The PanAm Clipper Arrives in Manila


1935 proved to be quite a historic year for the Philippines.

In 1935, the Philippines approached a significant milestone towards independence as it transitioned from the Insular Government as part of a U.S. territory to the Commonwealth of the Philippines, as enacted by the Tydings – McDuffie act of 1934. The act mandated U.S. recognition of independence of the Philippine Islands as a separate and self-governing nation after a ten-year transition period.

Signing the Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth - March 23, 1935

Signing the Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth – March 23, 1935

In September of that year, presidential elections were held and Manuel L. Quezon was proclaimed President. The new Commonwealth government was inaugurated on the morning of November 15, 1935. Ceremonies were held on the steps of the Legislative Building in Manila. The event was attended by a crowd of around 300,000 people. Interesting note regarding the photo below. The Philippine Normal College is directly behind the Legislative Building and the Manila City Hall wasn’t built until 1939.

Commonwealth Inauguration Ceremony-1935

Inauguration Ceremonies - 1935

President Manuel Quezon swearing in ceremony-1935.

President Manuel Quezon swearing in ceremony-1935.

Okay, so that was a pretty big deal. The Philippines had been under Spanish rule for 400 years and then as an American colony for another 35 years and was now on the brink of getting its independence. But, another event that year would promote the Philippines onto the world platform with the inaugural transpacific flight of the Pan American Airways Clipper.

PanAm early-route-ad-small1935 marked Pan Am’s inauguration of pan-Pacific flight operations and Sikorsky S-42b’s became their first “Clippers”, sporting spacious interiors and 4 powerful, ocean-crossing engines. But it was the more powerful, streamlined Martin 130’s and later, the Boeing 314’s that are most long remembered as the “Pan Am Clippers” of adventure and romance. These were the Clippers of lore that captured the imagination through radio shows and even movies of that era.

The China Clipper (NC14716) was the first of three Martin M-130 four-engine flying boats built for Pan American Airways and was used to inaugurate the first commercial transpacific air service from San Francisco to Manila in November, 1935. Built at a cost of $417,000 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, MD., it was delivered to Pan Am on October 9, 1935. Equipped with gigantic pontoons, the clippers were actually flying boats of a sort, in the loosest of terms. Because runways were so rare and expensive in the 1930′s, many of Pan Am’s extensive routes operated from the biggest runway in the world: the ocean.

PanAm's China Clipper

PanAm’s China Clipper

The Pan American Airways flight that took off on Nov. 22, 1935, was the first regularly scheduled flight across the oceans of the world. It was hailed as the beginning of “a giant new age,” and the Martin 130 seaplane named China Clipper was called “the greatest airplane ever built in America.” PanAm Clipper-Flight Log

On November 29th after 59 hours and 48 minutes of flying time, the China Clipper reached Manila, traveling via Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam, establishing trans-pacific airmail service and delivered over 110,000 pieces of mail.

Capt Edwin Musick

Capt Edwin Musick

Fred Noonan

Fred Noonan

The crew for this flight included Edwin C. Musick as Pilot and Fred Noonan as Navigator. The inauguration of ocean airmail service and commercial air flight across the Pacific was a significant event for both Manila and the world. Fred Noonan’s career would later end up tragically as Amelia Earhart’s navigator on their doomed world flight in June 1937.

Capt. Musick at the controls.

Above: Captain Ed Musick at the controls of the PAA M-130. Behind the co-pilot is the radio operator position. Above them was a large hatch, which was open after landing.

Pan Am China Clipper

Another hatch was opened out on the nose where the mooring lines were tied. The flight engineer, who monitored the four Pratt & Whitney 14 cylinder radial engines, had a totally separate compartment back where the wings joined. Passengers boarded from a large top hatch near the tail of the M-130. There were only water landings and take-offs. It was truly a flying boat.

PanAm Clipper-NC14714 deplaning at Honolulu

“Cast Off!” Like a stone skipped by a giant hand, the China Clipper last week skittered in long hops across the Pacific. Biggest hop was the 2,400 miles to Honolulu, accomplished in the slow time of 21 hours because of head winds and the heavy load. So full of philatelic mail was the huge plane that her fittings had to be stripped and two crew members left behind to make room for 115,000 letters.First day cover

 At Honolulu some of this cargo was distributed during the night’s halt. More was added in the shape of mail, ice-cream, Thanksgiving dinners, odds & ends, and 14 Pan American employees to be carried to Midway and Wake. Off at dawn, the Clipper, loaded almost to capacity, flew on to Midway, landed within one minute of schedule in time for fishing, baseball in the afternoon. Next day, the ship lost a day by crossing the International Date Line to Wake for another night’s layover before heading for Guam. Thus rested, the crew remained fresh as the long trip progressed.” Source: Time Magazine issue: Dec 2, 1935

The inaugural flight went routinely as far as Guam, but then there was great consternation in Manila. If it continued the next day to Manila, it would arrive a day before all the festivities were planned. Somebody had completely overlooked the International Date Line ! The flight was detained in Guam to allow the arrival in time for the celebration.

