Featured Map for 6 January 2022:
Throwback Thursday: Pan Am's First Around-the-World Flight


80 year ago, a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat named California Clipper (registered NC-18602 and subsequently renamed Pacific Clipper) completed Pan Am's first around-the-world flight. It had not been planned that way.

The trip had started on 2 December 1941 as PA 6039, a scheduled passenger flight from Pan Am's San Francisco base on Treasure Island to Auckland, New Zealand, with five scheduled stops along the way:

Upon reaching Auckland, the aircraft was intended to return to San Francisco as PA 6040, but two hours after departing Nouméa radioman Eugene Leach heard a radio report of the Japanese attack on Peark Harbor. Tuning to the long-range signal from Pan Am's ground station in Nouméa they picked up a repeating message via Morse Code:


Captain Robert Ford secretly had a sealed envelope outlining Plan A: continue to the nearest safe Pan American base, avoiding enemy forces. That meant continuing on to Auckland. The crew spent a week in Auckland before receiving new orders:

Normal return route cancelled. Proceed as follows:

Strip all company markings, registration numbers, and indentifiable insignia from exterior surfaces. Proceed westbound soonest your discretion to avoid hostilities and deliver NC18602 to Marine Terminal LaGuardia Field New York.

Good Luck

The crew had no charts for areas west of Auckland and had to develop a plan with the help of the Auckland library. They first returned to Nouméa to evacuate 22 Pan Am employees, women, and children, and take them to Gladstone, Australia. From there, they flew via nine intermediate stops, under radio silence and with assorted threats along the way, before reaching New York before dawn on 6 January 1942.

Today's Featured Map illustrates the stops along trip, with the scheduled operation of PA 6039 in Pan Am blue (except for the final leg from Nouméa to Auckland) and the epic westward journey home in red.

Considerably more detail can be found in the references.

References and additional information:


Copyright © 2010-2022 Karl L. Swartz. All rights reserved.
The Great Circle Mapper name and logo are trademarks of the Great Circle Mapper.
All other trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.
Please see credits for attributions and further copyright information.

  Follow gcmap on Facebook Follow gcmap on Twitter GCmap on LinkedIn