The Boeing 314 Flying Boat


The Boeing 314 Flying Boat also known as the Boeing Clipper was built by Boeing Airplane Company from 1938-1941. It was used by two airlines and later the United States Navy (USN) for long range flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

There were only 12 built,  these going to Pan American Airways. Pan Am sold three Clippers to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The nine Flying Boats at Pan Am were later transferred to United States Navy (USN).

The Boeing 314 was a marvelous aircraft of its day but had a short life span as it was retired in 1946.

Design and Development

Pan American Airways requested of the Boeing Airplane Company to build a flying boat with long range to augment it’s Martin 130 it was currently using across the Pacific Ocean. On 21 July 1936, Pan Am signed a contract with Boeing for 6 Boeing 314 Flying Boats.

The Boeing engineers used the wing from a XB-15 that had been canceled by the United States Army Air Corp.and outfitted the new design with the Wright R-2600-3 Twin Cyclone radial engines rated at 1,600 hp. Soon Pan Am ordered 6 more 314s for a total of 12 Clippers. The last 6 had a capacity of 77 daytime passengers and 36 nighttime passengers.

The first flight was on 07 June 1938 by Edmund “Eddie” Allen (who later flew the first Boeing B-29).    Allen noted that the 314 was nearly uncontrollable with just the single tail fin (no wind tunnel in those days for an aircraft that large).

The Clipper was re-worked with a triple tail soon to be an identifying sign of the Boeing 314 clipper. The new tail proved to be very effective in solving the control problem and the 314 was released to Pan Am.

  • Some interesting features of the aircraft and travel policies and costs. were:
  • Maximum baggage per passenger was 77 lbs free and excessive wright charge of USD$2.25 per pound.
  • Cost per passenger from San Francisco-Hong Kong (USD) $675 ow/$1,368 rt.
  • The 77 daytime seats were converted into 36 bunk beds for nighttime use as the flight from San Francisco-Honolulu was 19 hours.(A bit of a mystery as to what happened to the 41 daytime passengers when the seats were turned into night bunk bunk beds??)
  • There was a Dining Room and Lounge with Galley for meals, as the Chiefs and Stewards were of 4-Star quality.
  • The meal consisted of 5-6 course meals. this was not your standard “economy” travel as it is today.
  • A mens’ and women s’ dressing room.
  • Operational statistics:
  • Fuel-4,,246 U.S. gallons of gasoline.
  • Oil-300 U.S. gallons per engine.
  • Normal Cruise Speed-188mph; 155 mph at maximum weight.

The standard of luxury in this form of air travel has rarely been matched. A fare of $675 was way beyond the average travelers’ budget. This form of travel was for the Super Rich only in the late 1930s as the world was just coming out of the “Great Depression”.

Operational History

On 23 February 1939, the first scheduled Boeing 314 Flying Boat flight left San Francisco for Honolulu. This leg #1 took about 19 hours. Granted,  you did have all the comforts of home, bed, dining room, changing room and 4 star hotel meals, but it was a long flight.

The Next leg was from Honolulu to Midway Island which was a lot shorter of a flight than the previous day which  about 8 hours. The night was spent on Midway

The next day leg #3 was from Midway Island to Wake Island about another 10 hours. Again the night was spent on Wake Island.

Then leg #4 was from Wake Island to Guam, this flight was around 10 hours and the traveler again overnighted on Guam.

The fifth leg was from Guam to Manila, Philippines which took about 81 hours.

The final day on the Clipper was from Manila to Hong Kong and later an optional flight from Manila to Shanghai..

Another schedule option was the termination of the Pan Am flight in Manila.

Regardless of your destination in the Orient, it  took 5-6 days to reach it.

On 07/08 December 1941 (depending where they were on the globe) some of the Pan Am Clippers were in the midst of hostile activities.  The Pacific Clipper was enroute to Auckland, New Zealand from Noumea, New Caledonia .  Auckland was the termination of the Pacific Clipper’s schedule.

When the news of the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese, Captain Robert Ford the Commander of the Pacific Clipper made the decision that it would be too dangerous to return to San Francisco via the route they had just taken.  Instead he planned to fly West to LaGuardia, New York, the main base for Pan Am Flying Boats.

This westward trip was to cover over 31,500 miles through through unscheduled places as

  • Gladstone and Darwin Australia
  • Surabaya Java
  • Trincomalee Ceylon
  • Karachi British India
  • Bahrain
  • Khartoum Sudan
  • Leopoldville
  • Belgian Congo
  • Natal Brazil
  • Port of Spain Trinidad Tobago
  • La Guardia New York arriving 06 January 1942.

A less dramatic episode was with the Philippine Clipper Which was traveling from San francisco to Manila Philippines.  It had spent the night on Wake Island and was headed to Guam, Marianas the next morning that is on 08 December 1941.

The Philippine Clipper took off around 0900 hrs heading West and about 1 1/2-2 hrs into the flight they saw squadrons of Japanese “Bettys” (2 engine bombers) heading for Wake Island.  The Clipper turned around went back to Wake.

The Japanese bomber force (with Zeros-fighter aircraft) seemed to ignore the Clipper as it loaded up Pan Am personnel and as much equipment they could carry.

They took off after a Zero strafed them, causing minor damage and headed  for Midway Island.  The next day they continued on to Honolulu and finally on to San Francisco.

The Boeing 314 was becoming obsolete as large 4 engine aircraft like the DC-4 (C-54) and Lockheed Constellation were faster,  carry bigger loads.

During the early years of the war, the Clippers were transferred to the USN until the end of hostilities and taken out of service around 1946.The remaining Clippers  eventually scrapped in the early 1950s.

The Boeing 314 epitaph was given by one of the most experienced Boeing 314 Flying Boat pilots who said:

“We were indeed glad to change to Dc-4s and I argued daily for eliminating all flying boats.  The landplanes were much safer.  No one in the operations department had any idea of the hazards of flying boat operations.  The main problem now was lack of very high level experience and competence required of seaplane pilots”

Where you can see the Boeing 314 Clipper

Regretfully, none of the 12 Boeing Flying  Boats built between 1939-1941 survived beyond 1951.  Most were sold for scrap., some were sunk.

But the memory of these wonderful flying machines will last in our hearts through photos and the exciting stories of travel in the age of the Flying Boats.

The words  China Clipper and the Honolulu Clipper will stir our minds and hearts toward thoughts of grand adventure even while sitting in our favorite easy chair at home.

Tech Specs for the Boeing 314 Clipper

Wingspan: 152 ft 46 in

Length: 106 ft 0 in

Height: 20 ft 5 in

Weight: 48,400 lbs (empty) ;84,000 (loaded)

Max Speed: 210 mph

Cruise Speed: 188 mph

Ceiling: 19,600 ft

Range: 3,685 mi)

Engine: 4/Wright R-2600-3 twin row radial engine w/Three Bladed                                  Propeller rated at 1,600 HP

Crew: 11

Passengers: 74 daytime; 36 nighttime (may vary depending on aircraft)


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