The Pan Am Clipper was a type of transoceanic airplane flown by Pan American Airways. Designed as a flying boat, the planes used the water to take off and land, bypassing the need to build concrete runways. Named after the clipper ships of the 1800's, known for their speed, they were first commercial passenger transoceanic flights, linking the world in the 1930s and 1940s in luxurious comfort. During World War II, they were used for military transport. After the war, they were phased out, as newer planes could make longer range flights, and more destinations had permanent land runways. Overall, there were three models of plane used, and only 28 aircraft. Commonly, the Pan Am Clipper fleet were known as China Clippers due to its most well-known plane.
The actual China Clipper was a Martin M-130 plane that traveled the route between San Francisco and Manila, Philippines via Honolulu (Hawaii), Midway, Wake, and Guam. The Pacific Clipper was a Boeing 314 seaplane that traveled from San Francisco to New Zealand via Hawaii and other stops.
In 1936, Indiana Jones took the China Clipper from San Francisco to the Philippines, where he changed to another Pan Am flight to Kathmandu, on his way to find Abner Ravenwood in Nepal. Jones, sitting on a starboard side window seat, didn't notice that a man in a hat on a portside seat was monitoring him, instead of reading a magazine. Not interested in a beverage, Jones decided to nap as the plane took off.
Behind the scenes
The China Clipper depicted in Raiders of the Lost Ark should be a Martin M-130 plane, but during the filming of the movie, the production crew discovered that there was a Short Solent Mark III flying boat undergoing restoration in Oakland. Short Solents were not actually made until the late 1940s. Using matte paintings and compositie photography, the non-seaworthy plane was made to look like it was being boarded in the water.
For the flying shots during Raiders of the Lost Ark, a model was used.
Pan Am had been making trans-Pacific mail flights since November 1935, but the first scheduled trans-Pacific passenger service left San Francisco on October 21, 1936, and took two weeks to reach the Philippines and return. If the Indiana Jones timeline matches the real world timeline, it dates the related scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark to no earlier than October 21, 1936.