In Search of an Icon
The Hunt for a Boeing B-314 Flying Boat
 Pan American NC18601 - the Honolulu Clipper

Icon:  One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol......

Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper Artist: John McCoy
Copyright 1991. All rights reserved.  *See below for more information.*


In the world of man-made objects, be they antique cars, historic locomotives, steamships, religious symbols, or, in this case -  beautiful airplanes, certain creations stand out.  Whether due to perceived beauty, historical importance, or imagined romance, these products of man's mind and hands have achieved a status above and beyond their peers.  For me, the Lockheed Super Constellation is one such object.  So is the Boeing 314 Flying Boat - the Clipper, (when flown by Pan American Airways).  An Icon in the purest sense of the word.

The B-314 was the largest, most luxurious, longest ranged commercial flying boat -  built for, and operated by Pan Am.  It literally spanned the world, crossing oceans and continents in a style still impressive today.  From the late 1930's through the Second World War, these sky giants set a standard unequalled to this day.

Only 12 were built, and none remain, for us to gaze upon their magic, and their majesty.  But wait.  To be perfectly accurate, 10  indeed seem gone forever.  Two, however, do exist - in a way - and the search for, recovery of, and reconstruction of one of these liners in the sky, is now the subject of serious planning.  These two, the first and the last, lie in watery graves in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans --  like the Titanic --  awaiting the arrival of the right people, with skill and dedication -  to find and recover their mortal remains --  to allow for the impossible - the return of  a once lost beauty to our gaze  once more.

A (Very) Brief History of the Honolulu Clipper

Glamour personified!
 Arriving from San Francisco at her namesake city, the Honolulu Clipper disembarks her happy travelers at the Pearl City terminal.  The 2400 mile trip generally took between 16 and 20 hours depending upon winds.


From Dave Bridges - 314 Co-pilot for two years flying SFO - HNL

"The B 314 flight, coast to Honolulu could take only 25 passengers and to make the flight on full tanks, the cruise airspeed started out at 118 knots (long range cruise) and finished at 125 knots approx at 5000 feet - and flight time was 17 hours. Those were the good old days."

Note:  Artist Unknown - this advertising poster is widely available on the internet.  See some sources at the bottom of the page.

The Honolulu Clipper - NC18601 - began life as NX18601 - the experimental registration for the first airplane of the 12 eventually produced.  Although Boeing did not build a Prototype, and did not call this airplane a Prototype, in fact, it was a Prototype.

Here, it being "rolled out" from Boeing's original Plant 1 on the Duwamish - 1 Jun 1938.  The factory was way too small, and the majority of assembly took place on the ramp outside the factory doors.

Famed Boeing Test Pilot Eddie Allen conducts a taxi test on Elliott Bay - about 5 Jun 1938.  Notice the single (small) vertical fin.

The 314 had more than it's share of bugs that all needed shaking out before it could enter service.


The small vertical fin, attached to that huge body, proved to be woefully inadequate in providing directional stability and control, both on the water and in the air.  Boeing quickly removed the fin and replaced it with two at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer.


Eventually, it was necessary to have three fins in order to "get it right."


The following is Wellwood Beall's recollection - close, but not 'spot on.'

In a mid 1960s interview, Wellwood Beall, chief engineer on the B314, remembered the first Boeing Clipper flight. He had the plane barged down the waterway from old Plant 1 to Seattle's Elliott Bay in 1938. Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen took off, flew a sweeping circular route, and landed.

"How did it go?" Beall asked anxiously.

"The plane won't turn," Allen replied. "There's not enough rudder."

The test pilot had completed his horseshoe-shaped flight by powering up on two engines on one side and powering down on the other two.

"We took the plane back to the plant and added another vertical tail," Beall said. "While the second tail helped, there was still not enough rudder."

He recalled going along on a flight and opening an overhead hatch in the tail section. He stuck his head out of the hatch, expecting a great rush of wind. Instead, the air barely mussed his hair. "So we went back and put a triple tail on that bird and then she finally grabbed air."