As the rugged hills of the Philippines came to view, the China Clipper’s crew, up to then, too preoccupied with the innumerable tasks of the job, began to realize the significance of this achievement in American aviation.  They were pleased that America’s air service, American aircraft and American personnel should be the first to accomplish scheduled air transport service over the world’s greatest ocean.

At 3:32 p.m. (Manila time), the China Clipper came to a landing in Manila Harbor greeted by the cheering crowd of thousands—on schedule, 59 hours and 48 minutes of flying time since leaving California.PanAm Clipper landing on Manila Bay-logo

When the Clipper first appeared over Manila “like an enormous bird” that day in November, 1934, people ran out of their homes to watch it. At the Manila Hotel, guests ran out into the gardens to gape as the plane circled the hotel itself, before swooping down into the bay with a shuddering splash of white water; then propelled itself with its engines up to the pontoon float which had been prepared for it at Cavite. The Manila Hotel, Beth Day Romulo

From the diary of Gov.Gen F.B. Harrison: “Arrival at 3:30 p.m. of the China Clipper –the first commercial airplane on the United States-China service. Like a great silver bird. Tremendous excitement –women rather hysterical. Perfect landing of the big plane in the harbor. Simultaneous arrival of the French Admiral on his ship. Everyone mistook the salutes for the Admiral as being a tribute to the plane! ”

Clifton Forster, a young teenager at the time, related that the Clipper had to make several passes around the bay as there was so many boats crowded around the landing area that Capt. Musick feared he would swamp the smaller boats.”

PanAm Clipper lands-Nov1935-NASM-logo

One of my readers, David Record, kindly submitted the photographs below that his great-uncle, S. Davis Winship took that memorable day. Mr. Winship was a prominent businessman in Manila who later purchased the first round-the-world air ticket in 1937 at the then astronomical cost of $2308.88.

S. Davis Winship at Cavite dock with Clipper-1939 (courtesy of D. Record)

S. Davis Winship at Cavite dock with Clipper-1939 (courtesy of D. Record)


During our production of our documentary “Victims of Circumstance” , I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Catherine Cotterman Hoskins, whose family settled in Manila in 1900. We talked about her family’s history in Manila as well as her dad, Leo Cotterman’s role as one of the city’s influential business leader and their eventual internment by the Japanese at the University of Santo Tomas. Unfortunately Catherine has since passed but she also entertained us with stories of old Manila during the pre-war days. Here’s her recollection of that memorable day when the Clipper flew onto Manila Bay.

Ms. Catherine Cotterman Hoskins

Ms. Catherine Cotterman Hoskins

“There would be “Musick” in the air that November afternoon in 1935, and thousands of people had gathered on the Luneta and surrounding roof gardens overlooking Manila Bay to watch and hear it happen. My family and I were atop the University Club Building keeping an eye on the time and listening for the first sounds. Then, suddenly there was an unfamiliar steady humming of engines as a beautiful, silver bodied, 25-ton aircraft appeared out of a puffy white cloud! The crowd roared with cheers and screams as everyone witnessed the arrival of the very first airplane to bridge the waters of the Pacific Ocean–8,000 miles from Alameda, California to Manila, Philippines! The China Clipper of Pan American Airways made history that day, and the skipper was a man named E.C. Musick.

I was a 14-year-old kid at that magical moment and I remember telling myself that someday I would be onboard a Clipper flying high in the sky. I did not know when or why or how my dream would happen–but it did come to pass.”

In 1936, the Clipper began carrying passengers. The service was first class and legendary, with fine food served on fine china. A one-way ticket to Manila, including overnight stays at Pan Am hotels in Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam, cost $950 -the equivalent of $14,650 in current dollars.

Catherine’s dream came true as she took the Clipper on a return flight to Manila from the United States departing from Alameda, CA. in 1940. She describes the flight back.

 “In 1935, Pan American’s contract with the U.S. Government was to fly the U.S. mail. Passengers were not included. Mail was the number one priority–then cargo, followed by passengers in 1936. Weight was the chief concern. Everything and everyone had to be weighed before boarding the Clipper. If there was a question of over weight, passengers faced the possibility of being excluded from that flight.

Martin Clipper at Alameda awaits boarding passengers

“The time had come to walk down the ramp and climb aboard the Martin M-130 named the Philippine Clipper. First, the Crew made the walk, then the Steward came back and escorted the five passengers into the plane. There was a huge crowd of people watching us and hollering words of farewell and good luck!”

PanAm Clipper-M-130 interior

“We settled into our seats looking around at our home-in-the-sky for five days while Island hopping from Honolulu to Midway to Wake, Guam and Manila–our final destination. All Pan American Clippers were “Flying boats” with pontoons for water landings and take-offs–especially required by the founder, Juan Trippe.

It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The engines started up, the people outside were cheering and those of us inside were praying a little, I’m sure. Chuck (her cousin, Charles Butler) and I looked at each other, smiled and crossed our fingers. Then the thrill of our adventure began in full as the Clipper taxied out under the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, turned around, started the take-off skimming along the water–giving us that indescribable feeling of acceleration–and there we were, up in the sky and flying over that beautiful Golden Gate Bridge on our way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii!”

