The Story Behind Pan Am’s Clipper Name Changes

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Pan Am’s Clipper aircraft names are iconic, being in use from the Boeing 314s to 747 fleets. While every Pan Am plane had its own ‘Clipper’ tag, the airline also occasionally changed these names. Here’s the story of why some of Pan Am’s names changed over the years.

Many iconic aircraft in the 20th century have carried the Clipper nickname. Photo: Getty Images

Long history

The first Pan Am Clipper took to the skies in 1931, operating flights from Miami to a variety of cities in Latin America. The first of the clippers were named American Clipper, Caribbean Clipper, and Southern Clipper. 

The tradition continued when Pan Am took delivery of its Boeing 314 fleet of seaplanes, which opened up transoceanic routes and revolutionized air travel. The first 314 was known as the “Yankee Clipper,” which made the first transatlantic journey from Baltimore to Lisbon.

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Every Pan Am aircraft carried its own unique Clipper name. Photo: Getty Images

Pan Am continued its Clipper tradition into the jet age, opting to reverse the title to make “Clipper” the first word. Models from the DC-8 to Airbus A310 to the iconic 747 all carried their own names. However, Pan Am occasionally changed an aircraft’s name, let’s find out why.

Name change

The Pan Am Boeing 707 was one of the first jet aircraft to fly the transatlantic route non-stop, operating from New York to Paris. The aircraft carried the unique name of “Clipper America,” symbolizing its significance for global travel.

However, the Clipper America title had originally begun with the Boeing 377, which passed it on to the 707. Eventually, the title moved from the 707 to the newly-entered Airbus A300 jet fleet. Eventually, the title made its final flight with a Boeing 747-100, the flagship of the Pan Am fleet.

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Pan Am seems to have reserved some iconic names for new planes entering the fleet. Photo: Getty Images

The Boeing 707 involved in the Pan Am’s first transatlantic jet flight was given the new name of “Clipper Mayflower,” another iconic title. The name had previously been used on a Lockheed L-049 and Airbus A310 and eventually ended up on a Boeing 747SP.

While it’s impossible to confirm with a Pan Am official now, it seems the airline used a small number of its names on multiple aircraft. This may have been done to highlight the newest plane in the fleet, ushering in a new era with its introduction. This allowed the names to carry on even after the aircraft was retired.

The end of Pan Am

Pan Am officially closed its doors in December 1991, after years of struggling profits and revenues. The carrier’s assets were purchased by many airlines, including United and Delta Air Lines, which renamed went on to rename the iconic planes.

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Pan Am shut down in December 1991 after years of struggling finances. Photo: Getty Images

While Pan Am may have shut down nearly three decades ago, the airline continues to capture the imagination of passengers around the globe. A symbol of the “golden age” of air travel, Pan Am will always remain a part of aviation history.

Did you ever get the chance to fly Pan Am? Let us know in the comments below!

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