My own first-hand experience:

In the mid-80s, the local AIAA chapter had one of their monthly dinner meetings - the subject was Pan Am flying boats.  I was a big-wig of sorts at the chapter in those days.  In attendance were key players from the period - from Boeing, from Pan Am, and from the University of Washington, where the wind tunnel testing had been done.  After the presentation, a Q&A session began, that led into a lively discussion from the audience.  The subject of the single small vertical fin arose.  Someone said it was obvious before first flight that the fin was too small for the big body.  Some (but not all) of the Boeing people disputed the notion.  And then, and then, the UW people chimed in - pointing out that Boeing had been warned after the wind tunnel tests that the tail would present a problem.  The joy in this exchange - which I sincerely wished had been video-taped - was hearing the actual people involved at the time - still passionate in their opinions and presenting a true "living history" lesson.

Other serious problems involved the size, shape, and location of the sponsons, or sea-wings.  And, the airplane had a very bad porpoising problem on the water.  Eventually, however,  the location and geometry of the hull step was adjusted to resolve that problem.  Here, flying on only the starboard engines.

The Honolulu Clipper's first Trans-Pacific flight began 16 March 1939 under the command of Capt. Kenneth Beer.  Beer was Number 19 on the Pan Am pilot seniority list.   Here the airplane is being christened after arrival at Pearl Harbor.

The last leg, from Manila to Hong Kong carried 45 people, including 30 paying passengers - at the time, a world record.

Loss of a Legend

On Saturday, 3 Nov 1945, the Honolulu Clipper was enroute from Hawaii to San Francisco with 26 passengers on a routine military flight (all B-314s were acquired by the military after the beginning of WW II, but were still operated by Pan Am.)  The Captain was S. E. "Robby"  Robinson.

Five and a half hours after departure, Nbr 3 engine began back-firing and shooting flames.  It was shut down and the prop feathered.  Robbins, a pilot for 27 years,  elected to return to Pearl Harbor.  A short while later, Nbr 4 engine also began acting up.  After nursing it along for about an hour and a half.  It also was successfully shutdown.

Seven and a half hours after departure, at about 11 PM local time, the crew decided to land in the ocean (not a ditching, as some have referred to it - a ditching is the intentional landing of a landplane in water.  This is one BIG advantage of a Flying Boat!)  In total darkness, at 11:07 PM, the airplane was successfully landed, with no damage, about 650 miles east of Oahu.

The airplane maintained successful radio contact with shore stations in California and Hawaii, rescue aircraft, and rescue ships closest to their location.  Ultimately, five ships made for the disabled airplane.  The Englewood Hills, a merchant tanker, was the first to arrive, and by 8:00 AM, had taken all the passengers on board.

The Honolulu Clipper and the San Pablo

The crew, that had remained aboard, were joined by aviation mechanics from the escort carrier Manila Bay, now also on scene.  They tried unsuccessfully to repair the aircraft's engines, and the ship ultimately took the airplane in tow.  The weather turned bad, and after seven hours, the tow rope broke.  The carrier  maintained a loose formation with the airplane for two days until the arrival of the seaplane tender San Pablo.  The San Pablo intended to take the Clipper in tow.  However,  on November 7, a big wave resulted in the airplane crashing into the ship, causing major damage to the Clipper.  Based on the costly damage inflicted on the airplane, and the time and effort required to re-snag her, Navy command in Pearl Harbor ordered salvage efforts to be terminated and the airplane to be sunk.  It took 30 minutes and 1200 rounds of 20 mm  shells for the Honolulu Clipper  to slip beneath the waves.  The crew, that had departed for Pearl aboard the carrier, said they were glad they didn't have to watch her final moments.

She had flown 18,000 hours and had carried many famous passengers, including Clare Boothe Luce, Eddie Rickenbacker, Admiral Thomas Kinkaid,  Chester Nimitz, and New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser.

Capt. Jeff Johnston, and Capt. Wally Reed - First Officer on NC18601 incident


Logbook Entry from San Pablo can be found here.

