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A new documentary film being produced for broadcast television, presenting the epochal story of how Pan American Airways first conquered the vast Pacific Ocean: Across the Pacific.

across-the-pacific-2The production recently received the exciting news that the film will be supported by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Read NEH reviewer comments. The story begins years before the actual flight in 1935...

America, 1919

In New York City, a 29-year-old Russian immigrant steps off a ship at Ellis Island. Already a legendary airplane designer in his homeland, he arrives in America filled with hope but will struggle for years to find his place in the nation's fledgling aviation industry.

 A few miles away in New Jersey, a young engineer has just gone to work for a new company called RCA. His job: to explore the commercial possibilities of an unproven technology called radio.

And an hour's drive to the north, a Yale undergraduate, flush with enthusiasm for flight, is avidly following the efforts of Navy pilots to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. A successful attempt, he writes in a student magazine, will prove that transoceanic flight is "a perfectly safe and sane commercial proposition."

It will be more than eight years before Igor Sikorsky, Hugo Leuteritz and Juan Trippe find each other. But when they finally come together, they will transform the nascent aviation industry with astonishing speed. One will pioneer the development of a revolutionary craft called the flying boat. Another will lead the world into the age of radio navigation, a technology that will be the foundation of all future flight. The third will parlay a single 90-mile airmail route into the world's largest airline. Together, they will span the oceans.

This is their story ... the story of three men who shrank the world.

Executive Summary

Across the Pacific is a two-hour documentary about one of the great milestones in aviation history: the 1935 crossing of the Pacific Ocean by a Pan American Airways flying boat known as the China Clipper. Funded in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and produced by a team of award-winning producers, writers and directors, the program will combine dramatic re-enactments, interviews with biographers and other scholars, and films and photographs drawn from the rich archival record about Pan Am and the early years of commercial aviation. The film is intended for national prime time broadcast in 2014 on PBS or cable television.

The Story

On a sparkling afternoon in November 1935, more than 20,000 people jammed onto the grounds of the Pan American Airways terminal in Alameda, California. Another 100,000 spectators lined the shores of San Francisco Bay, hoping to catch a glimpse of aviation history. And around the world, millions more listened to the live broadcast over nine radio networks reaching four continents. What riveted the attention of all those eyes and ears was the opening of Pan Am's air service to Asia in a gleaming new flying boat called the China Clipper.   

The launch of the China Clipper was one of the most-anticipated, most-listened-to events in history to that point - a forerunner of the rocket launches of the space program a quarter century later. The reason for the public fascination was that Pan Am was poised to do the unthinkable: cross the world's biggest ocean at its widest point, hopscotching across 8,700 miles of the mighty Pacific. People everywhere sensed this was a turning point in human history, for if the Pacific could be crossed there would be no place on earth that could not be reached by airplane. The world would suddenly be smaller.

But as with the space program, the real drama in this story is not in the flight itself but in the effort to reach this point. The China Clipper's maiden voyage was the culmination of eight years of explosive innovation and growth, involving hundreds of men and women, both famous and unknown. Like the NASA engineers and astronauts who would later put a man on the moon in less than a decade, these earlier aviation pioneers built new aircraft, invented new technologies and overcame innumerable obstacles. They had begun in 1927 with a single 90-mile airmail route. Now, inconceivably, they stood at the water's edge, poised to vault the Pacific. How did they do it? That is the story of Across the Pacific...

Across the Pacific ©Moreno/Lyons Productions and Pelican Films, 2012-2013

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