Dec 1937: Clipper completes second flight to Auckland

Captain Edwin Musick leads four of his six officers ashore in Auckland, 26 Dec 1937
Captain Edwin Musick leads four of his six officers ashore in Auckland, 26 Dec 1937. At far left is Radio Officer Thomas Findley and beside him Flight Engineer John Stickrod. They would be with Captain Musick on 12 Jan 1938 when Samoan Clipper crashed, killing all aboard. Photo: NZ Herald

On 26 December 1937, Captain Edwin C Musick piloted the Pan American Airways Samoan Clipper into Auckland from Pago Pago, completing the first trans-Pacific time-table flight between the United States and New Zealand.

This was the Clipper’s second survey visit to New Zealand under the command of Captain Musick, the first visit having been in March 1937.

Sadly, this was the final visit to New Zealand for Captain Musick. He and his six crew members were killed on their way to New Zealand in January of the following month when their plane apparently caught fire or exploded shortly after takeoff from Pago Pago.

Evening Post (Wellington), 27 Dec 1937, p 8

Samoan Clipper coming up to her berth in Auckland
Samoan Clipper coming up to her berth yesterday afternoon after landing in Waitemata Habour after her flight from Honolulu. On the left are the new offices of Pan American Airways flying the ‘Stars and Stripes.’



(From “The Post’s” Special Reporter.)

Yesterday afternoon the Pan-American “Samoan Clipper” arrived to complete the first trans-Pacific time-table flight between the United States and New Zealand. The Samoan Clipper is the Sikorsky flying-boat which made the survey flight from San Francisco to Auckland in March, and again it was-under the command of Captain Edwin Musick, though most of his officers are making their first visit to New Zealand. The survey flight, over 7000 miles of ocean, divided into four stages, was made in 49 flying hours, and yesterday’s flight from Honolulu occupied 31 hours. The Sikorsky set south from Honolulu, as the great ocean stretch between the Hawaian Islands and San Francisco is, under the present plans, to be flown by the Martin flying-boats, the China Clipper and sisterships.

By the mid-year, probably, the Sikorsky will be replaced in the South Pacific by the huge Boeing flying-ships now being built and the service will undergo a great expansion, for impressive as the Sikorsky and the somewhat larger Martin Clippers are, they are still one stage short of the development towards full passenger and mail service. Until the Boeing “South Seas Clipper” is in service passengers will not be carried between New Zealand and Honolulu, but there will be ample space for mail and a fair amount of space and weight margin for express freight. The service will commence on a fortnightly basis, with a weekly service in the comparatively near/future.

The afternoon was most perfect, with a cloudless sky and a mere trifle of wind. Auckland had a free Sunday and turned out to make a real welcome of it, not one bit more enthusiastic than Wellington would have done, but in a picturesque way that Auckland is able to achieve with fleets of yachts and motor-boats. The Clipper was announced as due at 4 o’clock, and, appeared, miles away over the harbour, at 4.04 pm — four minutes late on the last and longest stage of 1850 miles from Pago Pago. A wide sweep took in the city and suburbs and a few minutes later the flying-boat settled steadily, well out in the harbour, and taxied to the Pan-American base in Mechanics Bay.

This afternoon the Imperial Airways Empire boat Centaurus is to join the Clipper at the base on the conclusion of the flight halfway round the world from Southampton, and New Zealand will, with that meeting of the two commanders and their ships, take a place in the world aviation map, though it will be some time before the Tasman service can be established upon a time-table basis.

The Centaurus will fly south from Auckland to Wellington on Friday next, leaving at about 7 o’clock and arriving at half past ten, given favourable weather, but the time factor has ruled out the possibility of the Pan-American Clipper visiting Wellington on the proposed good-will visit. The return flight to Honolulu is to be commenced at dawn on Wednesday.

The welcome given to Captain Musick, his officers, their ship, and the nation behind the service was informal, with the speeches of minutes only, but each speaker reiterated the welcome which had been extended when the survey flight was made a the beginning of the year. This evening the commander and officers are to be the companion guests of the city of Auckland with Captain JW Burgess and the officers of the Centaurus at a formal civic reception, and tomorrow evening the commanders and officers of both flying-boats are to be entertained at a State dinner at the Grand Hotel.

Welcomes were extended at the base by the chairman of the Harbour Board, the Hon T Bloodworth, from the people of Auckland by the Mayor Sir Ernest Davis, and from the Government and the people of New Zealand by the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon MJ Savage. That welcome, said Mr. Savage, was given from the bottom of the hearts of New Zealand people. The flight carried the hallmark of American efficiency and gave the full proof of the skill of every one connected with it. Aviation must strengthen greatly the ties between the peoples of America and of New Zealand, and the tie of understanding friendship was the strongest of all ties. “On behalf of the Government and of the people of New Zealand,” concluded Mr Savage, “I extend to you the right hand of friendship and a thousand welcomes.”