Accident Report - I am unable to locate the CAB Accident Report for this event.  If you have information, please advise me.

The Search

In the days between the landing of the Honolulu Clipper at sea, and her sinking, strong currents had swept her towards Hawaii.  When she sank, she had traveled perhaps 150 miles closer to the Islands.  Currently, she lies in about 17,000 feet of water.  She's shot up.  She's damaged.  She's to some extent - corroded.  But, she is extant, in one form or another, unlike her long gone scrapped sister ships.

As a retired Boeing career employee, I've been deeply involved in acquiring and restoring historic airplanes, including the Prototype 727, 737, and 747 airplanes, a Concorde, and most recently a Lockheed Super Constellation.  While some of these airplanes are still under active restoration, I, as usual,  began getting a case of itchy feet.  In other words, I began thinking of a new airplane to begin chasing.  An airplane long floating around in the back of my mind was a B-314 flying boat.  I had a number of books on Pan Am's boat flying, and in my professional career, had worked for years with Pan Am, and had visited most of the key Pacific flying boat locations.

 I dug out a series of articles that had been published in the Boeing Magazine years earlier.  Their title was "Model 314, where are you?"  (See below for a copy.)  As I re-read the old articles, I tried to identify candidate airplanes that might actually  be discoverable and recoverable.  I've watched a lot of Discovery Channel type programs, involving finding historic ships from Noah's Ark to the Titanic. Historic airplanes were being  found, recovered, and restored from amazingly difficult locations, including lakes, rivers, and even glacial ice.  I set out to research the Clippers in more depth and find a salvage team that I could interest in my idea.  As is often the case, great ideas often run in more than one mind,  and my searches  ran to an underwater recovery outfit  local to me in the Northwest, that had the same idea.  They were Underwater Admiralty Sciences in Kirkland, Washington.  I connected with Mark Allen, their President.  A series of communications lead to a face-to-face meeting with Mark and his team at the Museum of Flight during the summer of 2007.

Links - UAS Home Page

UAS B-314 Page

We explored their activities and ways I might help them in this endeavor of mutual interest.  I have a lot of world-wide airplane contacts, know some people who have a lot of money and also like airplanes, and have many friends still inside Boeing.  I also have a large active website that draws up to 50,000 hits per day.  I agreed to create some web content that would service as a publicity vehicle for the project.  That's this page. 

There was one more important agreement.  I stated clearly that my goal was the recovery and eventual restoration of  a complete Boeing 314 airplane.  Not to airworthy standards, perhaps, but not a cockpit section, not a wing and nacelle section, not a vertical fin.  A complete airplane.  Nothing less.  Mark Allen agreed.

UAS Directors Mark Allen, Chuck Walters,  Robert Mester with some of their high tech diving equipment

    Jeff Johnston - Aircraft Technical Advisor

Mark Allen    Robert Mester

Mark and Bob in their "business suits"

UAS has experience with difficult aircraft recoveries - including this B-17 recovered in Labrador after 57 years in a lake / river.

The B-17 story and pictures can be found here.

Underwater Admiralty Sciences is a 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization.
Location and recovery of historic aircraft lost underwater is one of their

Bob Mester, one of the founding directors of UAS has successfully run
location and video survey operations at the extreme depths that we will be
operating in to locate the Honolulu Clipper.

Some fine P.R.


 The group was interviewed by Luann Grosscup for a feature article which appeared subsequently in the Chicago Tribune

The Plan

The Plan is simple - in its description - using advanced underwater search equipment, find the wreckage of the Honolulu Clipper,  record on video what is found, and then, assuming there is enough wreckage to recover, and that funding is available (a small detail ! ), - to recover that wreckage.  If a  recovery is accomplished, and the wreckage is sparse from a restoration point of view, a similar  recovery may then be attempted on the Capetown Clipper - NC18612 - the Bermuda Sky Queen - sunk in the Atlantic - see story below.


