MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Pan American World Airways became the first commercial airline to complete a flight around the world in 1942.

Operated by a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat known as California Clipper (NC-18602), the epic journey began on December 2, 1941. The Clipper departed from the airline’s Treasure Island base in San Francisco on a transpacific crossing bound for Auckland, New Zealand. 

Five days later, while the flying boat was moored in Auckland, the Japanese attacked the US Naval fleet in Pearl Harbour. All of Pan Am’s outstations across the Pacific were impacted. This meant the aircraft and its crew, led by Captain Robert Ford, was stranded. 

But California Clipper was needed to help with the war effort. A week later, Ford was informed by Pan Am HQ that he was to fly westbound and return the aircraft to the Marine Terminal, La Guardia Field, New York. 

California Clipper moored up waiting its next load of passengers. (Photo: Auckland Museum, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

An Epic Journey


However, they were on their own. They would have to source fuel and supplies for themselves on the 20,000 mile (32,000 km) journey. This saw the aircraft route across Australia, Indonesia, India, the Middle East and Africa. It then crossed the Atlantic, stopping in Trinidad and Tobago before arriving in New York on January 6.

After its arrival, Pan Am renamed the aircraft Pacific Clipper for publicity purposes. It was then handed over to the US Navy for the remainder of the war. The Clipper was then sold to Universal Airlines before being damaged in a storm and salvaged for spare parts. 

Pan Am would go on to start the world’s first scheduled round-the-world flights in June 1947. They would later be operated by the carriers Boeing 707s and 747s. (Photo: Kambui, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Featured image: NC-18602 was the Boeing 314 ‘Clipper’ Flying Boat that operated the world’s first-round-the-world flight. (Photo: Auckland Museum, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)