A Brief History of the Honolulu Clipper:

Glamour personified!

Arriving from San Francisco at her namesake city, the Honolulu Clipper disembarks her happy travelers at the Pearl City terminal. The 2400 mile trip generally took between 16 and 20 hours depending upon winds.

The Honolulu Clipper - NC18601 - began life as NX18601 - the experimental registration for the first airplane of the 12 eventually produced. Although Boeing did not build a Prototype, and did not call this airplane a Prototype, in fact, it was a Prototype.

Here, it being "rolled out" from Boeing's original Plant 1 on the Duwamish - 1 Jun 1938. The factory was way too small, and the majority of assembly took place on the ramp outside the factory doors.

Famed Boeing Test Pilot Eddie Allen conducts a taxi test on Elliott Bay - about 5 Jun 1938. Notice the single (small) vertical fin. The 314 had more than it's share of bugs that all needed shaking out before it could enter service.

The small vertical fin, attached to that huge body, proved to be woefully inadequate in providing directional stability and control, both on the water and in the air. Boeing quickly removed the fin and replaced it with two at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer

Eventually, it was necessary to have three fins in order to "get it right."

The following is Wellwood Beall's recollection - close, but not 'spot on.'

In a mid 1960s interview, Wellwood Beall, chief engineer on the B314, remembered the first Boeing Clipper flight. He had the plane barged down the waterway from old Plant 1 to Seattle's Elliott Bay in 1938. Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen took off, flew a sweeping circular route, and landed.

" How did it go?" Beall asked anxiously.

"The plane won't turn," Allen replied. "There's not enough rudder."

The test pilot had completed his horseshoe-shaped flight by powering up on two engines on one side and powering down on the other two.

"We took the plane back to the plant and added another vertical tail," Beall said. "While the second tail helped, there was still not enough rudder."

He recalled going along on a flight and opening an overhead hatch in the tail section. He stuck his head out of the hatch, expecting a great rush of wind. Instead, the air barely mussed his hair. "So we went back and put a triple tail on that bird and then she finally grabbed air."

Other serious problems involved the size, shape, and location of the sponsons, or sea-wings. And, the airplane had a very bad porpoising problem on the water. Eventually, however, the location and geometry of the hull step was adjusted to resolve that problem. Here, flying on only the starboard engines.

The Honolulu Clipper's first Trans-Pacific flight began 16 March 1939 under the command of Capt. Kenneth Beer. Beer was Number 19 on the Pan Am pilot seniority list. Here the airplane is being christened after arrival at Pearl Harbor.The last leg, from Manila to Hong Kong carried 45 people, including 30 paying passengers - at the time, a world record.

Loss of a Legend

On Saturday, 3 Nov 1945, the Honolulu Clipper was enroute from Hawaii to San Francisco with 26 passengers on a routine military flight (all B-314s were acquired by the military after the beginning of WW II, but were still operated by Pan Am.) The Captain was S. E. "Robby" Robinson.

Five and a half hours after departure, Nbr 3 engine began back-firing and shooting flames. It was shut down and the prop feathered. Robbins, a pilot for 27 years, elected to return to Pearl Harbor. A short while later, Nbr 4 engine also began acting up. After nursing it along for about an hour and a half. It also was successfully shutdown.

Seven and a half hours after departure, at about 11 PM local time, the crew decided to land in the ocean (not a ditching, as some have referred to it - a ditching is the intentional landing of a landplane in water. This is one BIG advantage of a Flying Boat!) In total darkness, at 11:07 PM, the airplane was successfully landed, with no damage, about 650 miles east of Oahu.

The airplane maintained successful radio contact with shore stations in California and Hawaii, rescue aircraft, and rescue ships closest to their location. Ultimately, five ships made for the disabled airplane. The Englewood Hills, a merchant tanker, was the first to arrive, and by 8:00 AM, had taken all the passengers on board.

The Honolulu Clipper and the San Pablo

The crew, that had remained aboard, were joined by aviation mechanics from the escort carrier Manila Bay, now also on scene. They tried unsuccessfully to repair the aircraft's engines, and the ship ultimately took the airplane in tow. The weather turned bad, and after seven hours, the tow rope broke. The carrier maintained a loose formation with the airplane for two days until the arrival of the seaplane tender San Pablo. The San Pablo intended to hoist the Clipper out of the water onto her deck. However, on November 7, a big wave crashed the airplane into the ship, causing major damage to the Clipper. Based on the costly damage inflicted on the airplane, and the time and effort required to re-snag her, Navy command in Pearl Harbor ordered salvage efforts to be terminated and the airplane to be sunk. It took 30 minutes and 1200 rounds of 20 mm shells for the Honolulu Clipper to slip beneath the waves. The crew, that had departed for Pearl aboard the carrier, said they were glad they didn't have to watch her final moments. She had flown 18,000 hours and now she was gone.