Little Bits of History

China Clipper

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 22, 2011

China Clipper

November 22, 1935: The China Clipper takes off for its first commercial flight. Also designated by NC14716, the Martin M-130 four engine flying boat was built for Pan American Airways to be used for transpacific air service. There were three built at a cost of $417,000 each. They were meant to fly between San Francisco and Manila, delivering air mail.

On this date, the plane left from Alameda, California. This was the first attempt to deliver air mail across the Pacific Ocean. The flight started out dangerously when a flyby over the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge (still under construction) had to be aborted. The pilot realized he did not have the altitude to clear the bridge and had to fly under it instead. Even with this ignominious beginning, the plane finally made it to the destination. It landed in Manila on November 29 and delivered over 110,000 pieces of mail.

For this initial flight, the pilot was Edwin C. Musick and the navigator was Fred Noonan. The departure point in Alameda is California Historical Landmark #968. Today it is located in the Naval Air Station Alameda. This event was a first and was important to both California, the jumping off point, and the world at large. The dissemination of information was quickened by this method of delivery.

Pan Am service kept China Clipper in service until January 8, 1945. On that date, it was destroyed in a crash in Port of Spain. Port of Spain is the capital of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. While flying in the Caribbean, it was reported the ship hit a boat under blackout conditions (this was during World War II). There were 16 passengers and 9 crew aboard who were killed in the crash. On a second approach to land, it came in too low. It is also reported that it merely hit the water rather than a dark ship. Either way, it sank quickly. Seven of those on board were able to survive the crash. The flight had left from Miami, Florida and was headed to the Belgian Congo. The plane had stopped in Puerto Rico and flew on to Port of Spain.

“When [pilot Edwin Musick] finally got airborne he was right on the [Bay] bridge and there was no way he’d be able to get over it. So, to everyone’s amazement, he just coolly flew under it, dodging some hanging construction materials in the process.” – Kin Robles

“Discourse is fleeting, but junk mail is forever.” – Joe Bob Briggs

“Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” – Henry L. Stimson

“I am not overlooking any mail. I’m looking at all of it. I even wrote back to the Viagra people.” – Randy Newman

Also on this day:
Blackbeard – In 1718, Blackbeard the Pirate (alias for Edward Teach) was tracked down and killed.
10 – In 1928, Ravel’s Bolero was first performed.

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