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Time Capsule

Clipper Charm

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This photo of the Pan American System Airways Martin M-130 China Clipper flying boat is a classic. This was taken on its inaugural flight Nov. 22, 1935 over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Calif., which was under construction at that time. The destination was Manila and the Clipper made the flight from Oakland to the Philippines—8,210 miles—in six and half days, with 59 hours and 48 minutes of flying time. Along the way it stopped in Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam.  The same trip by ship took 21 days— the world got smaller that week.

The trip was staffed by seven crew. Fine dining and card games were enjoyed in wicker chairs onboard. Sleeping berths were part of the luxury. Golf at Midway and beach visits were included in the stops.

It took Pan Am founder Juan Trippe a few years to begin scheduled transpacific passenger service, but he bought two more 32-passenger M-130 flying boats, and named them the Hawaiian Clipper and the Philippine Clipper. Only these three M-130s were built by the Baltimore, Md.-based Glenn L. Martin Co., as they cost an incredible $417,000 each. Pan Am then began service to Hong Kong and Macau, but moved to cheaper, modified Sikorsky S-42 flying boats. Fuel tanks were added to make the long legs of the trip possible.

That flight to the Philippines in 1935 cost $799, a $13,390 cost in 2013 US dollars. This flight today costs just over $1,000 on United Airlines.  In 1935 US dollars, that would be $63. Of course, the service today is not quite so grand and there is not much sightseeing along the way, but you can do it a day—and so can your neighbor. 

The China Clipper's crew prepares for the inaugural flight during a ceremony broadcast around the world.

The China Clipper at one of its island ports.

 Juan Trippe (right), Pan Am founder, chats with aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.  Lindbergh was a technical adviser to Pan Am, having flown many survey flights for the airline in the 1930s.

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