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In Memory of 'Clipper Malay'

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#1 BAC


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 02:53 PM

Forty years ago on 12th December 1968 a Pan American Boeing 707 took off from New York bound for Maiquetia airport just outside Caracas, Venezuela.

It never got there.

The aircraft was a nine month old Boeing 707-300, the tail number was N494PA and the aircraft was named ‘Jet Clipper Malay’.

To my knowledge a transcript of the final moments either doesn’t exist or has never been published. This is fictional but I believe it might have gone something like this;

(All times are local)

21.56 PA217: ‘Maiquetia Tower good evening this is Clipper two-one-seven becoming established at fifteen miles for runway two-seven’.

21.56 Maiquetia Tower: ‘Good evening Clipper two-one-seven, continue approach, one to depart ahead of you’.

21.56 PA217: ‘Continue approach, Clipper two-one-seven’.

21.59 Maiquetia Tower:Clipper two-one-seven cleared to land runway two-seven. Wind is two-eight-two at nine knots’.

21.59 PA217: ‘Cleared to land Clipper two-one-seven’.

22.02 Maiquetia Tower:Clipper two-one-seven I can’t see you on the radar, confirm you are at eleven miles?’

22.02 Maiquetia Tower:Clipper two-one-seven did you hear my last transmission?’

22.03 Maiquetia Tower:Clipper two-one-seven can you hear me? Come in Clipper two-one seven.’

Clipper 217 did not respond.

To this day no-one really knows what happened to Pan Am Flight 217 but all 42 passengers and the crew of 9 perished. Some reports say that the aircraft undershot into the sea because of an illusion caused by the town lights on the upslope behind the airport –this has never been proved. The flight deck crew were all very experienced with many flying hours so it’s hard to believe it was ‘pilot error’. Recently I found out that rumours at the time said there was an altercation or argument in the cockpit just before the accident. Apparently the Cuban Purser on board had a few issues and could be a bit ‘moody’ from time to time, but again there is no proof of this. So no-one really knows. Another consideration is we’re talking of 1968 here, the US was heavily involved in an unpopular foreign war and there was a lot of ill feeling towards the Americans (some things don’t change!) so sabotage/terrorism also hasn’t been ruled out.

What is known is the aircraft suddenly disappeared off of the radar. I don’t know if aircraft blew up before impact with the sea or if the aircraft broke up when it hit the sea. The front section of ‘Clipper Malay’ broke away from the rest of the fuselage and fell into a ravine under the ocean. The bodies it contained were never recovered. I believe 34 bodies were recovered from the crash scene and it is thought some might have survived the initial impact only to drown shortly after.

So why am I telling you this little story?

My father was the First Officer on that ill fated flight.

He had a lot of flying experience. He learnt to fly at the beginning of the war because he knew sooner or later he would be called up and he’d rather have a choice if he volunteered. He chose flying as it fascinated him and coming from a poor background he would never be able to afford it. In 1943 he was posted to England and was a part of the 368th BS, 306th BG operating out of Thurleigh as a captain on B17’s. Just after the war while still in the Air Force he was involved with ‘Project Casey Jones’. This was really one of the first acts of what was to become the ‘Cold War’. The operation was to have the first accurate photo map of the whole of Western Europe. The flying would have been boring, up and down, up and down and if the pictures didn’t turn out right you’d have to do it all over again. He did a lot of flying around Gibralter and Southern Spain. After leaving the Air Force he got flying with Pan Am. Although he was a B17 Captain he did have to go ‘backwards’ and fly as a Flight Engineer for a while and I do know he flew on Boeing Stratocruisers. In the 1960’s he got rated on the 707 and a little while later became First Officer. Then shortly before the accident he was about to be promoted to Captain. He’d done all the hours and taken the tests. His new uniform with the four stripes was in the wardrobe and all he was waiting for was a letter telling him to sit in the left seat next time he came to work. But of course it wasn’t to be.

I remember some years ago my mum telling me that shortly after the crash the FBI coming round asking questions like ‘What make of watch did he have?’ and ‘What brand was his shirts? Describe his shoes’. All sorts of questions to make identification easier if any more bodies were recovered. There wasn’t.
I don’t remember him as I was just 8 months old at the time. So a couple of years later mum sold the house and moved back to England with me and my brother, back ‘home’ where her parents lived.

So, Forty years later I have finally built the model I always wanted to, ‘Clipper Malay’.
I saw the1.72 scale Heller 707-300 kit in a model shop in Bedford about 8 years ago it was only about £12.99. Not knowing then about forums and people making decals I just stored it in the loft until I fathomed out how I would turn it into ‘Clipper Malay’. Around three years ago I was browsing Ray Charles’ ‘Two-Six’ decals website when I spotted a sheet of 1.72 Pan Am 707 decals. I emailed Ray to confirm they were designed for the Heller kit. I then asked him if it was possible to change the decal sheet’s tail number to N494PA and include ‘Jet Clipper Malay’ and briefly told him why. Ray said it was no problem and the decals arrived a few days later. That was three years ago. Since then I kept meaning to get this kit built but never got around to it until recently. Being the 40th anniversary now seemed a good time to get it done.

Here's to the memory of 'Clipper Malay'.

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Keep smiling!
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Cheers for looking.
  • Kit builder, Shar2, SARowl and 6 others like this

#2 daz greenwood

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Posted 12 December 2008 - 02:58 PM

A very nice build, and a nice tribute to your late father.


#3 richellis


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 03:02 PM

A nice model, and a great tribute to your farther.

