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A video tribute to Pan American World Airways


To mark the anniversary of Pan Am’s cessation of operations on Dec. 4, 1991, we thought it fitting to mark the event with a short homage to some of the ways that the iconic airline will be remembered.

We created “Six Decades of Soaring” using just a handful of the many original archival resources in our collection, along with some contemporary music, to provide viewers with a powerful, if rapid, sense of just how far and fast Pan Am had come from its beginnings to reach its crowning achievements by the time it left the scene.

The format precluded much more than brief allusions to the mileposts we chose to feature, but we drew on both visual and aural references that we think will provide something of a revealing bit of those times and events.


Film Clips Featuring Voices and Aircraft of Pan Am (PAHF Film Archive)

The Early Years

The Fokker F-10 leads off, with the voice of Walt Smith, who noted that the passenger load was affected by “the size of the passengers!”  Frank Foster was terse in his praise of the Sikorsky S-38, but he described it as “rugged,” which given its usual work in rough use on routes in pre-WWII South and Central America was a definite requirement!

Don Wolter knew the “good old Commodore” as he called it. He still remembered just how much gas and oil the “real sturdy flying boat” carried. He noted that Commodores served in Pan Am’s fleet for fourteen years!

C.E. Lindstrom’s remarks about the Sikorsky S-40 still seemed to reflect his awe at the great leap forward in Pan Am’s potential represented the first so-named “Clipper” represented. With the load and range made possible by the S-40, Pan Am had cleared a hurdle and would never look back. It seemed fitting too to include the sound of then-First Lady Mrs. Lou Hoover christening the huge new American Clipper.

The segue into the S-42 uses some bits from a promotional video made to highlight the delights of the “giant flying boat.” The Sikorsky represented Pan Am’s first step towards true transoceanic route potential, and proved that through both oceanic surveys as well as its use on runs to Bermuda and as a shuttle aircraft between Manila and Hong Kong.

The voices of both Pan Am Founder Juan Trippe, who sent the Martin M-130 “China Clipper” off on its inaugural flight across the Pacific in 1935, as well as that of Captain Bob Howard, who flew the Martins as a young flight officer, accompany the film footage. The archival motion picture material came to the PAHF with the donation of rare 35mm film by the family of the original cinematographer Robert E. Fulton Jr., who worked for Pan Am documenting much of the important work being done by Pan American in the 1930s. 

And it was Fulton’s footage too that found its way into another promotional film which documented much of Panagra’s South American routes, which is seen the following clip about a flight across the Andes in a Douglas DC-2.


Pan Am Pre-War

The iconic Boeing B-314, seen in very rare personal movie footage showing the departure of the “Dixie Clipper” from La Guardia around 1941 follows next. The restored 16mm color film was donated by the family of Captain Mike Flynn, which was saved, restored and transferred to ultra-high definition video standards by the PAHF in collaboration with one of the premier archival labs in the US. The voices heard are from a CBS radio broadcast made from another Clipper departure by veteran newsman Bob Trout.

The following section pays tribute to Pan Am WWII veterans of both Pan Am Africa and CNAC. The first clips show both some remarkable (and still breath-taking) color footage of air-to-air shots of a C-47 seen at very close range somewhere over Africa, along with some unusual p.o.v. (point-of- view) material from a low-ish altitude of the ground below The CNAC material was drawn from the famous film “Clippers at War,” now part of the PAHF film library and also now newly transferred to a new ultra-high definition video file. The short audio clip was from legendary CNAC “Hump” pilot Capt. Pete Goutiere, who matter-of-factly stated that he was officially credited with an astounding 680 trips across the dangerous route in an interview done for the PAHF in 2015.


Post War Expansion

With the coming of peace, Pan American launched into a new era of expansion around the globe. The first clips in this section of the video highlight the workhorse Douglas DC-4, which did yeoman duty on global routes, before it was prefaced by newer, faster, and pressurized prop liners. We chose to highlight just one of these, the Boeing B-377 “Stratocruiser,” which in many ways symbolizes that era. The audio came from promotional films made by Pan Am, which the company began to produce copiously to encourage a new generation of world travelers.

The inevitable transition to the Jet Age follows. It seemed that the Boeing B-707 (which actually was a series of evolving aircraft models) was the natural choice to highlight, both with material from two promotional films, as well some rarely seen air-to-air beauty shots from the PAHF film library.

Finally we come to the crowning achievement: the Boeing 747 - the “Queen of the Skies.” The footage is also drawn from PAHF film library material, both a promotional film as well as more “b-roll” shots. The voice heard is that of Pan Am engineer Robert Blake, who was part of the team that helped shape the aircraft as it came to be actualized. Bob recalled how amazed he was when he first saw the prototyped mock-up of the huge plane in Boeing’s new factory at Everett WA. He also admitted, in the final byte of the video that the 747 was his favorite airplane - and he knew a lot about airplanes!


More to Come!

We didn’t have the time or space to accommodate a great many aircraft types that could have equally been justifiable inclusions in “Six Decades of Soaring,” and hope no one will come away feeling that the video fell short. But after all, Pan Am, in its 64 years of operation, was too big and influential, too impressive and diverse, to be encapsulated in any one video. So we will keep it up with more in the future.