The Honolulu Clipper story begins in 1936 when Pan Am began searching for a larger and longer range flying boat to fulfill Juan Tripp’s vision of cutting weeks off the typical steamship trip to the Orient and the first commercial air passenger service across the Atlantic. The Sikorsky S-42s and the Martin M-130s were simply incapable of fulfilling this mission without sacrificing passenger seats for fuel load or vice versa. Pan Am asked Martin, Sikorsky and Boeing to submit proposals for such an aircraft. Of the three, only Sikorsky and Martin were the only bidders. Boeing was too busy with development of the XB-15 Bomber for the war buildup and could not allocate the engineering resources or factory space to a project of this magnitude.
Between 1934 and 1936 in Shanghai, an idea began to percolate in the mind of a young Boeing engineer and salesman by the name of Wellwood E. Beall. Little did he know, the idea was several years before its time. Urged by his wife to overcome his doubt of trans-oceanic air service connecting the U.S. and the Orient, Beall began putting his idea to paper for an aircraft design that his wife dubbed “The Whale”. While returning from China by steamship during a Boeing business trip, Beall drew up sketches for a flying boat design of his own and continued developing it on his own time and with his wife’s help in designing the interior.
At first Boeing Chief Engineer Minschler was opposed to the idea but was forced by Boeing President Engveltd to accept the project. Minschler recalled a young, promising engineer. Beall was eventually able to convince Boeing executives to allow him to draw up complete designs and specifications to which Pan Am graciously extended to deadline to allow Boeing’s entry more time.
Boeing won the contract and the first hull was laid on xxx xx, 1937. Flight tests by Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen proved the ineffectiveness of the single tail. A double B-24 style tail was added and eventually the final version with the iconic triple tail was required to aid in turning the behemoth.
The Honolulu Clipper - CAA registration number NC18601 - was delivered as the second B-314 to Pan Am in Astoria, Oregon on ddMMMyy following additional flight tests.
It started on Pan Am’s Pacific routes on ddMMMyy but with America’s entrance into WWII it, as all other commercial aircraft, was conscripted and pressed into military service. Owned by the U.S. Government but operated by Pan Am crews, the Honolulu Clipper continued to operate between San Francisco and Honolulu. The 314s were not allowed beyond Hawaii to the South Pacific due to the fear of it falling into Japanese hands and being reverse engineered. Those routes were reserved for the Martin PBM Mariners and the PBY3 “xxx”.
With the war over and civilian passenger flights returning to normal, on 03November1945, the Honolulu Clipper departed Pan Am’s Pearl Harbor flying boat terminal for Pan Am’s San Francisco Treasure Island base on one of the last military repositioning flights. She carried a crew of 11, a passenger load of 11 Naval Officers and seaman and 2 civilian contractors. Prior to reaching “EquiTime” the Clipper suffered an engine failure and was forced to return to Honolulu.
An hour and a half later a second engine on the same side was forced to be shut down after running rough and backfiring. Despite being certified to fly with two failed engines on the same side at max gross weight, for some unknown reason the Clipper was unable to maintain altitude and was forced to eventually make one of the first open-ocean landings of a B-314. Maybe it was because the Clippers were worn out from the war; maybe there was an unknown cargo load. To the crew the landing was uneventful other than the fact that First Officer Wally Reed could not see the surface very well due to the landing lights being pointed up somewhat. The senior Naval Officer onboard described the landing differently: “ as a “bang There were no injuries and two days later there was not even a drop of water in the sturdy 314’s bilge. The passengers were taken aboard the nearby troop transport USS Henry Payne while the crew stayed with the airplane and were then taken aboard the escort carrier USS Manila Bay. The Manila Bay attempted to tow the 314 back to Pearl Harbor but strong winds and high seas broke the tow line and the Clipper bobbed mercilessly for several days as the carrier backed away and tracked it by radar. The USS San Pablo - a PBY Catalina seaplane tender - was called out to take over. The skipper, C.R. Eisenbach, inexplicably made the decision to cut the engines of the ship on the night of 05November1945 and drift. An argument between a Pan Am representative and the skipper ensued as the Pan Am rep stated headway should be maintained to keep the lines taught. The skipper won out but by 0630 the next morning the Clipper drifted into the side of the ship and caused considerable, but reparable, damage. The USS San Pablo’s starboard stantion railings were damaged, the bow jackstaff was bent over. The Honolulu Clipper’s number four (right-most) engine was torn from its mount and rolled down a hatchway into the ship. Its port seawing was damaged causing the ’01 to list to the left. The bow was punched in and the right wingspar was damaged. The skipper received permission to scuttle the derelict clipper as a hazard to navigation.