© Wonders of World Aviation 2015-23  |  contents  |  site map  | contact us  |  cookie policy

Wonders of World Aviation

Mobile Site

An air-line system made up of numerous associated organizations which serve forty-seven countries


CLIPPER IS A GENERAL TERM applied by Pan American Airways to all their flying boats

“CLIPPER” IS A GENERAL TERM applied by Pan American Airways to all their flying boats. Many types of flying boats are used, including aircraft of Sikorsky, Martin and Boeing makes. Passengers are shown boarding a Sikorsky S-42A flying boat in this photograph. The Sikorsky S-42A can accommodate thirty-two passengers during day flying, and has sleeping berths for fourteen passengers.

THE Pan American Airways system, often referred to as the PAA, operates, in conjunction with its associated companies, more than 53,000 miles of air routes on regular schedules. It serves forty-seven countries. The system includes 204 airports and 143 private weather and radio stations. Up to June 1, 1938, figures showed that the company had carried 997,443 passengers; the total passenger-mileage was 364,421,048. Moreover the company carries a high percentage of air mail and freight, known in America as “express”. A survey of several years’ working showed this figure to be about 78 per cent.

Including the Chinese routes flown before the war in China, Pan American Airways had completed a U.S. air mail chain that reached more than halfway round the globe. The distance round the world from New York to New York is 21,000 miles. U.S. air mail is carried from New York to San Francisco on internal air lines and then to Hong Kong on the PAA system — a distance of 11,601 miles. The current air schedules allow six and a half days; the journey takes three and a half weeks by surface transport.

It is possible to fly, on a regular scheduled service, with only a 700-miles’ gap, from the north of North America to the south of South America. From Nome (Alaska) PAA aeroplanes fly to Juneau. From Juneau to Seattle (Washington) the distance of 700 miles is covered by steamer. Plans are being made, however, to inaugurate an air service between these points. America’s internal air lines fly from Seattle to Chicago and on to Miami (Florida). Here Pan American Airways take up the chain again: from Miami, across the Caribbean Sea to Panama, thence down the western coast of South America to Santiago (Chile). From here Chilean National Airlines continue to Magallanes, in the south of the South American continent. The route mileage is 11,377 and the trip takes eight days.

The whole mileage of the Pan American system is outside the boundaries of the U.S.A., save for the short distance from Los Angeles to the Mexican border. Numerous separate air line organizations go to make up the system, whose official title is Pan American Airways System and Associated Lines. Pan American Airways Co. operates the route to Bermuda parallel with that of Imperial Airways. The service was inaugurated in 1937. Aircraft on this line carry the symbol PAAA. Also entitled Pan American Airways Co., but using the symbol PAAP, is the transpacific service from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

Pan American Airways Inc. (Eastern Division, PAAE) flies the most extensive routes of the whole organization. One line is from Miami to Nassau, capital of the Bahamas. The second is the route from Miami to Buenos Aires by the east coast of South America. This runs Miami—Cuba—Haiti—Trinidad—the Guianas—Brazil—Uruguay—Argentina. PAAE’s through service is known as the Eastern Flyer. The West Indian Flyer operates the route as far as Trinidad. Over Brazilian territory the schedules are operated jointly with the associated line Panair Do Brasil (PAB), which runs the Brazilian Flyer. PAAE operates also the route Maimi-Havana with its Havana Flyer service. From Havana to Barranquilla (Colombia) PAAE runs the famous trans-Caribbean line, which was the first regular service in the world to cover long distances over the sea and was the foundation of the Pan American system.

BOEING 314 FLYING BOAT of  Pan American Airways

BOEING 314 FLYING BOAT, the first of six for Pan American Airways. They are for transpacific and transatlantic services. These aircraft are designed to carry seventy-four passengers and have four 1,500 horse-power Wright Cyclone engines of a r.ew design. The wing span is 152 feet and the aircraft is 109 feet long. The weight is 41 tons.

The Maya Flyer travels between Miami and Belize (British Honduras) via Havana and Merida (Mexico).

Another PAAE route is from Puerto Rico to Kingston (Jamaica) via Santo Domingo, Haiti and Cuba. PAAE is responsible also for the Caribbean West Coast Flyer service from the Panama Canal Zone to Barranquilla; this service links up with another PAAE service, the North Coast Air Limited, flying via Venezuela to Port of Spain (Trinidad).