Captain Musick said that he had been very well satisfied with the trip from Honolulu, for it had been — as flights in modern machines should always be — completely easy going, with splendid weather all the way, except for a little cloud and rain near Pago Pago. The last stage was commenced at 4.20 am and the touch down was made at 4.15 pm, say, thirteen hours for the 1800 miles.

In an interview, Captain Musick said that throughout the trip from Honolulu weather conditions had been perfect and good flying time had been maintained all the way. The schooner Trade Wind, was now quartered at Kingman Reef as a permanent depot ship, and at Pago Pago landing and base facilities had been provided similar to those at Auckland.

Regarding the Auckland base in Mechanics’ Bay, Captain Musick said the facilities were excellent. Bathed in summer sunshine the city had looked magnificent from the air, and he had no doubt that in the near future American passengers would experience the same thrill that his crew had enjoyed on seeing Auckland after the long and uneventful trip from Pago Pago.

Captain Musick said the purpose of this second flight over the important aerial trade route between America and New Zealand was to make a final survey and inspect the ground facilities constructed at various points. That important stage of the work was now completed.

“Another stage of the service will be inaugurated in due time with the large 72-passenger trans-oceanic Clippers now being built in Seattle. One of the first of these ships now nearing completion has been given the name South Seas Clipper, and will provide facilities for passenger-carrying on this new airway, which parallels one of the most important aerial trade routes in the world.

“I understand that within a few days Imperial Airways will send one of their planes from Australia to New Zealand across the Tasman Sea on a route survey mission similar to that we have just completed across the South Pacific and linking Australia and New Zealand. These undertakings, jointly considered, bring reality to the long-planned, programme to tie Australia into the rapidly developing airway systems of the world.”

Not a ship was seen on the flight, though island groups were given long distance visits from above — the Tonga group looked very fine, but the Kermadecs (which Captain Musick mentioned after the survey flight for their importance as a radio and meteorological station, since established) were passed at too great a distance to be seen. In place of making a direct line for Auckland, said Captain Musick, the course had been set for Russell, where the radio direction and second wireless communication station and the emergency base have been established.

Captain Musick had not much to say about Christmas Day festivities: “It was Christmas Day when we left Kingman Reef all right,” he said, “but it did not last long, for we crossed the date line a few hours out and were into another day.”


As first officer under Captain Musick is Captain Wallace D Culbertson, commander of the first Martin China Clipper, running across the North Pacific on the 900-mile [sic] service between San Francisco and Hong Kong. On the next flight of the Sikorsky to New Zealand Captain Cecil Sellars will be first officer to Captain Musick, who will return then to his work as chief pilot to the company at San Francisco, and Captain Culbertson and Captain Sellars will command the Clipper on her fortnightly visits to New Zealand, arriving on alternate Saturdays and leaving on the following Wednesdays. Captain Culbertson is one of the best-known long-service pilots in American aviation and Captain Sellars has also a long record. Latterly he has been flying the eastern section of the North Pacific route (actually in the same Sikorsky) between Manila and Hong Kong.

Captain Musick mentioned in passing that for a time Pan-American Airways, who have interests in air services on the coast and also inland in China, were out of luck as a result of the Sino-Japanese war, but the services were being started up in part again.


Who used the China Clipper service of the North Pacific? Captain Culbertson was asked. Mostly, he replied, business people in a hurry, but a good proportion of tourists were travelling the North Pacific by air and stopping over at Midway or Guam Islands for the island holiday and for fishing.

Were the planes running full? To this Captain Culbertson said that a simple answer was not possible, for with the same flying-boat and over the same distance the passenger capacity varied, depending upon the flight forecast, for if headwinds were forecast that meant longer hours in the air and fewer-passengers. The average number of passengers carried between San Francisco and Honolulu, the longest ocean stage now flown, was, say, twelve or thirteen, but often fifty applied for seats when only a quarter of them could be taken. Bigger machines were ahead, and aviation would take on a new face and become a vastly increasing factor in world transport.



Accompanying the officers of the Clipper is Mr Edward L Yuravich, chief of the airline inspection service (international) of the United States Air Commerce Bureau. Mr Yuravich said that his official position did not permit him to express publicly any opinion upon the South Pacific service, but it was, he could say, an immensely interesting and important service, important in its vast possibilities in bringing the English-speaking peoples of the Pacific into a contact which was not thought of so few years ago.

Mr Yuravich said that his duty was to report back to Washington upon all aspects of the service, route, bases, potential traffic, equipment, and technical considerations, and, of peculiar importance in aviation, upon communications and meteorological services.

An adequate meteorological system, he said, was of absolute importance to the regular operation of any airline, for the time had gone when machines went through on “marginal-weather”; either they stayed on the ground or at their bases, or they found a way round, but the decision in either case could be made only when full meteorological services were there for the guidance of the whole flying organisation. The building of such a service from the knowledge that obtained before aviation developed and demanded so much more and a so much more particular service had been difficult and gradual, but the pattern had been worked but and modern systems came close to giving aviation the advice that was the ideal.

