Friday, January 11, 2013

Passengers Were Not Cargo on a 314 Clipper

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

It's a pretty safe bet that air travel via the major carriers these days can be at best annoying and at worst, a multi-day train wreck happening in ultra-slow motion. The footage of airports full of passengers sleeping with their Samsonites are a common component of the evening news.

But when those stranded pax finally get inside a de-iced, pressurized tube, the experience is often less than joyous. Charges for checked bags and a coach ticket buys you the opportunity to fight a salesman for room in the overhead bins before you sit down in a cramped seat and spend the next few hours breathing stale air and praying for more than 7 ounces of a liquid beverage.

What today's airline ride has become pales in comparison to the glory days of passenger air service, when ships like the mighty Boeing 314 Clippers tore up the sky over the Pacific flying passengers who were treated not like cattle, but like cattle barons. Let's take a look at this wonderful airliner of yesterday from Boeing.com:
"As airplane travel became popular during the mid-1930s, passengers wanted to fly across the ocean, so Pan American Airlines asked for a long-range, four-engine flying boat. In response, Boeing developed the Model 314, nicknamed the "Clipper" after the great oceangoing sailing ships. The Clipper used the wings and engine nacelles of the giant Boeing XB-15 bomber on the flying boat's towering, whale-shaped body. Clipper passengers looked down at the sea from large windows and enjoyed the comforts of dressing rooms, a dining salon that could be turned into a lounge and a bridal suite. The Clipper's 74 seats converted into 40 bunks for overnight travelers. Four-star hotels catered gourmet meals served from its galley."
A great resource for reading about the 314 as well as the Martin 130 and Sikorsky S-42 is The Flying Clippers, a historical site that covers these ships well. But as we focus on the 314, here is what the site has to say about a Trans-Pacific flight in a 314 Clipper:
"The Boeing 314 experience rivaled that of the ocean liners that were widely used at that time. Sleeping berths, lounges, luxurious lavatories, silver goblets, hot meals on real china served by white-coated stewards, were all part of what Pan Am offered its passengers. A passenger could expect to have all their needs catered to by attentive stewards. Food and drink were always available whenever you wanted it. Curtained bunks were made up for the passengers at night. The thick carpeting, soft lighting, comfortable upholstery in soothing colors, and the heavy soundproofing in the walls, all helped to create a special world set apart from the weather and world rushing by outside the windows."
The massive flight deck measured 21' x 9' and had large areas for flight planning and navigation. They needed the space too since they didn't exactly have a stack of Garmin glass in the panel. Again, from the Flying Clippers site:
"Navigation of course, was not as developed then as it is today. The navigator made use of the observation dome located between the cargo holds. He would take sightings on the stars with his sextant. By interpreting an angle reading in his book of tables, he could determine the planes position on the earth's surface. It was possible however, to be flying through cloud cover for the whole journey and never get see a star at all. In this case they had to maintain a steady course by employing a method called dead reckoning. This method worked well but had one major wrinkle. The wind could blow them sideways. To compensate for this, the drift was estimated by dropping a flare into the water through a little trapdoor in the wing. By carefully watching the flare to see if it stayed in line with the tail of the plane or moved to one side or the other, the navigator could estimate the drift."
The ship was a magnificent example of aviation craftsmanship and design. Flying Clipper again presents a few key specs:
"A Boeing 314A first flew on June 7, 1938 and had a gross weight of 84,000 pounds and a ceiling of 19,600 feet. Its four 1,600-horsepower Wright Twin Cyclone engines gave it a top speed of 199 mph (184 mph cruise) and it could carry it's 10 crew and 74 pax 5,200 miles."
When you think about how this cruise ship of the air could carry lucky humans in luxurious comfort over 5,000 miles and make over 180 mph, it is truly an amazing feat of aeronautical engineering. And the next time someone says "they don't make 'em like that any more...you can think about the mighty Boeing 314 Clippers and know exactly what they mean.