Pan American Airways Inc. Western Division (PAAW) operates the line from Brownsville (Texas) to Cristobal, in the Canal Zone. Calls are made at Tampico, Mexico City, Guatemala, San Salvador and Panama City, and at airports in Honduras and Nicaragua. The service is run by the Mexico Flyer as far as Mexico and by the Central America Flyer from there to Guatemala.

Both PAAE and PAAW link up with another associated line, Cia. Mexicana de Aviacion (CMA). This company runs a connecting line with PAAE’s Maya Flyer from Merida to Mexico City. It also operates jointly with PAAW over the Tampico-Mexico City route. In addition to these routes, it flies a daily service between Mexico City and Los Angeles. It is on this route that the only flying across U.S. home territory is done by the system.

Transandine Routes

Panair do Brasil, as well as running its Brazilian Flyer, has two ancillary lines to the interior. One is from Belem (Para) west and south-west to Manaos and Rio Branco; the other and shorter line runs north from Rio de Janeiro to Bello Horisonte.

Important in the South American network is Pan American Grace Airways Inc. (PANAGRA). This company is owned jointly by Pan American Airways and W. R. Grace & Co. It is under independent management, with headquarters at Lima, Peru.

Panagra flies trunk services from Cristobal (Canal Zone) across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and over the Andes to Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay). The second transandine Panagra route is from Arequippa (Peru) via La Paz (Bolivia) to Agentina and Uruguay; this route also ends at Montevideo.

The first-named of these two services connects with the PAAE Havana Flyer route. Along the service Miami-Montevideo two other associated lines participate jointly. One is the Cia. Nacional Cubana de Aviacion (CNCA), which operates local routes in the island of Cuba. One of these routes — from Cienfuegos to Havana — is a “feeder” to the Havana Flyer. Another is that of the Cuban Air Limited; this runs between Havana and Guantanamo, calling at Antilla and Santiago de Cuba. A third route is from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa, via Antilla and Cayo Mambi.

In addition to the Panagra routes over Peru is the Aerovias Peruanas service (AVP), from Guayaquil (Ecuador) to Tacna, in the extreme south of Peru.

There is another company, the Sociedad Colombo Alemana de Transportes Aereos (SCADTA), which operates services from Barranquilla to the interior of Colombia. One is the Bogota Express, which flies direct to the capital, Bogota. Another is the Magdalena line, flying the same route with stops. A third goes to Bogota via Medellin; a fourth flies between Medellin and Bogota via Bucaramanga. Completing the South and Central American airway scheme is Uraba, Medellin and Central Airways Inc. (UMCA), which runs a service direct from Cristobal via Panama City to Medellin. Between Panama City and Cristobal a daily service-is maintained by Panama Airways Inc. (PAI).

In the north of the American continent, Pacific Alaska Airways Inc. (PAAK) maintains six regular schedules. The first is from Juneau to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks one line goes to Nome, a second to McGrath, a third to Livengood. From McGrath a branch route is flown to Flat; the main lines carries on to Bethel on the Bering Strait.

Finally, there was the service in China, from which Pan American withdrew during the war in China. The operating company was the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). In time of peace CNAC had one service from Canton to Shanghai, calling at Hong Kong to connect with the PAAP service from the U.S. A second line was Shanghai to Kweiyang via Nanking, Hankow and Chungking, with a “feeder” from Chungking to Chengtu. The third service was Shanghai to Peiping, calling at Nanking, Tsingtao and Tientsin.

GOODS OF ALL KINDS are carried on the Pan American aeroplanes

GOODS OF ALL KINDS are carried on the Pan American aeroplanes. A motor tyre, live chicks and glass goods are among the items being loaded into the goods compartment of this clipper. Over a period of several years mails and freight have accounted for 78 per cent of the total load carried. Air mail brought to San Francisco by internal air lines from New York is carried by Pan American Airways to Hong Kong, the complete journey taking six and a half days instead of the three and a half weeks that are required by surface transport.

The transpacific route has made the term “clipper” world-famous, but the word is applied to all Pan American flying boats. Fourteen different types are used on the system. There are Martin twenty-passenger flying boats on the China Clipper route. Twenty-eight-passenger Sikorskys operate the Bermuda traffic, the trans-Caribbean service and the East Coast route from Miami to Buenos Aires. Fourteen-passenger Sikorsky flying boats are used as well on this route. Commodore and Sikorsky flying boats, seating from twenty to forty passengers, are used on the Bahamas route. There are several types of Sikorsky amphibians. Eight-passenger machines fly on the Belem-Rio Branco route; fourteen-passenger machines on the Cristobal-Guayaquil and Barranquilla-Trinidad routes; six-passenger types on the Miami-Mexico City route. Fairchild amphibians, seating eight passengers, fly up the Amazon to Rio Branco. On the service operating between Kingston and Haiti eighteen-passenger Commodore flying boats are used.