The new Boeing machines, said, Mr Yuravich, would be far larger than any aircraft preyiously built in the United States and would give conveniences to the passengers, as well as to the crew, beyond what had been attempted in anything built so far. The Sikorsky had a displacement of about 44,000lb, the Martin Clipper 52,000lb, and the Boeings would weigh about 82,0001b, about double the weight of the Sikorsky. Size and weight were not the aim, but with greater size went greater range and load capacity, so it could be said that the Boeing carried development a long stage further towards the ultimate goal of long-distance transport, of large numbers of passengers and heavy loadings of mail and first-class express freight. The first of the six Boeings should be ready early in the New Year.



(By Telegraph – Press Association)
AUCKLAND, December 26

A huge holiday crowd on the waterfront and on points of vantage on the hilltops overlooking the harbour saw the Clipper alight for the second time on the Waitemata, and subsequently the Prime Minister (the Rt Hon MJ Savage) joined with the chairman of the Harbour Board (the Hon T Bloodworth) and the Mayor (Sir Ernest Davis) in extending a greeting to Captain Edwin G [sic] Musick and his crew.

Perfect weather conditions ruled for the Clipper’s arrival, and a murmur of excitement from the crowd-greeted her first appearance flying high over Stanley Point on the north shore of the harbour. The giant flying-boat circled the city and then dropped down over North Head to alight in the harbour. Patrol launches had kept a runway clear, and before long the Clipper had taxied up the harbour and turned in past the eastern tide deflector to run up to the mooring stage fronting the Pan-American administrative offices in Mechanics Bay.

An impressive sight was presented as the silvery hull of the flying-boat shone up against the background of the Blue Star motor-ship Empire Star, just leaving for Napier. The Clipper quickly moored, and after inspection by the port health officer and the Customs, Captain Musick and his crew came ashore for the official Harbour Board reception.

Within a few minutes the flying-boat was surrounded by pleasure craft, ranging from small yachts to large cruising launches, and swimmers even dived into the harbour off the breakwater to swim under the massive spreading wings and round the giant hull. After the reception the crew of the Clipper dispersed to their various hotels.



NEW YORK, December 23

Considerable significance is attached to the fact that the Samoan Clipper will carry mails from Australia but not from the United States. Pan-American Airways told an Australian Associated Press correspondent that the reason was simply that the United States Post Office had not granted a mail contract to Pan-American Airways. “It is solely up to the United States,” was the comment.

Asked whether it was extremely unprofitable to operate the line without the essential revenue-producing contract from the United States Post Office and without passengers, Pan-American Airways stressed the fact that other Pacific routes were still running without profit, and it must be expected that at least a dozen flights will be carried out before passengers are taken.

It is indicated that the failure of Congress to extend the Pan-American mail contracts will probably be rectified during the regular session opening in January.


LONDON, December 26

The aeronautical correspondent of the “Daily Telegraph” states that letters from London to New Zealand by the Pan-American Airways service from San Francisco to Auckland will take at least eight and a half days and the postage will probably be from 6s to 8s a half-ounce.

» The Evening Post’s coverage continues with the expected arrival of the Imperial Airways flying boat Centaurus, just a day after the arrival of Samoan Clipper.

» View original newspaper page

Commander of Clipper flying boat replies to reception at Auckland in December 1937
“Commander of Clipper flying boat replies to reception at Auckland: Captain Musick speaking at the Harbour Board function. An official welcome was given at the landing base by the Harbour Board. The photograph was taken just as Captain Musick was concluding his remarks and was extending seasonable wishes to the people of New Zealand. Seated, from left: Mr AS Richards MP; the Prime Minister, Mr Savage; the chairman of the Harbour Board, the Hon T Bloodworth, MLC; the Mayor, Sir Ernest Davis; the Minister of Mines, the Hon PC Webb.” Weekly News (Auckland), 29 Dec 1937, p 50 (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries)

In the audio recording available below, 1ZB radio station announcers Peter Hutt and John Stannage describe the arrival of the Clipper in Auckland. Three cheers are given once the plane touches down and the commentators remark on how young the crew are – with the exception of Captain Musick. The commentators make further remarks about the number of photographers jostling to get pictures of the crew.

Prime Minister Michael Savage welcomes the crew and hopes their flight will strengthen ties between the American people and New Zealand.

Captain Musick then replies, saying they are glad to be back in New Zealand. He mentions new machines are being built in Seattle for this route, with one already christened the South Seas Clipper. He wishes everyone a happy New Year, and receives three cheers again.

Link to historical audio on the ngataonga website

The second part of the recording features 1ZB commentary on the departure of the Clipper from Auckland, bound for Sydney.

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