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Pan American Clippers: The Golden Age of Flying Boats by James Trautman, Boston Mills Press, 2007, $49.95.

The story of Pan American Airways and the magnificent flying boats that marked the beginning of international air travel has been told many times, but not with the illustrative detail that James Trautman now brings us. He captures not only the adventure experienced by the privileged few who could afford passage, but also the spirit of Juan Terry Trippe, the man with the vision to foresee what was possible with seagoing aircraft and the business acumen to bridge international political barriers.

But this is a book mostly about the wondrous Pan Am flying boats known as Clippers: the Sikorsky S-40 and S-42, the Martin 130 and the Boeing 314. It chronicles what it took to encourage their design and manufacture, as well as pioneer the daunting oceanic routes and deal with the vagaries of weather. Additional problems included the unpredictable effects of continual operation on equipment, considering the mechanical frailties inherent in aircraft and ships.

What will be obvious to anyone who picks up Pan American Clippers is the far-reaching search that Trautman has conducted to assemble the 300 illustrations, photos, drawings and posters that complement the text. It is sad that none of Pan Am’s original seagoing Clippers survived, but Trautman’s fascinating factual review should be the book everyone reaches for whenever questions about them arise.


Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here