The M-130 Flying Boat 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 by its ability of allowing the United States to expand into the south Pacific and Asia. Long before the airline had the official go-ahead to provide passenger and air mail service across the vast ocean (a feat thought to be almost unobtainable or profitable), Pan Am was making a strong reputation as a safe and reliable air carrier.
Designed at a cost of $417,000 (today around $7,818,221) by the Glenn L. Martin Company to meet Pan Am Airway’s need for a trans-Pacific aircraft, the M-130 was to be the safest and most luxurious passenger aircraft in the world at that time. There are no indications that the three aircraft built (Philippine Clipper, Hawaii Clipper and China Clipper) ever had a mechanical or structural failure and each of the three losses had been blamed on pilot / navigational error. A revised fourth aircraft was later built for the Soviet Union and designated the M-156 for the longer range capabilities needed for the massive country. It is interesting to note that the number 130 and 156 in the aircraft designations were selected because those were the wingspans of M-130 and the M-156 respectively.
The M-130 featured an all-metal structure which employed streamlined aerodynamics and the most powerful engines of that day (Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp) to achieve Pan Am’s specifications for range and payload. It was a powerful 14 cylinder radial aircraft engine and produced 830 horse power. It utilized the most advanced method of cooling anywhere in the world by designing a unique flow of baffled air over the radial cooling fins. The Hawaii clipper received the latest versions (upgraded to 950hp) only a few weeks before she was lost which actually cause great concern for the military as the engines were considered “military grade” and were never to be left unguarded. As a measure of caution, each aircraft was towed from the water each night and housed within a hanger for maintenance as well as protection from possible saboteurs or economic spies. the engines were eventually used in famous US fighter and bomber aircraft such as the P-47 Thunderbolt, Grumman F6F and Vought F4U Corsair among others. It would be easy to understand why an opposing military would want to seize such a sophisticated engine if given the chance. Although Japan had been licensed to produce a Single Wasp engine, it was not allowed to produce the Double Wasp.
The fact of Pan Am Airways stringent maintenance program with high dedication to ensuring the safety of its passengers was paramount in the brand and identity of the airline. Having the ability land on water ( M-130’s had no wheels), the aircraft was able to service many locations around the world without the need to build or use landing strips. Thought of as a boat with wings, the cockpit was referred only to as the bridge and flying over land was kept to a strict minim. It is generally said that the pilots felt most comfortable with water rather than land under their keels for potential emergency landings so the term flying boat stuck. Each M-130 had a crew between 6-9 (Captain, First Officer, Junior Flight Officer, Engineering Officer, Assistant Engineering Officer, Radio Operator, Navigation Officer & cabin attendants) and a well thought out emergency kit with provisions.
Find more information, stories, photos and video clips here on The Lost Clipper Facebook page.