comscore Bay Area museum marks 75th anniversary of first trans-Pacific commercial flight | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Bay Area museum marks 75th anniversary of first trans-Pacific commercial flight

    In this Nov. 22, 1935 file photo, a Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boat, the China Clipper, leaves San Francisco Bay for Manila carrying the first United States trans-Pacific air mail. In the background is Coit Tower and the San Francisco skyline. Historians and aviation enthusiasts are commemorating the Pan American Airways flight with events marking the 75th anniversary.

ALAMEDA, Calif. >> Historians and aviation enthusiasts today commemorated the 75th anniversary of the first commercial flight across the Pacific Ocean.

In 1935, the China Clipper seaplane took off from San Francisco Bay. Fifty-nine hours and four stops later, the Pan American Airways aircraft landed in Manila, Philippines, carrying 1,800 pounds of mail — a delivery that would have taken 15 to 16 days by steamship.

The Alameda Naval Air Museum today did a re-enactment of radio broadcasts for the flight’s bon voyage, which drew more than 25,000 spectators to Alameda at the time. San Francisco International Airport also is hosting an exhibit on the famed China Clipper, and the Alameda post office provided a special postmark for its mail.

“It was an audacious gamble and a great leap forward,” said John Hill, an assistant director at SFO and curator of the exhibit there. “Every airplane that crosses the ocean even now is flying in the wake of the China Clipper.”

The four-engine Martin M-130 narrowly got off the ground on Nov. 22, 1935. The aircraft was so heavily loaded that Capt. Edwin Musick couldn’t clear the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which was still under construction.

With thousands watching, Musick flew under the span’s cables — dodging some construction material — then gained altitude over the Golden Gate. The plane had overnight stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam before reaching its final destination.

The successful voyage sparked public excitement over the China Clipper, inspiring postage stamps, toys, souvenirs, a beer brand and a Hollywood film starring Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart. Musick also made the cover of Time magazine.

“This event occurred right in the heart of the Great Depression. To watch this big silver seaplane lift itself out of the bay and fly off to these exotic places must have been a thrill,” said Ed Schneider of the Alameda museum who directed Monday’s radio re-enactment based on the old transcripts.

A year later, Pan Am began offering passenger service on its trans-Pacific planes, and it wasn’t until 1939 that the airline would offer commercial service across the Atlantic.

The Martin seaplanes later were replaced with the Boeing B319, which could carry more passengers, and aviation advances eventually ended the era of flying boats after World War II.

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