This is an ambitious project.  It is also an expensive one.  How expensive?   Well, using a Russian research ship can cost $10,000/day  You figure it out!  If you'd like to be a part of this search for history, you can donate here.

Note:  This is NOT a Museum of Flight project (at this time.)

The Vision

A Goal cannot be achieved without a Vision.

The Vision is a completely restored Honolulu Clipper airplane sitting in the center of a large shallow circular reflecting pool, and lit by dramatic lighting.


Specifications (B-314A)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 11, including 2 cabin stewards
  • Capacity:
    • Daytime: 68 passengers
    • Nighttime: 36 passengers
  • Payload: 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) of mail and cargo
  • Length: 106 ft 0 in (32.33 m)
  • Wingspan: 152 ft 0 in (46.36 m)
  • Height: 20 ft 4 in (6.22 m)
  • Wing area: ft (m)
  • Empty weight: 48,400 lb (21,900 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 84,000 lb (38,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 Wright R-2600-3 radial engines, 1,600 hp (1,200 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 210 mph (180 knots, 340 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 188 mph (163 knots, 302 km/h) at 11,000 ft (3,400 m)
  • Range: 3,685 mi (3,201 nm, 5,896 km) normal cruise
  • Service ceiling: 19,600 ft (5,980 m)

The "Other" Clipper

Twelve were built.  Ten are Gone.  The Honolulu Clipper is off Hawaii.  Where's the Other Clipper?

The Honolulu Clipper was sunk by over 1200 rounds of gun fire.  Landing without damage in the open ocean; surviving tows and collisions, and finally requiring serious firepower to sink her, the Clipper demonstrated her ruggedness.  But, besides lying at the bottom of the ocean, that method of sinking is not exactly genteel in preserving her remains.  Assuming the airplane can be located, and raised successfully, it could well be there is not enough to form the basis for a reconstruction and restoration.  What then?

Well, there is another airplane.  The Capetown Clipper.  NC 18612.  The Honolulu Clipper was the first of the great Boeing 314 flying boats built - the Capetown Clipper was the twelfth and last.

After the War, this, and other Clippers passed from Pan Am or U.S. Government ownership to other owners.  NC18612 was acquired in a bankruptcy auction by American International Airlines in New York.  The airplane was renamed Bermuda Sky Queen and placed into passenger service on the North Atlantic in October 1947.  After ferrying to the U.K., it departed Foynes, Ireland on October 13 bound for Gander, Newfoundland with 62 passengers.

The airplane was under the command of 26 year old Capt. Charles Martin, who had a grand total of 2000 flying hours at the time, with 162 on the B-314  His co-pilot had 102 hours on the airplane.  About the half-way point, the crew determined that adverse winds precluded them from reaching their destination, and elected to land in the mid-Atlantic near  the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter George M. Bibb - operating as Ocean Station Charlie.  The high headwinds had resulted in a groundspeed of only 59 kts!

The weather was far from ideal, with a big storm blowing, and 30 foot seas running.  But the big Boeing was successfully landed without damage.  The seas were so high, it was almost impossible to transfer the occupants to the Cutter.  At one point, they collided, damaging the airplane substantially.  Many attempts were made using rafts and small boats to make the transfer.  The rescue in itself would make a thrilling book.  It took several days and many heroic trips in high winds and heavy seas, but all 69 people aboard were saved.

Bermuda Sky Queen from USCGC Bibb

Like the Honolulu Clipper, orders came to sink the airplane as a menace to navigation, and the Bermuda Sky Queen was likewise sent to the bottom.  She displayed similar ruggedness in surviving collision, high seas, and gunfire, before ultimately surrendering.


Captain Martin went on to have a long flying career with Delta Air Lines.  In August 2007, he was re-united with Mike Hall, the Gunnery Officer on the Bibb that sank his airplane.

Complete photos and story can be found here.

Complete CAB Accident Report

At the bottom of the Report,  it is noted that Capt. Martin was fined $200 for his part in the mishap.

