Creating a transpacific route presented great challenges. Pan Am had to survey the world's longest oceanic air route, build air bases and hotels on remote Pacific islands, and find an aircraft company to design and build flying boats big and powerful enough to carry heavy payloads across the longest landless air route in the world.
Pan Am's plans for a northern Pacific air route that hugged the continental coasts fell through. So it chose a central Pacific route through Hawaii.
Captain Edwin Musick, Pan Am's famous chief pilot, led four survey flights across the Pacific in 1935 to plan the route. Meanwhile, a steamship delivered equipment, supplies, and crews to build bases and hotels on the islands along the way.
Moments after taking off on April 16, 1935, on the first survey flight to Hawaii, the Pan American Clipper passes the unfinished San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.
The Pan American Clipper passes Diamond Head as it arrives in Hawaii after an 18 and 1/2 hour flight.
Musick and crew come ashore at Pearl Harbor.
The clipper's executive officer, R. O. H. Sullivan, hands over the first sacks of air mail delivered to Hawaii.
Pan Am's route hopscotched from San Francisco to China by way of islands belonging to the United States. Back then it took a week to fly that far. Today it takes about 10 hours.
The aircraft Pan Am needed didn't exist, so it contacted aircraft manufacturers and settled on the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore to design and build them. The company produced the three largest air transports of their time: the Martin M-130 clippers.
A crew inspects the China Clipper. Four powerful engines gave it the power of a locomotive, enough speed to reach Hawaii in less than 20 hours, and enough range to have hundreds of miles to spare.
The China Clipper at rest in Hawaii–the famous symbol of a new era in air travel history.
On November 22, 1935, Ed Musick eased the China Clipper up from San Francisco Bay, flew beneath the not-yet-finished cross-bay bridge, and headed west through the Golden Gate. For Hawaii, the dawn of a new era was 21 hours away.
Tens of thousands watched below, and millions listened on the radio, as the China Clipper overflew the rising towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and headed for Hawaii.
At the end of its six-day, 8,210-mile trip, the China Clipper reached Manila, where a quarter-million Filipinos and a flotilla of boats greeted it.
A year after it began transpacific service, Pan Am flew the first scheduled passenger flight. It offered for sale seven tickets for the October 21, 1936, flight on the Hawaii Clipper. Over 1,000 people applied for them.
The 60-hour flight on the Hawaii Clipper from San Francisco to Manila took six days with four overnight stops. The long flight to Hawaii was the only overnight hop.
The Hawaii Clipper's first regular passengers included five businessmen and two women world travelers. Richard F. Bradley, in his distinctive fedora, stands at the left.