#4 Mike


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 03:13 PM

A very sad & poignant story, and a great tribute to your late dad. Thanks for posting :)

#5 perry


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 03:17 PM

An amazing tribute :poppy:

#6 Mish


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 04:09 PM

A beautiful build and a very fitting tribute.

#7 ancient mariner

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Posted 12 December 2008 - 04:52 PM

Great tribute and a nice build. Sad but very interesting story.

#8 Paul


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 05:13 PM

Lovely job on the most personal of builds :goodjob:

Thanks for sharing it with us.

#9 bexwh773


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Posted 12 December 2008 - 07:35 PM

I have always loved the 707, my very first Trans Atlantic flight as a babby ish (3 / 4yrs) to be shown off to our American Clan was on a 707. Now, this model is not only to a superb standard, but it is also a fitting tribute to your Father, and thank you for sharing it with us.



#10 John B (Sc)

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Posted 12 December 2008 - 10:34 PM

A fine model of a lovely aeroplane. I enjoyed my 707 flights in the late Sixties, early Seventies. What a change from pistons.
There was lot of learning going on then. Things happened much faster with the new jets and somethings had to relearned or unlearned.

Often the dreadfully hard way, like this. The human interpretation problem of approaches to well lighted areas from an unlit sea were not understood. Even if that is what happened it's not human error. Its a perception problem, not then identified properly. Oftne more of a challenge for experienced crews, who were faster at forming a' picture' during the approach. It still needs great care today, with much better instrumentation and aids.

A lovely tribute to your Dad. Super.

#11 BAC


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Posted 15 December 2008 - 10:10 AM

Thanks for all of your kind comments on this one. I'm pleased I finally got it done and I'm very grateful to Ray Charles at 'Two-Six Decals' for changing the name and tail number -he's a top bloke!

The kit itself goes together without any major problems except where the lower wing centre section joins the fuselage at the rear. There is a bit of a step but once complete isn't all that noticeable.

Here's some sprue shots (sorry for the poor quality).

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I didn't use the passenger window pieces, instead I used Microscale Krystal Klear I did a test before the fuselage went together to make sure the window holes could take it, which they could.

Cockpit is basic but you can't really see it anyway.
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The model didn't need a massive amount of noseweight so I just wrapped up some lead shot in tinfoil and taped down an extra bit above the nosegear just in case.
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The instructions said to glue the upper mainwing to the lower ones and centre section, then glue to fuselage. Having test fitted I was sure there would be a huge gap between the upper wing/fuselage join.
So instead I double glued (using normal poly cement and a bead of superglue gel to fill any gaps) and having pre drilled three holes per wing I used small brass screws to secure. Filler wasn't needed on the wing join by doing this. I'd reccommend doing this if anyone makes this kit or the military versions of it.
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Grey primer was used on the lower fuselage and wings, white primer with 'Appliance White' gloss to finish the fuselage top half.
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The BMF was brushed twice with Humbrol Meatlcote 'Polished Aluminium' with a coat of Klear inbetween and four coats to seal afterwards. Various metallic silvers and greys were used to detail the engines and Xtracolor 'Corroguard' was painted on the wing centre sections.

And that was pretty much it.

This is a big kit!

Here's a comparrison with a 'Marquette' Stratocruiser done earlier this year.
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and a Constellation done in the summer -which in itself is a big kit!
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#12 eng


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Posted 15 December 2008 - 11:46 PM

Beautiful build and something you should be proud of, what a great tribute to your Dad.

Interesting to see how you attached the upper wings.....I've just done the same with my Airfix Nimrod!!


#13 PBoilermaker



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Posted 16 December 2008 - 01:04 AM

Nice story and build. It must be tough not knowing what actually happened to your father, I wish you the best.


#14 David H

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 05:57 PM

You must be telepathic. i was gonna post a query on how to address the wing root join. i was contemplating exactly the same approach, but too late now since my wing was assembled as a separate assembly. I do know EXACTLY what you're talking about. My fuselage is together, empennage parts are built up, wing is assembled. Still figuring out how to re-engineer and "tart-up" the engine nacelles.

This is a truly great kit, almost a Heller Swan-Song. Pity you don't see more of them built up, bus i suspect that is because of the size. Panel lines are a bit deepish but i can live with 'em.

And considering how old the 707 is, they really haven't been able to improve on the aesthetics, have they? Only the VC-10 and the Convair 880/990 come close. DC-8s look a little "Doughty" to me, although you could argue that all three were better thought-out aeroplanes than the 707. However, somebody had to be first....

A fine tribute to your father, and a nice build as well. i need to ask a pilot mate i used to fly with about that incident. He flew 707s for Pan Am back in the glory days.

Thanks for posting. All the best.


Edited by David H, 17 December 2008 - 06:04 PM.

#15 Brian1


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Posted 17 December 2008 - 07:43 PM

A very sad & poignant story, and a great tribute to your late dad. Thanks for posting :)


#16 JosephLalor


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Posted 11 January 2009 - 11:20 PM

As has been said before, a fine tribute to your father there, a lovely model of a beautiful aeroplane. My first flight was in one of Aer Lingus's 707s, around 1968 or '9. At the risk of being a smart-alec, when you said Stratocruiser above, did you mean Stratoliner?


#17 turnerdad


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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:02 AM

A very poignant build and a fine tribute. Sorry for your loss.

#18 Phartycr0c


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Posted 12 January 2009 - 07:51 PM

That really is an outstanding build sir, Your dad would have been very proud! lovely tribute!


#19 BAC


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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:33 PM

Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

--and yes, I did mean Stratoliner

#20 martin hale

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:37 PM

I don't know what I can add to the coments already made on a very fine model, except that it is one of the most powerful stories behind a model I have ever read. Thank you for sharing it with us.