Some thoughts on the Destruction
 of the
 Honolulu Clipper and the Capetown Clipper

I've thought a lot recently about the sinking of these two flying boats.  I have been unhappy with the military for a long time about the destruction of these two icons.  Both the San Pablo and the Bibb collided with the airplanes they were supposed to be rescuing.  To allow your vessel to approach close enough to collide with another -  an event easy to happen in a situation involving significant winds and sea conditions - seemed to me,  to be poor seamanship at best. 

Honolulu Clipper and San Pablo

The San Pablo nearly colliding with the Honolulu Clipper for the second time.  The first collision was on the starboard side, smashed in the nose, and knocked off the Nbr 4 engine, and right wingtip.  The Capt., CDR Eisenbach, a decorated naval aviator, was newly in command and lacked experience in handling the ship.  Captain Cronk on the Bibb had problems as well, but his challenges were greater, with high winds and seas, and a dangerous rescue operation to accomplish.

And then there's the matter of "Menace to Navigation."  I always thought that was a crock.  There are numerous objects - ships, buoys, icebergs adrift in the open ocean.  They are readily handled.  A Notice to Mariners is issued:

Large flying boat adrift in Eastern Pacific 650 NM east of Oahu.  Last reported position at 1300Z 9 Nov xx.xx N  yyy.yy W drifting WNW at 4 kts.  Airplane unlighted.  Salvage vessel enroute from Pearl Harbor.  ETA  1200Z  13 Nov.  Mariners exercise caution and vigilance in area of noted hazard.

While my criticism may be merited, or not, depending on one's point of view, in my old age has come a certain wisdom.  While one or both flying boats may have been salvaged or saved, what then?  Both were at the very end of their economic and serviceable lives.  If the Honolulu Clipper HAD been successfully towed back to Pearl Harbor, had new engines installed, and returned to service - what then?  Well, both airplanes would have soon joined the rest,  parked, and then scrapped.  Few airplanes of the era were saved for museums. Today, there would be none.

So, when viewed in this light, it's a good thing they were sunk, for now they remain, however fragmented, and however scattered, for us to search for, find, and hopefully recover.  Alas,  I DO wish they had been more gentle in their sinking methods.  Ramming would have been more benign, and it was something they had experience with!  Making these robust and beautiful airplanes into target practice was unforgivable.

San Pablo crew    Jeff Johnston

The surviving crewmembers of the USS San Pablo from the ’01 rescue attempt.  L to R: Ralph Mundia, Delio Perozzi, Gilbert Aguirre, Thomas Rodgers, Jerome Giles.


 A 3-part 1968 Boeing Magazine set of articles on the B-314. ( 7 Meg PDF File.)

The "Other" Other Clipper

This website section is devoted to the search for a Boeing 314 Clipper.  Twelve flying boats were built.  Ten are gone.  Two lie at the bottom of the sea.  If you want to gaze on one of these wondrous machines again, a lot of searching, recovering, and restoring lies ahead.  Right?  Well, not exactly.

You see, there IS a Boeing 314 still in existence, and you can even climb on-board and walk around in her.  Unfortunately, she's not a real airplane.  But, fortunately, some one decided to build a recreation.

If you travel to the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Ireland, the jumping off point for so many real Clipper flights over the years, you can see a great museum, and a recreated Boeing 314 Flying Boat.

Foynes, Ireland - Flying Boat Museum

Story of the Foynes B-314

Pictures of the Foynes B-314 Replica

The Last Remnants
The majestic Clippers have disappeared, with, as the song goes, "not a trace left behind."    But, that's not quite true.  There is a place to see what little is left -  the Museum of Flight in Seattle.


A wall with posters leads to a small display case


A folding 70 lb stainless steel Northill anchor (designed by Jack Northrop), and a china set from the days when the service was real.

More anchor info here.

