The Clipper and Jake Cutter's Flying Service

by Dave Faige

Throughout 'Tales of the Gold Monkey', much reference is made to the Clipper flights. The typical scenario being the Clipper, in its route across the Pacific, would stop at Tagataya for fuel, passengers, and cargo, and then stop overnight in Boragora. Although the airline is called Pan Pacific, the obvious reference is really to Pan American Airways. In trying to resolve the Clipper references in TOTGM to Pan American's service, and to see how it would work, we only need to make a few adjustments to what the history books tell us and we'll be in business.

TOTGM takes place in 1938. At that time, the route of the Clippers was very specific - from San Francisco to Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, Philippines, Macao, and Hong Kong. In the first half of the year, the route was flown by three Martin M130 flying boats. On July 28, 1938, the Hawaii Clipper, NC14714, was lost without a trace East of Manila. That left only the Philippine Clipper, NC14715, and the China Clipper, NC14716, flying the route. Once a week, one Clipper would take the West-bound route and the other the East-bound route.

One factor that can be quickly resolved is references to the China Clipper. The name China Clipper is officially the name of NC14716, which is the aircraft that made the first scheduled TransPacific mail run in 1935. This feat and others that followed made the aircraft world famous. Of course, all the hype Pan American put out about this new service helped the aircraft to achieve that fame. But, the public - doing what they usually do - were not so specific in their references to these aircraft. So, the term "China Clipper" came to be used to refer to any of Pan American's Clippers and sometimes even to any large flying boat, Pan American or not.

In order to get the Clippers in the South Pacific in 1938, we need to make some kind of adjustment. TOTGM provides us with a solution - events that happened in 1940/41 really happened in 1937/38. Example: Jake was a member of the Flying Tigers. So, let's take the Pan American Airways of 1940/41, make that 1938 instead, and see what we get. Well, we now have Pan American flying routes in the South Pacific! And, the Boeing B314 flying boats are in service. The new routes take the Clippers from Hawaii to several islands on the way to New Zealand and Australia. The islands the Clippers visited varied, while landing rights where negotiated and facilities constructed. A list of the islands would include Christmas Island, Canton, American Samoa, Fiji, and Noumea. The Canton/Noumea leg would place the Clippers flying right over the Marivellas (see the Geographical Model by Dr. Ernest J. McWhirtle). All we need is the Clipper to use the Marivellas as a stop off point for a leg to Manila. The political situation existing in TOTGM provides a circumstance that makes this likely.

As discussed in the Geographical Model, the Marivellas are divided between the French and the Japanese. There is no mistaking the tense situation between the French contingent and the Japanese Mandate. The French had their hands full watching the Germans at their home front and still keeping on eye on the Japanese in the South Pacific. The US government was also very keen on watching the Japanese expansion in the South Pacific - the reason Sarah was there. What probably happened here was Pan American approach the US government for help in negotiating with the French for landing rights in the Marivellas in order to establish Clipper service along a Southern route to Manila. Pan American always had a very close association with the US government - that was one reason why they were able to do what no other airline could. The US government saw the logic of this - they could get agents in the area watching the Japanese. The French were convinced - the Clippers would help them to administer the Marivellas and provide a means for evacuation of important personnel in case war did come. And, an overnight stop in Boragora would put the Clipper in an excellent position to continue along a Southerly route, skirting the Japanese Mandate, and continuing on to Manila.

We now have established the Clippers in the Marivellas. Since the stop at Tagataya is only a brief one, the Clippers use the existing docking facilities, which at Tagataya, being the seat of the Colonial Governor, are adequate for the Clippers without Pan American constructing its own facilities. Boragora, on the other hand, required Pan American to construct suitable facilities for the Clippers. This included the dock (we do know the Clippers used a separate dock from that used by Jake's Goose), fueling, supplies, and ticketing facilities. Pan American contracted with Bon Chance Louie to provide overnight facilities at the Monkey Bar for passengers. Considering the craftiness of Louie, the contract undoubtedly called for Pan American to subsidize the Monkey Bar's operation in order to provide for the comfort of the Clipper's passengers. Pan American was obliged to ensure the comfort of its passengers, as only those of means (the wealthy, government officials, or sponsored by a government - i.e., agents) could afford a Clipper flight. Those individuals will not accept anything less than all the comforts - which obviously the Monkey Bar provided. Pan American also established radio facilities on Boragora. These facilities included radio direction finders. This comes into play in the episode "Once A Tiger", when a cargo plane develops engine trouble and its copilot bails out. Jake's suspicions about the position reported for the downed aircraft are justified, as the Pan American radio facilities would have been monitoring for distress calls and would have been able to receive the plane's distress call. The fact that they did not receive the distress call on Boragora justifies Jake's question to Kramer about this. (Pan American's land-based radio facilities had the ability to communicate with planes, ships, and other land-based facilites all across the ocean - this made the TransPacific flights possible.)

In starting up his own flying service in the Marivellas, Jake showed good business acumen. Four factors came together:

  1. he could no longer fly combat missions but he was still a licensed pilot
  2. he knew about a crashed, but salvageable Grumman Goose
  3. the Clippers called at only two ports in the French Marivellas (Tagataya and Boragora), which created a demand for a convenient means of ferrying passengers and cargo between the other islands and the Clippers' ports-of-call
  4. his friendship with Corky, an ex-Clipper mechanic.

A made-to-order situation for starting a feeder service for the Clippers. Since Jake did not have a contract with Pan American, he would rely on simply knowing the Clippers' flight schedule and the weather situation (in case the Clippers would be delayed) and synchronize his operation with the Clippers. This would have been relatively easy to do, as the movements of the Clippers were announced in all the newspapers - until it was realized that this was not smart to do during wartime. However, one reason why Jake was not as successful in his business endeavor as he could have been was due to his casual attitude about the arrival of a Clipper. A good example is provided in "Trunk From the Past", when Jake is talking with Sarah on the exterior porch of the Monkey Bar. Corky comes up with Jack and announces that the Clipper has arrived and bets Jack that the first person deplaning from the Clipper is Chinese. Jake practically waves this off. Quite the wrong attitude to have when your business depends on the arrival of the Clippers. Without the Clippers, Jake would have been hard-pressed to make a living flying the Goose. People were more patient then and travel by boat or ship was perfectly acceptable to the residents of those islands.

It's interesting to note that Corky lost his sister and her baby when a Clipper went down. A parallel to this could be drawn to the loss of the Hawaii Clipper (NC14714). It was never determined what caused that plane to go down. Since the plane went down on the leg between Manila and Guam, weather could have been a factor - the area is notorious for tropical storms and the plane might have been struck by lightning or suffered structural damage from severe turbulence. There were no weather radars on board aircraft then and getting caught up in an embedded thunderstorm when flying on instruments was always a risk. Problems with fuel delivery systems were commonplace at that time and the aircraft could have simply exploded in mid-air. Engine failures were common at that time, too - so often that it was almost a reason to celebrate when a four-engine aircraft came in with all four engines running. It is likely, given these possibilities, that Corky is not to blame for what happened to his sister's flight.

With further research on the Clippers and the French Marivellas, by viewing all the episodes on TOTGM, I may be able to elaborate further on this matter.