• Celebrating The Centennial Of Flight: The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

    Celebrating the Centennial of Flight with
    The Magnificent Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

    By Cap Mason

    The trail-blazer for peacetime jumbo airliners

    As part of our Celebration of the Centennial of Flight and to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of the war; we recently ran a 3-part series about the B-29 Superfortress and its role in the Korean War. Written by Clyde Durham, a former B-29 gunner, the series got me interested in this magnificent aircraft once again. You can read Clyde’s first person tales in A Tailgunner's View of the Korean War, Tour of Duty in the Mighty B-29

    “Hey Cap, what the heck does the B-29 have to do a Boeing 377?”

    Well, what many people don’t realize is, the bomber that delivered the atomic bomb was the mother of the world’s first high altitude, pressurized cabin, jumbo capacity, globe-trotting airliner.

    Much more than just a weapon of mass destruction that helped win World War II and end the Korean Conflict -- the Boeing B-29 Stratofortress revolutionized aircraft design. It set the stage for the new breed of civilian airliners that ushered in the Golden Age of civilian aviation after the wars.

    A Watershed Event In Aviation History

    Several key technological breakthroughs embodied in the B-29 made the success of the Boeing 377 possible including:

    • The pressurized cabin

    • The supercharged Wright Cyclone engine

    • An extraordinarily efficient Boeing wing, giving it huge carrying capacity--plus higher performance and greater economy in operation than any other transport.

    Every so often an aircraft appears which does more for aviation than its limited production numbers would indicate. This was certainly the case with the Stratocruiser. Only 55 passenger airliners were ever built.

    The Stratocruiser’s development began in 1944

    It first appeared as a military aircraft that was later named the C-97 Stratofreighter. This was a large-capacity transport that embodied the wings, engines, tail unit, undercarriage and other components of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. The military used Stratofreighters as cargo ships and KC-97s as refueling tankers. Some are still in service today with the United States Air Force and the Israel Air Force.

    Warbird becomes the symbol of 1950s elegant luxury

    The Stratocruiser was developed as an airliner version of the Stratofreighter. Its striking appearance made it look like a pregnant B-29. The Stratocruiser had the same B-29 parts married to a bulbous fuselage. The B377 could accommodate 55 to 100 passengers in its various interior configurations which included 28 sleeping berths. All versions also featured a lower-deck with lounge and bar. This innovation, plus its long range and high speed for its time, made the Stratocruiser a very popular airliner. It was also the world's first true jumbo airliner and launched a tradition that eventually led to the Boeing 747.

    Transformation from beauty to the beast

    The B377 also was developed into one of the most unusual aircraft of all time. Aero Space Lines expanded the Stratocruiser's fuselage to carry spacecraft sections. The first version, dating to the early 1960's, was called the "Pregnant Guppy". Later an even larger version called the "Superguppy" was created as well as a smaller one called the "Miniguppy". In the process an elegant airliner was transformed into one of the ugliest airplanes in the sky.

    The Speedbird breaks the record

    Right out of the gate, the B377 broke all records for transcontinental flight with a coast-to-coast average speed of 383 miles per hour. Now that we are zipping along (or at least until October) at supersonic speed with the Concorde or near supersonic speeds of .8 mach or better with commercial jetliners, 383 mph seems like a leisurely stroll across the tarmac. But in the 1940s and 50s, it was a mind boggling achievement.

    During the war, Boeing designers became experts in stratosphere research and the production of aircraft for high-level, over-weather operation. They also achieved technical breakthroughs in pressurized cabins, sound-proofing and air-conditioning plus structural and aerodynamic advances. This all came together in the Stratocruiser that was safe and dependable, easy to navigate and control and brought to the market a level of passenger comfort never before imagined.

    In 1949 Pan American World Airways introduced the Stratocruiser into passenger carrying service, flying transatlantic routes. Pan Am eventually owned half of the Stratocruisers made, though five other airlines also flew them including BOAC which began transatlantic flights the same year as Pan Am. Until jetliners came along Stratocruisers remained as the flagships of the North Atlantic runs.

    Now, you can fly the Stratocruiser in FS2002 and FS2004

    Log in and download the freeware file named: BOACB377.ZIP

    This FS2002/FS2004 BOAC Boeing 377 Stratocruiser is a highly realistic challenge to fly and includes three versions of the British Overseas Airways Corporation livery: 1949 delivery scheme, 1951 white fin, final scheme with blue fin. Features virtual cockpit, reflective textures, moving parts. Gmax model by Greg Pepper. Painted by Dave McQueen. Assistance by Tom Gibson.

    Cap Mason

    [email protected]