Douglas landplanes, seating fourteen and twenty-one passengers, operate on the Panagra lines across South America and it is these aircraft which cross the Andes.

The Cuban Service

Douglas aeroplanes are also used on the service operating between Brownsville and Cristobal. The Cia. Mexicana de Aviacion’s “Californian” line, between Los Angeles and Mexico City, uses Douglases, too.

In Cuba, CNCA uses landplanes seating eight or ten passengers. Scadta operates a wide variety of machines, some German. There are Sikorskys, Dorniers, Junkers, Boeings and Fords, which include six-passenger flying boats, six- and ten-passenger amphibians and twelve-passenger landplanes. UMCA uses fourteen-passenger Douglas DC-2 machines. In Alaska Lockheed Electras are in service; these seat four, seven, or eight passengers. On the withdrawn Chinese service four- and six-passenger amphibians and fourteen-passenger landplanes were used. They were Douglases, Stinsons and Loenings.

Types of machines are always changing and a constant programme of renewal and replacement is carried on throughout the system, so that some types are often eliminated to give place to new machines. This listing is the most recent available. Altogether nearly 150 aircraft are in constant service.

Pan American flying methods have two distinct characteristics. Virtually the whole of their schedules are flown by day and the company tends constantly towards more high-altitude flying.

The first of these characteristics is due largely to the fact that there is no Government aid to airway navigation in the shape of radio stations and weather service in the international field, to compare with the domestic service of the U.S. Bureau of Air Commerce (see the chapter “Air Routes Across America”). PAA have to supply their own weather service and radio direction-finding system. They have fifty-six radio direction finding stations on the American continental lines and similar installations at the transpacific bases. Despite this aid it is not possible, without official help, to establish the numerous forced-landing grounds, similarly equipped, that are necessary for security in extensive commercial night-flying.

The Pan American preference for high-altitude flying is based on the same need for successful commercial operation without subsidy, in addition to the fact that many routes on the system in Central and South America have necessitated high-altitude flying to cross mountain ranges.

As early as 1929 Pan American Airways were experimenting with high-altitude flight. They had found that by moderately raising the levels of their 600-miles Miami-Mexico route (the first) they could cut eighteen minutes off the time. After four years of research they decided that 20,000 feet was the most practicable immediate objective for commercial flying. The company’s latest machines, the Boeing 307Ss, were designed for normal use at high altitudes. The name “Stratoliner” has been registered as a trade mark to apply to these aircraft. Within their sealed cabins automatic temperature and pressure regulating devices will create atmospheric conditions when the aircraft is flying high, similar to those of lower altitudes.

When the aircraft is flying at 14,700 feet the cabin conditions will be equivalent to normal conditions at 8,000 feet, and when at 20,000 feet to those of 12,200 feet. Four 1,100 horsepower Wright Cyclone engines are fitted; at 20,000 feet the Stratoliner will cruise at 240 miles an hour on an output of 2,500 horse-power.

The aircraft will carry thirty-three passengers by day or twenty-five at night, and will be operated by a crew of four or five. Space for two tons of mail and freight will be available.

The need for this constant attention to stratosphere flying is obvious in view of the country over which the system’s land routes are flown. On the Central American run, from Brownsville to the Canal Zone, the dividing range of mountains is crossed and re-crossed no fewer than seven times. The foothills themselves run as high as 8,000 feet; the peaks tower up to 18,000 feet. It is in Mexico, and not, as might have been expected, on the transandine route, that the highest line is flown. This is on CMA’s Merida “feeder” line between Vera Cruz and Mexico City, where Douglases fly at 19,000 feet and more to clear Mount Orizaba (18,696 feet). The highest transandine flight is Panagra’s line to La Paz from Tacna, which necessitates a climb to 17,000 feet. On the Chile-Argentina route Panagra flies through the Uspallata Pass (12,600 feet; see the chapter “Aerial Mountaineering”) at about 14,000 feet in normal conditions, though this route has been experimentally flown at 21,000 feet.

Just as the nature of Pan American routes made the study of high-altitude commercial flying essential, so they were ahead of international systems in other parts of the world in learning the technique of ocean flying.

