|The Boeing 314 California Clipper off the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines, 1939-1941.|
|Other name(s)||California Clipper|
|Owners and operators||Pan American World Airways|
The Pacific Clipper (civil registration NC18602) was a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat famous for having completed Pan American World Airways' first around the world flight. The flight of the then-named California Clipper began December 2, 1941 at the Pan Am base on Treasure Island, California for its scheduled passenger service to Auckland, New Zealand. Renamed the Pacific Clipper, it landed at Pan American's LaGuardia Field seaplane base at 7:12 on the morning of January 6, 1942.
Cut off from the United States due the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and commanding a valuable military asset, Captain Robert Ford was directed to strip company markings, registration and insignia from the Clipper and proceed in secret to the Marine Terminal, LaGuardia Field, New York.
Ford and his crew successfully flew over 31,500 miles to home via
- Gladstone, Australia
- Darwin, Australia
- Surabaya, Java
- Trincomalee, Ceylon
- Karachi, British India
- Khartoum, Sudan
- Leopoldville, Belgian Congo
- Natal, Brazil
- Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
- New York, arriving January 6, 1942.
At Surabaya, Captain Ford had to refuel with automobile grade gasoline. "We took off from Surabaya on the 100 octane, climbed a couple of thousand feet, and pulled back the power to cool off the engines," said Ford. "Then we switched to the automobile gas and held our breaths. The engines almost jumped out of their mounts, but they ran. We figured it was either that or leave the airplane to the Japs."
On the way to Trincomalee, they were confronted by a Japanese submarine, and Ford had to jam the throttles forward to climb out of range of the submarine's guns. On Christmas Eve, when they took off, black oil began gushing out of the number 3 engine and pouring back over the wing. Ford shut down the engine and returned to Trincomalee. He discovered one of the engine's cylinders had failed.
When Captain Ford was planning his flight from Bahrain, he was warned by the British authorities not to fly across Arabia. Ford said, "The Saudis had apparently already caught some British flyers who had been forced down there. The natives had dug a hole, buried them in it up to their necks, and just left them." Ford flew right over Mecca because the Saudis did not have anti-aircraft guns.
A Pan American airport manager and a radio officer had been dispatched to meet the Clipper at Leopoldville. When Ford landed they handed him a cold beer. Ford said, "That was one of the high points of the whole trip." After NC18602 had completed its harrowing flight to safety, Pan Am renamed the aircraft the Pacific Clipper. The name change was mainly for publicity purposes, arising from the first newspaper articles having wrongly identified the aircraft. NC18602 remained the Pacific Clipper from 1942 throughout the remainder of its career. Purchased by the US Navy in 1946, it was subsequently sold to Universal Airlines but was damaged in a storm and ultimately salvaged for parts.
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