China Clipper – California’s Gold (906)

They were huge flying boats named after the great sailing ships that in the 1800’s sailed the oceans of the world. The luxurious Pan American”Clipper” planes of the 1930’s took cargo, mail and passengers around the world in what was, for its time, considered a daring and pioneering feat.

Pan American’s Treasure Island terminal and lagoon became the home port for the Clipper’s Pacific operations — connecting the United States with the Far East by air. Starting in the mid-1930s, and lasting for only five years, residents of the Bay Area were treated to the sights and sounds of these huge boat planes taking off and heading out over the Pacific.

History repeated itself as, once again, a boat plane landed on the Bay, taxied up to a docking area near Treasure Island, took on passengers and flew out over the city. This episode is a tribute to the “China Clipper” and its California connection.

The original Terminal building on Treasure Island is the stage where former Pan American pilots and crew members who actually flew the Clipper, gather once more for conversation and reminiscing. Huell experiences his high point when he climbs aboard one of these historic boat planes with two former crew members for a short, exciting flight around the Bay area.

The days of the Clipper are gone forever, replaced decades ago by long-range jets. But for a few hours on a beautiful spring afternoon, some of the glory days of the great Clipper ships, and the people who made those days happen, returned to Treasure Island.