The Hawaii Clipper was a significant technological achievement in the world of commercial aviation. It was such an achievement, that elements within the Japanese Empire were concerned for what was perceived as United States expansion aims into the South Pacific and Asia. They weren’t that far off.
Although Pan Am Airways President, Juan Trippe, was well aware of Japan’s own expansion throughout Asia, his plans to bring passengers and mail to Hong Kong and other Asian destinations was unstoppable (by either his competitors, stock holders or the Japanese). However, with the loss of his star chief pilot “Eddie” C. Musick in a catastrophic fuel tank explosion or a bomb placed within the fuselage, the end of the line was closer than anyone would admit. The explosion of the Samoan Clipper (a Sikorsky S-42B flying boat) and then the loss of the Hawaii Clipper to alleged espionage gave some doubt as to the sustainability of the commercial enterprise.
The NC 14714 Hawaiian Clipper, later renamed Hawaii Clipper, was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore Maryland in the early 1930’s. The M-130 aircraft known to the company as Martin Ocean Transports first flew on December 30, 1934 and became the Concordes of their day. Built for safety, luxury and all metal ruggedness, they became a benchmark for similar aircraft in the years to follow. Only three M-130’s were built and were christened Hawaii Clipper (NC-14714), Philippines Clipper (NC-14715) and China Clipper (NC-14716).
The Hawaii Clipper had the honor of being the first transpacific passenger service of an airline that actually generated revenue on October 21, 1936 between Alameda California and Manila Philippines. The flying boat went on to have a remarkably incident-free time in the skies of the Pacific but it was cut short on July 29, 1938. Although flight #229 started off normal enough in Alameda on July 23, the closer the ship got to Japanese held territories the greater the danger the passengers and crew could experience.
From California, flight #229 took the Hawaii Clipper and its twelve passengers to Honolulu. Among the well-to-do passengers were nine highly experienced crew members with very impressive credentials. When it came to the creme of the crop, Pan Am Airways had a reputation of hiring the best. Whether they be a steward or pilot, mechanic or navigator, they were the best tops of their trade in the most advanced passenger aircraft in the world.
Having left San Francisco Harbor a little after 3:00pm Pacific time, the clipper arrived in Perl City Hawaii a little after 8:00 in the morning of the 24th. They had flown 2,410 miles non-stop and it was always the most dreaded as it was the longest and most lonesome of all the legs from the US to China. After a night’s stay in Honolulu, the trip continued, but only for six passengers. These six passengers, along with the remaining seven man crew, would press on to Midway Island and eventually, Hong Kong.
The Hawaii Clipper was the Concorde of it’s day providing private travel for the ultra-elite and wealthy. It might also have been an observation tool of the US Navy in the areas under Japanese control. The luxurious journey certainly set a level of prestige many in the world could only dream of but few could experience.