Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941, a giant four-engined Pan American Airways Boeing flying boat, registered as NC18602, under the command of Captain Robert Ford, embarked on a remarkable journey. In one sense, it was the earthly 1940s equivalent of the first Apollo lunar missions in that it ventured into unknown territory and returned home safely in the face of overwhelming odds.
Caught en route over the South Pacific at the time of the Japanese attack, Captain Ford and his crew were forced into a flight plan that none of them had anticipated when they left San Francisco on 1st December for what was to have been a routine round trip commercial flight to Auckland, New Zealand. Faced with the threat of interception by Japanese forces, they were ordered to take their strategically valuable aircraft on a globe-girdling, 31,500 mile, six-week odyssey, heading westward mostly across territory that had never been flown over before by such a large commercial aircraft. With no suitable navigation charts, no certainty of obtaining fuel or servicing, and under a total veil of secrecy and radio blackout, they threaded their way across the war zones of the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, the South Atlantic, Brazil, and the Caribbean, to bring their aircraft home safely to New York.
This is the story of that historic flight as related to me in person by Captain Robert Ford.
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