Kit #AA2113. 1/72 scale. This is a highly-detailed
resin kit of the Martin M-130 China
Clipper, complete with decals.
In early 1930s, Pan Am asked the Glenn L. Martin
Company in Baltimore to design and build a flying boat that could fly across
the Pacific Ocean with a useful passenger and cargo load. In 1934, three M-130s
were built – Martin called them Martin Ocean Transports, but to the media and
the public, those graceful aircraft were always referred to as the Martin (or
Pan Am) China Clipper. They were given
names – the China Clipper, the Philippine Clipper and the Hawaii Clipper, each
designed to evoke the glamour and excitement of the far-off Orient. A one-off fourth aircraft, the Martin M-156 Russian
Clipper, was built for the Soviet Union – it had a larger wing, with larger
fuel tanks for longer range, as well as twin vertical stabilizers necessitated
by the extra wing area.
A graceful all-metal sesquiplane design – it had
a strut-braced but nearly cantilever main wing mounted high atop the fuselage,
and a pair of short stub-wings – sponsons, really, along the line of what
Dornier used instead of wingtip floats – that kept the plane stable on the
water and added lift during flight.
This clean four-engine design looked like the ultimate art-deco
refinement of the too-angular Dornier DO-X of 1929. Unlike the underpowered Dornier, the Martin China
Clippers were powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-1390-S2A5G Twin Wasp
14-cylinder radial engines, each putting out 830 horsepower. This was increased
to 950 horsepower when hydrodynamic propellers were installed.
In November 1935, less than a year after its
first flight, the China Clipper flew the first trans-Pacific airmail route. A year later they began carrying passengers
as well, from the US to Hong Kong via Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines.
Their range and load-carrying ability ensured
that the two surviving Clippers would be drafted into the military during World
War II. But even before they could be
drafted, one of the Clippers got involved in a shooting war. It was at Wake
Island, a stopping-off point between Honolulu and Manila, when the war broke
out. Japanese planes strafed the moored Clipper, but did no serious damage, and
the plane – after flying a strictly-unofficial scouting mission for the
Marines, flew out a few civilians and key military personnel.
Beginning in 1942, the two remaining Pan Am
Clippers were pressed into transport roles for the United States Navy. However, they were operated by Pan Am crews
and specifically not given a Naval designations. Even though camouflaged in
military colors, they maintained their "civilian" status, allowing
them to continue to fly into neutral ports. They were often used on secret
missions, carrying Allied spies or diplomats. The most critical of those secret missions
involved flying uranium ore out of Africa on behalf of the top secret "Manhattan
Project,” aiding in the creation of the first atom bombs.
Neither plane survived the war. The Philippine Clipper crashed into the side
of the mountain near San Francisco Bay in 1943, killing Admiral Robert English –
head of submarine operations in the Pacific at that time. The last survivor, the China Clipper itself, broke
up and sank while landing at Port of Spain in Trinidad Tobago in 1945.