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

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

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

The M-130 was a commercial flying boat designed and constructed for Pan American by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1935. Martin built three examples: the ‘China Clipper’, the ‘Philippine Clipper’, and the ‘Hawaii Clipper’. 

The first trans-Pacific airmail route was flown on November 22, 1935, by the ‘China Clipper’, 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 three of them feature 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

History of the Martin M-130


Built to fulfill the demand of Pan Am’s President Juan Trippe for a trans-Pacific aircraft, the M-130 was an all-metal flying boat with streamlined aerodynamics and engines strong enough to satisfy the specified range and payload of the airline. They were sold at US$417,000. 

When ‘Hawaii Clipper’ left San Francisco for Manila in October 1936, weekly passenger flights across the Pacific Ocean began, stopping overnight at Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam. In 1937, the S-42 started flying the Manila-Hong Kong route, which was replaced in 1938 by the Martins.

A similar flying boat (the Martin 156), called ‘Russian Clipper,’ was built with a larger wing and twin vertical stabilizers for increased range. In 1937, the Soviet government bought the M-156 from Martin, with plans to mass-produce this plane. The sale included a collection of production plans, technical specifications, and manufacturing licenses. However, these plans were negated by the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union.

In 1940, Aeroflot (SU) put into regular service the single M-156/PS-30 and flew it along the Pacific coast in the Soviet Far East. SU designed the aircraft to carry up to 70 passengers in this role and flew it until 1944 when it was scrapped.

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

Fatal Ends for the Clipper


The Hawaii Clipper disappeared between Guam and Manila in July 1938, losing nine crew and six passengers. No cause was ever determined. On a flight from Honolulu, the Philippine Clipper crashed in January 1943 between Ukiah and Boonville, California. Admiral Robert H. English of ComSubPac and 18 others perished in the accident.

On Pan Am’s first scheduled flight to what is now Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the China Clipper left Miami in January 1945. Before crossing the South Atlantic Ocean, the route went through Brazil, but the last surviving M-130 did not complete the flight. 

During the landing at Port of Spain, on January 8, in the West Indies Islands of the British colonies of Trinidad and Tobago, China Clipper broke up and sunk, killing 23 of those on board. By 1945, all three Clippers had crashed.


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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Chief Online Editor at Airways Magazine, AVSEC interpreter, and visual artist. I am a grammar and sci-fi literature geek who loves editing text and film.

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