Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review 296: Pan American Clippers

PAN AMERICAN CLIPPERS: The Golden Age of Flying Boats, by James Trautman. 272 pages, illustrated. Boston Mills

“Pan American Clippers” is a coffee table book in the worst sense of that name. Lots of pictures, including plenty of advertisements, with an atrocious text.

James Trautman lifted a lot of it from company press releases. Too bad. It would have been an interesting story. (Some of that can be found -- with few and small pictures -- in Robert Gandt’s “China Clipper.”)

Trautman cannot even get straight how many “clippers” there were: 28, according to his list of frame numbers. That’s a very small number, but since Trautman is concerned only with America and Pan American, he doesn’t count other, similar planes.

So it is not true that Pan Am pioneered almost everything about long-distance air travel. Imperial Airways was running planes between England and Australia when Pan Am was just tentatively expanding beyond its Key West-Havana short hop.

Nevertheless, when Trautman dumped his notebooks into the word processor, a few curious items survived. One was a speech by designer Igor Sikorsky praising the S-42, the first big American seaplane.

Some had said that big planes were impractical. Sikorsky correctly disagreed, but his vision of the future was as far off base as most such predictions:

“Passenger comforts would increase with the size of the ship. In a seaplane of 100,000 pounds or more, it would be possible to have the individual cabins, dining rooms, smoking rooms, etcetera, entirely comparable in comfort and luxury to those of a modern ocean liner. . . .  Greater cruising speeds (than 200 miles an hour) are possible, but the size of the earth does not warrant greater speeds.

“The progress of air transportation will benefit more if designers will give more attention to increased passenger comfort and ways and means to lower transportation costs rather than greater speed.”

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