The story of this beautiful airplane started on the dining room table of Boeing engineer, Wellwood Beall. Inspired by the giant wing of the XB-15, and after returning on a slow boat from China, he dreamed of the great flying boat.
Almost two years later in June 1939, regular passenger service began with services of a luxury hotel. The beautiful giant could accommodate 10 crew and 74 passengers. The interior included a separate honeymoon suite known as the “Deluxe Compartment,” with fully set dining room tables, a bar, a full-service galley, and passenger compartments with plush chairs, sleeping berths and vanities. Imagine all that on today’s airlines!😉
Captain Bill Nash, one of the early Pan Am pilots recalled, “Passengers enjoyed delicious meals that were prepared onboard and served in a 14-place dining room with black walnut tables in a silver and blue décor. The food was elegantly served in courses by stewards in white jackets, on pale blue table cloths with matching monogrammed napkins and china. Wine was always served and dinner was topped off with fancy desserts, fruits and cheeses, and a cordial of crème de menthe. Sometimes there was a captain’s table. After dinner, the dining room was converted into a lounge where some passengers chose to relax while others went to their cabins to sleep.”
Unlike the airliners of today, with only a captain and first officer, the B-314 was crewed more like a small cruise ship. The 14 member crew, “consisted of a captain, first officer, second officer, third officer, fourth officer, first and second flight engineers and one Morse Code radio-operator plus varying number of flight personnel. Four or more male stewards were aboard, depending on the aircraft configuration. The work on board was considered too strenuous for female Flight Attendants. Hefty, large-capacity life rafts had to be handled and there were ponderous bunks to be prepared for sleeping.”
While the passengers enjoyed relative luxury, the crewmembers rotated into rest every four hours. Since the average trip was 11-12 hours, taking a break in the crew bunks was a must. The only problem with a nap, was noise. Captain Nash later recalled, “the props turned at 1,600 RPM and they vibrated violently. Consequently, it took some time to fall asleep.”
While modern day airliners have pressurized cabins and fly between 30,000 ft and 38,000 ft, the B-314 didn’t quite meet those specifications. A former pilot remembers flying “no higher than 8,000 ft to keep oxygen for the passengers in the cabin. Sometimes he flew as low as 1,000 ft.”
Davies, Alex. “Navigating Planes Across The Ocean Used To Involve Looking At Stars And Throwing Aluminum Overboard.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 28 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.
As for navigation, there certainly was no GPS. Pilots navigated by the stars using an octant. You’re probably asking, “octa what?” 🤔Sounds like we’re talking about Christopher Columbus.
A crewmember would look through a glass hatch to acquire their position celestially. Captain Nash referred to this action as, “shoot stars.” If it was cloudy, they would attempt to navigate by any star they could see.
In the daylight, the crew “could see wind streaks on the surface of the sea, shiny lines running 90 degrees to the waves.” If cloudy, they “would navigate by dead-reckoning, using the wind.” They would also compare their position to passing ships. It was no easy task to keep these big birds on the right track.
Despite all the risk and lack of technology, do you think these early aviation pioneers would do it again?
According to Captain Nash, “To me, experiencing this phase of early commercial aviation was one of the best times of my life. Having had the opportunity to be part of a Boeing 314 crew was an outstanding adventure for a young man, and I still recall it well at age 94, and thrill to the memories of that great aircraft and the exciting era of world history, all made possible by my years with Pan Am.”
Captain Gerry Mahan gave a second thumbs up and recalled, “It was a magnificent life. If I had to do it all again, I’d do it the same way.”
“The Boeing 314 Pictorial History @ Flyingclippers.com.” The Boeing 314 Pictorial History @ Flyingclippers.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.
“”The Pan Am Series – Part Two: The Boeing 314 Flying Boat“.” “The Pan Am Series – Part Two: The Boeing 314 Flying Boat”. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.