The Flying Boat Airliner

The flying boat airliner dominated international airline service in the 1920s and 1930s.

Although aerodynamically less efficient than streamlined landplanes, flying boats could provide scheduled passenger service to any city with a sheltered harbor, which made them the ideal international airliner at a time when runways capable of handling large aircraft were scarce.

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The Pan Am Clippers

The most famous flying boat airliners were the Pan Am Clippers, and the era of the flying boat reached its height with the luxurious Boeing B-314 Clipper, with which Pan American Airways inaugurated the first scheduled transatlantic airline service between Europe and America in 1939.

Pan Am’s leader, Juan Trippe, decided to call his flying boats “clippers” as part of his effort to link his airliner with the maritime heritage of the ocean liners with which Pan Am was in competition, and with which the public were so comfortable.

Sikorsky S-40

Sikorsky S-40

Sikorsky S-40

The first Pan American plane to be called a “Clipper” was the Sikorsky S-40 flying boat, introduced in 1931.  The S-40 helped Pan Am spread its wings in Latin American, but it was a relatively primitive machine which never fully satisfied the needs of the airline.

Sikorsky S-42

Sikorsky S-42

Sikorsky S-42

The streamlined Sikorsky S-42 was a giant leap forward in flying boat technology.  The S-42 was used extensively on Pan Am’s Latin American network and made pioneering survey flights to develop Pan Am’s routes across the Pacific.

Martin M-130

Martin M-130

Martin M-130

Pan American’s famous China Clipper, a Martin M-130 flying boat, inaugurated the first regularly scheduled passenger and mail across the Pacific in November, 1935.

Boeing B-314

Boeing B-314

Boeing B-314

The apex of flying boat design was the Boeing B-314, introduced in 1939. Sometimes known as the Yankee Clipper or Dixie Clipper type, the luxurious B-314 provided the first scheduled heavier-than-air passenger service across the Atlantic ocean.