12/30/1934: First Flight of the Martin M-130

12/30/1934: First Flight of the Martin M-130

Pan American Martin M-130 pictured high above the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum

DALLAS — Today, in 1934, the first Pan American Airways Martin M-130, an all-metal, trans-Pacific flying boat, performed its maiden flight.

The Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, designed and constructed the M-130 commercial flying boat for Pan American in 1935. Three examples of the M-130 were built: the China Clipper, the Philippine Clipper, and the Hawaii Clipper.

On November 22, 1935, the China Clipper flew the first trans-Pacific airmail route The flight was piloted by Captain Edwin C. Musick and First Officer R.O.D. Sullivan A postmark, Scott Catalog C-20, was printed for use on the Transpacific Service Two more denominations were later issued with the expanded operation, all featuring the same configuration as the M-130 in flight.

Pan American Airways Martin M-130 China Clipper (NC14716) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in the 1930s. Photo: US National Park Service gallery

Fulfilling Trans-Pacific Demands

To meet the demand for a trans-Pacific aircraft, the Martin M-130 was specifically built for Pan Am’s President Juan Trippe. This all-metal flying boat boasted streamlined aerodynamics and powerful engines capable of meeting the airline’s specified range and payload requirements. The M-130 was sold at a price of US$417,000.

In October 1936, the ‘Hawaii Clipper’ embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Manila, marking the beginning of weekly passenger flights across the Pacific Ocean. These flights included overnight stops at Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam. In 1937, the S-42 initially served the Manila-Hong Kong route, but the Martins eventually replaced it in 1938.

A similar flying boat, known as the Martin 156 or ‘Russian Clipper,’ was built with a larger wing and twin vertical stabilizers to enhance its range. In 1937, the Soviet government purchased the M-156 from Martin, intending to mass-produce the aircraft. The sale included production plans, technical specifications, and manufacturing licenses. Unfortunately, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 disrupted these plans.

By 1940, Aeroflot (SU) had put the single M-156/PS-30 into regular service. It flew along the Pacific coast in the Soviet Far East, accommodating up to 70 passengers. However, in 1944, the aircraft was ultimately decommissioned and scrapped.

Pictured at Dinner Key seaplane base, Miami, Florida. Photo: State Library and Archives of Florida.

Pan Am’s Ill-fated Clippers

Unfortunately, the Martin M-130 Clippers experienced several tragic incidents during their operational history.

In July 1938, the Hawaii Clipper vanished without a trace between Guam and Manila, resulting in the loss of nine crew members and six passengers. Despite extensive investigations, no definitive cause for the disappearance was ever determined.

In January 1943, the Philippine Clipper, while on a flight from Honolulu, crashed between Ukiah and Boonville, California. Admiral Robert H. English of ComSubPac and 18 others tragically lost their lives in the accident.

In January 1945, the China Clipper embarked on Pan Am’s inaugural scheduled flight to what is now Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The route took the aircraft from Miami through Brazil before crossing the South Atlantic Ocean. However, the last surviving M-130 did not complete the flight.

During the landing at the Port of Spain in the West Indies Islands of the British colonies of Trinidad and Tobago, the China Clipper experienced a catastrophic breakup and sank on January 8. This tragic incident claimed the lives of 23 individuals on board.

By 1945, all three Martin M-130 Clippers had encountered crashes, bringing an end to their operational history.

Featured Image: Pan American Martin M-130 pictured high above the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum. Article sources: Flying Clippers Archived, Chasing the Sun at PBS.com, The Golden Age of Aviation, Flying Clippers at War Archived.

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