PanAm Clipper-M-130 interior

“The lounge, which is where the passengers spent most of their time in flight, was very comfortable. We all introduced ourselves and by dinnertime we had become very friendly and chatty. Meals aboard the clipper were absolutely fantastic and food was always available on the buffet. Smoking was not allowed anywhere in the airplane. There were double-decker berths in the area between the lounge and the lavatory–which was located near the tail.” 

PanAm Clippers diners

Pan Clipper-interiorPan Clipper-berths

When the berths were made up for the night, the Steward assigned each of us to our own. By this time we had become acquainted with the officers in the crew. They were all personable and delightful men. Captain Turner made us feel safe and secure 10,000 feet up in the heavens. It was easy to fall asleep that night, but, around midnight, I woke up feeling quite cold. The curtains parted and I heard the Steward explaining that the Captain had to climb to 12,000 feet to get over a rain storm and that it would be cold for a while. He covered me with a couple of lovely, warm blankets and I was off to dreamland once more.”

In 1935, Douglas Willard was hired by Pan American Airways for a plum job in the Traffic Department on Treasure Island (San Francisco, CA.), handling Clipper flights to the Orient. “It really was a terrific, exciting job for a kid like me. After all, this was the beginning of a new era in air travel. I was hired by Jack Harchow, head of Personnel, who later on promoted me to Reservation Control for $125 bucks a month,” said Willard. “Then, three years later, I was transferred to Manila. They sent me by Matson Lines to Honolulu, and from there I flew on the China Clipper. What an experience that was.”Doug Willard in Manila

He worked for Pan American as a ticket agent and representative from his office within the Manila Hotel for the next three years. Doug did everything from issue tickets to helping with the baggage. A launch would take the passengers from the dock out to the awaiting Clipper in Manila Bay.

PanAm Clipper - Manila Hotel is in the background.




After WWII started, everything was put on hold until after the war. “It was a good thing there wasn’t a single Clipper in Manila on December 8, 1941,” continued Doug. “There wouldn’t have been anything left of the plane when the Japanese bombed Manila.” Doug Willard, along with over 4000 Americans, spent the next three years interned at Santo Tomas. (update: see comments below noting that there was another Clipper docked in Manila Bay at the onset of the war.)

PanAm Clipper over Nielsen Field-1939

In the photo above, the Clipper heads south, passing over the old Manila Polo Club field. Nielsen Field is in the background.

Few know that the seawall that forms a basin where Manila Yacht Club is now located was initially built by the Americans as a place where they could anchor their seaplanes called the China Sea Clippers. However, the United States Federal Aviation disapproved the design and the declared the basin unsafe for anchorage as the breakwater was not high enough to arrest the strong current and the area too exposed to the typhoon winds that seasonally blow into Manila. Manila Yacht Club seized the opportunity to seek permission to use it and soon after an airy two-story clubhouse was built on the site. Source:


I recall flying with my parents in the Fifties. It was quite the dressy affair then. People would get decked out in their fine clothes; both men and women would wear suits. It was very uncomfortable as flights then were extremely long. It took several days to fly from Manila to Seattle. One one occasion, my mom and I flew to HongKong on a Boeing B-377 “Strato”Clipper that was fondly called “the pregnant guppy”. As a seven year old, I had a marvelous time running up and down the stairs from the passenger seat level to the lounge below. That is, until the lovely stewardess put a stop to that.

PanAm Clipper-Pregnant Guppy

And lastly, I’d like to offer this photo of me. I was probably 5 or 6 on another flight to somewhere (my mom loved to travel) with my new set of Pan Am Wings and official Junior Captain’s hat ! (photo taken in Hong Kong)

Lou by PanAm plane-1950

From the 1920’s until it ceased operations on December 4, 1991, Pan American Airlines symbolized all that was luxurious in air travel. Elite fliers packed some of the first commercial use jumbo jets and were treated to delicious rounds of meals served by bright and beautiful girls in couture uniforms. Celebrities, businessmen and “Rainbow Class” alike jetted-off to far-flung vacation spots across the globe on this mega airline, the US’s first International carrier. But government de-regulations and stiff competition, among other reasons, caused the demise of this once great airline. We traded in free martinis, white linen, leg room and tea service for $7 beer, $5 nuts and $30 checked bags. Alas, today’s kids will never experience the thrill of being granted souvenir wings or junior captain’s hats.

Here’s a recommendation of a wonderful BBC-produced documentary about Pan Am although I must warn you that it’s about an hour long.

Please feel free to browse through the archives for articles I’ve written in the past. I continue to add and update my posts with photos and comments as they come in. You can access them by the menu on the right hand side of this blog under: Archives: Previous Posts

Thank you again for all of your wonderful comments and emails. I’m thrilled that so many of you have enjoyed reminiscing about our wonderful heritage of Manila.


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