From the Pan Am Historical Foundation Film Archive

Film Projector and Reels by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash


American Overseas Airlines (AOA) played a significant role in the post-war development of Pan American. When it was bought by Pan Am in 1950, the airline came with a lot of valuable aircraft and experienced personnel, including Capt. Charles Blair who famously pioneered high-altitude trans-polar routes.

AOA was also the holder of the certificate for America's right to operate routes to and from West Berlin, when Germany was still split into East and West. This became the basis for what grew into Pan Am's Internal German Service (IGS), which established a special legacy all its own.

"Europe by Air" was produced by AOA around 1947. The film shows the experiences of a married couple planning and taking a transatlantic trip in the early days of post-WWII air travel. There are brief glimpses of LaGuardia Airport in the days when it was still New York's point of departure for transatlantic air travel.

Like many of the films in the PAHF collection, it came as part of a donation. In this case, the donor was a family member of Mr. Edward Howe, who was a part of Pan Am's Education Division in the years after WWII.

The film uses the typical approach for sound movies of the day. A sound track of narration and music was added to original silent footage. The technique adds some latitude for the filmmakers to emphasize some things and avoid others in telling their story. It worked well enough for the relatively unquestioning media consumers targeted as the audience for "Europe by Air."

For instance, the film takes some liberties with the facts. They board what is clearly a DC-4, an unpressurized airplane. But in the scene during the flight where the radio operator is in contact with the Coast Guard radio guard ship down below, the altitude of the aircraft is stated as "twenty-one thousand." That altitude would have been quite a stretch for a commercial flight in an unpressurized airplane, which normally would not have flown much past ten thousand feet. The passengers remark on how smooth the flight is too, and the captain provides a pretty simplistic and none-too-scientific explanation of upper air conditions.

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