Martin Sea Planes

The China Clipper over the partially complete Golden Gate Bridge.

The year was 1935. The China Clipper was about to make transoceanic passenger service a reality. The flight, from San Francisco to Manilla, took six days, with a flying time of 60 hours. There were overnight stopovers in Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, and Guam. Holy cow. Six days! Still, direct passenger service from California to Hawaii in one day was a stunning achievement in 1935. The first nine passengers paid $1,438.20 for a round trip from San Francisco to Manila. That would be about $10,000 per ticket today. When it arrived in Pearl Harbor, 3,000 people showed up to watch it land on the waves and cruise in to port. It was a major event.

The Phillipine Clipper arriving in Hong Kong, 1936.

Martin only built three Model M130’s: the original China Clipper, the Hawaii Clipper, and the Phillipine Clipper. All were purchased by Pan Am. Other ‘Clippers’ were built later by Boeing and Sikorsky Aircraft. All of the original aircraft eventually crashed. The longest survivor, the China Clipper, saw service during the war ferrying uranium ore from the Belgian Congo for the Manhattan Project. It crashed in 1945 off Trinidad when it struck an unlit boat during a night landing. It had flown three million miles in ten years of service and had ushered in both the atomic age and a new age of transportation. Not bad for one plane.

Martin P6M SeaMaster

Did you know the Glen L. Martin company developed a jet powered seaplane for the US Navy? Amazed? I first saw photos of this plane in a conference room at Lockheed-Martin. ‘What the hell is that?’, I wondered. I had no idea a jet powered sea plane had ever been attempted. Martin’s not only attempted it, they succeeded. The SeaMaster was to be the US Navy’s jealous response to the the USAF’s emerging predominance in the nuclear-strategic 1950’s. And while it met all the Navy’s specs, it was never put into production. It was eclipsed by nuclear powered ballistic missile subs and aircraft carriers. Technology marches on. I would have loved to have taken off in that thing.

The Flying Clippers
Martin P6M SeaMaster

For a Real(Player) kick, watch old newsreels here: Pan Am Clipper

9 thoughts on “Martin Sea Planes”

  1. Seaplanes are still fairly popular among private pilots. Such as the little 6 seater Grummun Widgeon.

    While were on the topic of seaplanes, I’m reminded that the Soviets once developed a massive jet powered sea plane transport designed to fly low over the water on ground effect. Googling… Ah, it was called the Ekranoplan and it was a beast if ever there was one.

  2. This makes it sound like flying boats (not “sea planes”) were hen’s teeth. Actually, one of the big reasons they stopped making the ones mentioned was WWII, and the need for militarized flying boats.

    A lot of them are described here: PBY Catalina, PB4Y-1 Liberator, PB4Y-2 Privateer, PB2Y-5 Coronado, PBM Mariner.

  3. flying boats (not “sea planes”)

    I worked at the facility where the China Clipper and the SeaMaster were built. The terms flying boat and sea plane were used interchangeably. To my knowledge, they still are.

    makes it sound like [they] were hen’s teeth.

    This was just something I found interesting. It wasn’t meant as a technical report or a comprehensive history.

  4. There is still a Marin Mars flying in British Columbia. It’s owned by a timber consortium and is used as a self loading water bomber. It’s an awsome machine, on land it’s towed around by the tractor of one of the largest logging trucks made. The airplane dwarfs the truck. This plane probably maxed out the seaplane technological limitations.

  5. In British usage, a “flying boat” has a boat-shaped hull/fuselage that it lands on; a seaplane looks like a normal plane on floats-on-stilts. Flying boats usually but not always much bigger. American usage may be different.

    I believe the Hughes “Spruce Goose”, a flying boat, may still be the largest plane ever built. If not, then the Russian “Caspain Sea Monsters” might be – these were/are enormous flying boats with short stubby ground effect wings designed to skim just above the surface of the water. I read that Boeing have something similar on the drawing board as a high capacity fast military transport.

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