Pan American Airways are to use a number of air liners of the type illustrated by this drawing

HIGH FLYING HAS PROVED BEST for commercial flying, and is necessary over some of the mountain ranges which are crossed by Pan American services. For this reason Pan American Airways are to use a number of air liners of the type illustrated by this drawing. The cabin will be sealed and the atmosphere inside controlled so that passengers will not be distressed in any way by the rarefied air at great heights.

The origin of Pan American Airways lay in the development of the South and Central American routes. Their successful establishment involved flying the Caribbean. In the early days the route was from Miami to Havana and then due west to Mexico and overland to South America. This meant the minimum of oversea flying, but added many miles to the route south. It meant much high-altitude work over the Central American isthmus in aeroplanes that were not especially designed for the purpose. It meant also that the air trip from New York to South America necessitated a journey of three days instead of the present twenty-four hours. Thus, in 1930, the direct route Miami—Jamaica—Barranquilla, due south over the Caribbean, was explored. In June of that year Colonel Charles Lindbergh flew a Sikorsky S-38 amphibian across that route. This flight marked an important advance in American commercial aviation, as Colonel Lindbergh carried the first air mail on this route.

In the seven succeeding years, during which 2,800 crossings were made, only seven were delayed — in the hurricane season. The saving in time is almost all due to the adoption of the trans-Caribbean route, which is flown in ten hours, as against the two days taken by flying round the coast line. It was this 600-miles’ stretch across water that gave Pan American pilots so fine a grounding in the technique of ocean flying. The route remained for five years the world’s longest sea passage flown on regular schedule. Pan American Airways broke this record with the transpacific run.

The growth of passenger traffic has been notable. Today’s aeroplanes — 21-ton Sikorsky clippers — carry thirty-two passengers; the earlier aircraft carried four passengers.

Another Sikorsky S-38 amphibian made the flight along one of the new routes to the interior of South America which were opened up in 1937. This was from Rio de Janiero 940 miles inland to Asuncion, capital of Paraguay; thence 635 miles down the Parana River to Buenos Aires. Pan American Airways were not, however, the first in this field. Some years before the French company Aeropostale had flown a regular service between Buenos Aires and Asuncion, but the service had been discontinued.

ALL THE MILEAGE of the Pan American Airways system is outside the boundaries of the United States

ALL THE MILEAGE of the Pan American Airways system is outside the boundaries of the United States, except for the short stretch between Los Angeles and the Mexican border. The short route from New York to Bermuda is flown in four hours and three-quarters ; by fast steamer this journey takes two days.

Two other South American routes were pioneered in 1937 for the Pan-American system. One was over the jungle to Rio Branco from Manaos, continuing the route from Belem, on the east coast, to Manaos. The other was a new line on the Panagra system, linking La Paz (Bolivia) with Cordoba (Argentina), where it met the main transandine route from Santiago to Buenos Aires. The first route to Buenos Aires, opened in 1928, was the West Coast Route, via Santiago and across the Andes. The East Coast Route was opened a year later. Today forty-seven countries and colonies in the Western hemisphere are linked together by 53,166 miles of airways. In ten years 997,443 passengers and 30,000,000 lb. of mail and “express” had been carried 250,000,000 miles. Nearly 150 important trade centres in the Southern American countries have been brought within a few hours of one another by the Pan American system. Pan-American routes are operated on a commercial basis, without Government subsidy, against competition from subsidized foreign companies.

Typical of Pan American commercial development are the freight jobs undertaken in Peru by Panagra. In 1933 Panagra flew machinery over the Andes to a mine in the interior to which the only other transport available would have been on mule back — an almost impossible task. In 1937 again a Panagra machine (a Ford trimotor) ferried 1,000,000 lb. of machinery over an 18,000-feet divide into a steep and inaccessible valley to enable engineers to open up another new project.

Altogether, in the Central and Southern American areas Pan American are today operating six official transcontinental services — from ocean to ocean. They are Tampico—Mexico City—Los Angeles; Yucatan—Mexico City—Mazatlan; Vera Cruz—Isthmus of Tehuantepec—Tapechula; Cristobal—Panama City; Cristobal—Colombia—Venezuela—Port of Spain; Santiago—Buenos Aires. The system has developed, in addition to its commercial activities, a vastly increased tourist trade in the West Indies. In 1928 Florida was the American winter playground; today that playground extends to most West Indian islands. In the winter of 1937-38 special services took 50,000 passengers to West Indian holiday places.

