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

The Martin M-130 was a commercial flying boat designed and constructed for Pan American Airways by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1935. Three company built three M-130s: the China Clipper, the Philippine Clipper, and the Hawaii Clipper. By 1945, all aircraft had crashed.

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 expanded operation. All three of them feature the same configuration as the M-130 in flight.

The Martin M-130. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive via Wiki Commons.

History of the Martin M-130


Built to fulfill the demand of Pan American World Airways’ 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 Pan Am. At US$417,000, they were sold.

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 greater 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) had 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. Aeroflot flew it until 1944, at which point it was scrapped.

Photo: A China Clipper replica on the set of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Photo: Wiki Commons

Fatal Ends for the Clippers


The Hawaii Clipper disappeared between Guam and Manila in July 1938, losing nine crew and six passengers. There was no causation 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.


Featured image: Martin 130 Clipper. Photo: Wiki Commons. Article sources: Flying Clippers Archived, Chasing the Sun at PBS.com, The Golden Age of Aviation, Flying Clippers at War Archived.