Produced by a team of award-winning producers, writers and directors, the program (3 x 60 minute episodes) combines dramatic re-enactments, interviews with biographers and other scholars, and films and photographs drawn from the rich archival record about Pan Am and the early years of commercial aviation.
The film’s four main characters – airline executive Juan Trippe, pilot Charles Lindbergh, airplane builder Igor Sikorsky and radio engineer Hugo Leuteritz – separately struggle to find a place in post-World War I aviation. Their struggles illuminate the challenges all aviation pioneers face in these early, uncertain days. Several times, disaster is narrowly averted as they fight for survival, facing impassable weather, airplane crashes, and ruthless competition from domestic and foreign adversaries. After repeated setbacks, the four men join forces and, capitalizing on the Air Mail Act and the aviation mania triggered by Lindbergh’s 1927 transatlantic flight, set out to build an airline to South America: Pan Am.
As they push southward, Trippe, Sikorsky, Lindbergh and Leuteritz build larger flying boats, harness radio to navigate safely over great distances, and, with help from the U.S. government, outwit all competing airlines to dominate service to Latin America and launch the global air tourism industry. By the 1930s, Pan Am is the world's largest airline. But all of this is merely preparation for their ultimate goal: flying the oceans. Trippe spends six years carefully laying plans for an Atlantic crossing – only to have his hopes dashed when Britain refuses to let Pan Am’s planes land because their own planes can’t make the ocean crossing. With $2 million in new planes on order, Trippe is stymied, with no ocean to cross.
With his path across the Atlantic blocked, Juan Trippe surprises even his own staff by turning to the Pacific. Defying the skeptics, Pan Am builds an airway to Asia, allowing its airplanes to hopscotch across the world’s widest ocean by landing at five stepping stone islands: Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines. Hugo Leuteritz’s radio direction finders point the way, and Igor Sikorsky’s latest flying boat, the S-42, pioneers the route before giving way to the Martin M-130 known as the China Clipper. Within two years, Pan Am is offering regular passenger service to Hong Kong, connecting America and the Asian mainland. Air service from New York to London begins in 1939, completing a chain of airways encircling the globe.
Download full scripts for each of the three episodes
in the series.
When reading these scripts, please note that lines in italics are descriptions of the images and actions seen on screen. Immediately following those descriptions are the words heard at that time. Lines delivered by the narrator are preceded by the abbreviation NARR. The remaining lines are spoken by the actors playing the historic characters or the contemporary scholars we interviewed for the series. Each of these sound bites is indented, with the name of the speaker in capital letters above it. If the speaker’s name is followed by the abbreviation VO (voice-over), it means we hear these words at that moment, but the speaker is not on screen.