The transpacific service is dealt with in the chapter “Across the Pacific”. A flying organization in China was built up before the war in China began in 1937 as part of the Pan American system at the China end of the clippers’ route. Through CNAC, Pan American was working the whole of the principal air routes within Chinese territory. As early as 1920 enterprising American companies had begun to operate the first Chinese air routes. As time passed, other countries were bidding for a share in the Chinese airways. Great Britain, France, Germany and Holland were competitors. The American companies held prior operating rights but were neither big enough nor strong enough to hold out against such strong opposition.

In 1932 these rights were transferred to Pan American and CNAC was formed in cooperation with the Chinese National Government, the Government holding 55 per cent of the shares. No subsidy was given, but exclusive rights were allowed the new company over strategic air routes. Of the other four countries, only Germany had commercial aeroplanes flying in China. A company known as Eurasia, subsidiary to Lufthansa (see the chapter “Germany’s Air Lines”), had rights in secondary routes. Great Britain’s Imperial Airways line reaches Hong Kong; the French aeroplanes fly to Hanoi (Indo-China), and the Dutch to Batavia. A plan, now abandoned, was completed whereby Germany and Soviet Russia were to have cooperated in a trans-Siberian air route to China.

The story of Pacific Alaska Airways is a story of pioneering doggedness and adventure. This company is operating 2,125 miles of route over some of the most difficult country in the world.

The first commercial flying in Alaska was done by Carl Ben Eilsen in 1922. He, and the others who followed him, wanted the contracts to carry mail.

To obtain the contracts, they had to quote prices competitive with those charged by the dog-teams which had carried the mails before. Moreover, they had to deliver and collect in the same localities; this meant, on one route, twenty-six stops in 350 miles. There were no airports. Landing and take-off were on any piece of fairly flat ground available.

Several lines tried and failed to operate successfully. Finally Pan American stepped in and reorganized the services on the same lines as those of some of the more difficult territories in South America. The “dog-team” mail contracts were made easier; but even then the cost of the first properly equipped airport in Alaska was equal to the value of the mail contract over hundreds of years.

Freak Flying Conditions

Some idea of the flying conditions is gained from the fact that, during a flight from Juneau to Nome, a 79° change in temperature was observed in three minutes. A machine took off at 45° below zero Fahr; at 4,100 feet the air temperature was 34° Fahr.

Flying has become the standard means of travel in Alaska, and the last available figures for a year’s working show that, out of a population of 60,000, no fewer than 19,286 passengers were carried 2,088,418 passenger-miles.

The Bermuda traffic is purely a “local” passenger service. These British islands are a favourite holiday resort for Americans, and it had previously taken two days by fast steamer to reach them. The flying schedules operated by Pan American and Imperial Airways have cut the time to four hours forty-five minutes.

The aeroplanes fly from the maintenance base at Baltimore to Port Washington, Long Island, and thence to Hamilton, Bermuda. So equable is the Bermuda climate that it is popular as an all-the-year-round resort, which ensures the flying service a continuous patronage.

A peculiarity of this route was that at first a “one-way” mail service was operated. Imperial Airways had the contract to carry H.M. mails to U.S.A.; but the existing U.S. Post Office requirements did not permit air mail to be carried from the mainland to Bermuda. A two-way air mail is now operated.

A new giant clipper has been built by Boeing, the 314, and flying boats of this type will enable Pan American Airways to keep abreast of the need for continual development in their air lines. The new flying boat was first flown for test purposes on June 7, 1938.

Aircraft of this type will be used on transatlantic services. The weight is 41 tons and provision is made for seventy-four passengers and a crew of eight. Four engines of 1,500 horsepower each are fitted. These Wright Cyclone engines are double-row radials. Six of these flying boats are to be supplied to Pan American Airways.

AMPHIBIAN FLYING BOATS are particularly useful on some of the Pan American routes

AMPHIBIAN FLYING BOATS are particularly useful on some of the Pan American routes where landings have to be made inland as well as at seaboards. This photograph shows the Sikorsky S-43. The landing wheels retract into recesses in the sides of the hull; the tail wheel is also retractable. Fifteen passengers can normally be carried, in addition to freight and mail. The nine-cylinder radial engines are Pratt and Whitney Hornets, developing 750 horse-power each at 7,000 feet.

Click here to see the photogravure supplement to this article.

You can read more on “Across the Pacific”, “Aerial Mountaineering” and “Air Routes Across America” on this website.

Pan American Airways