The Boeing clipper is widely regarded at the summit of flying boat technology. It inaugurated the world’s first transatlantic heavier-than-air service, and carried passengers and cargo around the globe in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Early in 1936, Pan American solicited proposals for the next generation airliner for Atlantic service, and to stimulate interest among aircraft manufacturers, Pan Am offered a $50,000 cash prize for the winning design.
Sikorsky responded with a design that would eventually be developed as the S-44, which met Pan Am’s requirements for speed and range but was rejected because it carried too few passengers. (Three S-44’s would later be used by American Export Airlines, which competed with Pan Am across the Atlantic from 1945-1950.) Consolidated Aircraft proposed a four-engine ship based on its PB-Y Catalina flying boat (which would later gain fame as an anti-submarine and search-and-rescue aircraft during World War II), but the Consolidated design was also rejected as too small.
Martin, which made the M-130 China Clipper, proposed a model known as the M-156, but it was also rejected by Pam Am, leaving Glenn Martin furious; despite owing much of its success to the China Clipper. Pan Am had purchased only three of the M-130 aircraft. Martin had taken a loss on such a small production run, which he expected to make up with future business for the airline.
The winner of Pan Am’s competition was the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle, Washington, which was initially reluctant even to submit a proposal. But under the leadership of a relatively young engineer named Wellwood Beall, Boeing eventually constructed a ship widely recognized as the apex of flying boat design.