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The Pan Am Flying Clipper that never was — Sikorsky’s VS-44

4 February 2013

The Pan Am Flying Clipper that never was — Sikorsky’s VS-44

Jim Lund’s diorama of the Sikorsky VS-44 “Excalibur” perhaps sitting in the shallow water of a coral island’s tropical lagoon — photo by Joseph May

Juan Trippe bought Sikorsky S-38  and S-40 aircraft for Pan American Airways (PAA) routes in South America as well as the S-42 to survey routes for what would become the famed Flying Clippers. But Sikorsky could not increase the size of their flying boat designs quickly enough for Trippe’s expansion plans and so he purchased the Martin M-130 flying boat for his first flying clippers. Like Sikorsky, Martin also could not evolve the size of the design with enough speed (read that as enough risk venture capital) so Trippe bought the Boeing 314 design for the balance of the PAA flying clipper ships. Sikorsky did not go quietly into the night with their flying boat designs, though, and built three copies of an advanced aircraft meant to compete against the Boeing B-314 aircraft for Pan Am’s transoceanic routes — it was coined VS-44 with an “E” at the beginning of each individual aircraft name. The VS-44 was less powerful and carried less tonnage but flew a bit faster and further than Boeing’s B-314 flying boats — but not by enough for the airline economics of PAA.

Unlike the Pan Am flying clippers one copy of the VS-44, the Excambian, survives today where it is on exhibit in the New England Air Museum. It sits in a hangar with much about its hull making it a bit difficult to make out her graceful lines — but she is safe in a hangar and hangar space is always at a premium. What must it have been like to see one afloat and in service? Fortunately, master model and diorama maker Jim Lund has made this model diorama of the VS-44 Excalibur — which I saw on temporary display at the San Francisco Airport Museum & Library in an exhibit entitled, Oceans by Air: scale models and photographs by Jim Lund.

The VS-44 had wing floats instead of sponsons like the Boeing B-314 and 1200 hp (895kW) P&W Twin Wasp engines as opposed to the B-314’s 1600 hp (1193kW) Wright Cyclone powerplants — photo by Joseph May

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