The Pan Am Podcast

Episode 44: Capt. Robert Ford and the Long Way Home

January 07, 2024 Pan Am Museum Foundation Season 3 Episode 44
The Pan Am Podcast
Episode 44: Capt. Robert Ford and the Long Way Home
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Show Notes

In this special episode we will be exploring the incredible life of Pan Am Captain Robert Ford, a trailblazing flying boat aviator that found international fame with an unscheduled flight round the globe. And we welcome back to the program Pan Am 747 Captain John Marshall that knew Pan Am legend Captain Robert Ford and recorded an interview with him in 1994 shortly before he died.

Excerpts of this rare interview are played and you will get to hear the actual voice of Captain Ford talking about his aviation career in the late 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s!

In December of 1941, Captain Ford was ferrying mail and passengers from San Francisco to New Zealand aboard a Pan Am Boeing 314 flying boat named the Pacific Clipper.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and Captain Ford was ordered to evade the enemy and prevent the Japanese from capturing the aircraft for its technology.  Skirting the trouble zone and watching for enemy aircraft, he headed the flying boat west over Australia, India and Central Africa, then crossed to South America, eventually making a safe landing at the Marine Terminal at what is now La Guardia Airport in New York on Jan. 6, 1942.

The entire trip covered 31,500 miles in 209.5 hours of flying time, some of it over war territory. The Clipper had a range of 4,500 miles, and its longest single flight was 3,583 miles across the South Atlantic from Central Africa, to Brazil. Captain Ford, who was then 35 at the time, called his round-the-world flight "a purely routine operation."

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1906, Captain Robert Ford earned his wings as a naval aviator before joining Pan American Airways in 1933. He flew Pan Am’s routes in Central and South American, as well as, the Caribbean before transferring to the Atlantic division in 1939, flying Clippers between New York and Lisbon. He shifted to the Pacific route in July 1941. Before his round-the-globe journey, he had completed some 50 flights across the two oceans.

After retiring in 1952 from Pan Am, Captain Ford became a cattle rancher in Penn Valley, California, north of Sacramento. He died in October of 1994 at the age of 88. At the time of his death, he had been a rancher for 45 years.

Special thanks to Captain John Marshall, board member of the Pan Am Museum Foundation, for allowing this program to use his 1994 interview with Captain Ford. 

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A very special thanks to Mr. Adam Aron, Chairman and CEO of AMC and president of the Pan Am Historical Foundation and Pan Am Brands for their continued and unwavering support!