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WIFE DOTTIE was sorting antiques swap meet jewelry treasures and came upon a piece of aircraft memorabilia with lots of interesting history. Her Martin M-130 crafted in sterling silver is a World War II sweetheart pin modeled after the first aircraft to carry mail across the Pacific; the one establishing regular passenger service on this route; and also one playing a prominent role in a 1936 Bogart flick.
The M-130 was designed and built by Glenn L. Martin Company exclusively for Pan American Airways. The craft, first flown on December 30, 1934, was an all-metal flying boat powered by four Pratt & Whitney 830-hp Twin Wasp engines, each containing two banks of seven radial cylinders. Its 130-ft. wing span made the M-130 one of the largest aircraft of its era.
The Sikorsky S-42 Flying Clipper, another flying boat, had a wing span of 118 ft. Like the M-130, it first flew in 1934 and was built exclusively for Pan Am.
Distinguishing features of the M-130 are its sponsons or sea wings, abbreviated float surfaces jutting out from the lower fuselage. The Sikorsky had traditional (and greater drag-inducing) floats on wing struts. Also, the M-130 had conventional tail surfaces; the Sikorsky had twin vertical stabilizer/rudders.
Three M-130s were built, the China Clipper, Philippine Clipper and Hawaii Clipper. None survived beyond WW II.
The three aircraft operated in regular passenger service across the Pacific between 1935 through WWII. As many as 48 day passengers could be accommodated. On over-night journeys, 30 passengers could be provided beds in three 10-berth sleeping compartments, one forward and two aft. There was a dining room/lounge amidships.
Alas, scheduling was compromised by the M-130’s fuel load limiting it to only eight passengers on its longest leg, 2500 miles from San Francisco to Hawaii. Subsequent island hopping included Midway, Wake and Guam on the way to Manila, Philippines.
The idea of island hopping wasn’t to achieve the shortest route. However, the great circle route, a northern one to the Far East, involved the possibilities of severe weather at the low altitudes attained by aircraft of the era.
The real China Clipper was a movie star. A 1936 film is a thinly disguised, fictional bioflick about Juan Trippe establishing his airboat service from San Francisco to China. Star Pat O’Brien plays Dave Logan, the Trippe character. Further down the cast list, Humphrey Bogart plays Hap Stuart, the wise-cracking pilot. Character actor Henry B. Waithall is “Dad” Brunn, who designs the Flying Clipper.
Dad dies of a heart attack before achieving his dream. (Indeed, an already ill Waithall actually did die during the filming.) In the story, a severe storm off the China coast threatens the project, and Dave is ready to quit. But Hap brings the flight to a successful conclusion, winning the contract.
The film was made with Pan Am’s cooperation, enhanced by actual newsreel and production footage of the M-130. Among the scenes are an M-130 takeoff and flyby of San Francisco.
In fact, drama occurred in real life: At 3:46 p.m. on November 22, 1935, the China Clipper rose from the bay on the first leg of its San Francisco/Manilla trip. Shortly after liftoff, the M-130 approached the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, under construction at the time.
Second Officer Victor Wright recalled years later, “It had been our intention to fly over the bridge, but [Captain at the controls] Musick quickly saw that with the engine cowl flaps open he wouldn’t be able to get up enough speed to clear the wires. So he nosed the Clipper down at the last moment and went under the bridge cables, threading his way through dangling construction wires. We all ducked and held our breath until we were in the clear.”
After this drama and subsequent island-hopping at Hawaii, Midway, Wake and Guam, the China Clipper successfully set down in Manila on November 29, 1935. Flight time was 59 hours 48 minutes over a distance of 8210 miles.
As noted at historynet.com, “With this one historic flight, the world became smaller; the China Clipper took 6 1/2 days to do what would take 21 days in the fastest passenger ship.”
Wife Dottie’s sterling silver counterpart celebrates all this in what was originally offered as a World War II sweetheart’s pin. She recalls that adding it to her jewelry collection cost $25, probably in the 1980s. The Flying Tiger Antiques offers one today for $95.
I’ve encouraged Wife Dottie to keep hitting the antiques swap meets. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017