And,.... a rudder trim tab.  The only know surviving piece of the magnificent B-314

The Story of the Picture Leading this Webpage

The Front

The Back

The Inside

From the writer's collection, this is actually a Pan Am menu.  Pan Am menus, in heavy duty art paper, had wonderful artwork on the front - usually paintings of Clipper ships - and usually  the Clipper ship bearing the name of the aircraft.  Pan Am named all their airplanes after actual Clippers, and using menus that depicted the airplane's namesake was an especially nice touch.  I collected quite a few, being a frequent flier, and framed them.  Living directly on the sea shore, the pictures fit in perfectly with my home's motif, as well as my interest in airplanes and the sea..

This particular menu depicted the B-314 NC 18605, the Dixie Clipper.  The description states it is landing at Lisbon, but it looks more like a take-off to me.  I collected this menu on board Pan Am 747-121 N742PA, Clipper Rainbow, on a flight from San Francisco to London.  It was May 27, 1987 - the 60th Anniversary of Lindbergh's flight to Paris.


Wings to the Orient: Pan American Clipper Planes, 1935-1945: A Pictorial History by Stan Cohen

Pictorial Histories Publishing Company

Stan Cohen and his Missoula based publishing company produce some of the best historical books out there.  They are all meticulously researched, well written, and contain numerous unpublished photographs.  The latter are collected from many private collections in lieu of the more common company P.R. stock.  Oh, and his books are always priced extremely reasonably and are one of the greatest values out there.

This book covers the Sikorsky, Martin, and Boeing flying boats, and has great stuff on the building of the flying boat bases and the inaugural flights.

M.D. Klaas  - Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 1997


This book is the definitive book on the B-314.  It is loaded with a treasure trove of photos and many detailed stories.  It is the product of a lot of research over a long period of time..  It's not cheap but it is a must for B-314 fans.

Unfortunately, it is a very difficult book to read.  With all due respect to Mr. Klaas, it seems to be written in pidgin English.  The syntax and the vocabulary are extraordinary bad - so bad, in fact, that I checked to see if Mr. Klaas was a native-born English speaker.  He is.  Equally unfathomable is how his Editor, who he thanks profusely, could have let this stuff pass her muster, and finally , the Publisher, who passed on all of the above, as well as a cornucopia of typos.

There are also a fair number of technical errors and contradictions, sometimes only a paragraph or page apart.  And, Mr. Klaas, seems to have little in the way of aeronautical knowledge, using nomenclature and descriptions not part of the science.

Nevertheless, Mr. Klaas is to be commended for the long and diligent research he undertook to produce this exceptional reference volume.

An excellent book with lots of color pictures.  The author has a huge personal collection.  Much better written than the Klaas book.  The author is more of a fan than an aviator and that shows in places, but all in all, a fine addition to your library.
James Trautman - 2007

Some other Books:

Flying Boats & Seaplanes; A history from 1905 by Stephane Nicolaou

The China Clipper (Those Daring Machines) by Peter Guttmacher

China Clipper: The Age of the Great Flying Boats by Robert L. Gandt

China Clipper by Ronald Jackson

Pan American's Pacific Pioneers, The Rest of the Story by Jon E. Krupnick

 Night Over Water a novel by Ken Follett

I also recommend the following book on the loss of the Martin M-130 Hawaii Clipper

Fix on the Rising Sun by Charles N. Hill


Underwater Admiralty Sciences

The B-314 Story - The Flying Clippers

Boeing 314 - Pan Am Clippers

Boeing 314 - A Short History

Boeing Clipper History by Kenneth Calkins in Columbia Magazine

Ron Olsen's Outstanding Collection of Bill Larkin's B-314 photos - a must see!

Pan Am Clipper pictures from Life Magazine


If you want a B-314 model, there are a number out there to build or buy.  You can Google B-314 model.  Or, here's a few:

    Model Kit

   A completed model from the Boeing Store

    A more expensive one


Color posters of the Honolulu Clipper like this can be obtained from numerous sources.  Just Google Honolulu Clipper.  Here's one source:

Honolulu Clipper - Art Poster


    A software package to add the B-314 to your MS Flight Simulator

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Copyright 2007-2010  by Robert A. Bogash.  All Rights Reserved


Last Revised       21 Oct 2007
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