried
Winston Churchill on his intercontinental journeys, and survived the war
to be returned to the United States in 1948.
The career of the Boeing 314s, five of which were purchased by the USAAF
and the US Navy, was also a lengthy one. Apart from three which were
destroyed in February 1943, November 1945 and October 1947, the others
remained with Pan American. With the progress made in developing
long-range landplanes during WW II, the last Boeing 314 was retired from
Pan American World Airways in 1946. They were then used by various small
charter companies and not withdrawn from service until 1950.