At the end of WWII, the bottom fell out of the bomber business and Boeing needed to shift production to commercial aircraft to survive. Rather than design a new airliner, Boeing modified the C-97 Stratofreighter, a derivative of the B-29 Superfortress bomber. The Boeing Stratocruiser inherited a hefty bomber frame and the spacious and comfortable interiors of the pre-war glamourous Boeing flying Boats. The end result was a jumbo luxury liner flying above the weather at 30,000 feet with a 4,000-mile range and a speed of 340 mph.
In the spring of 1953, our family of five traveled from Paris to New York on a Pan Am Boeing Stratocruiser. I was nine at the time and fascinated by this big airliner. Sixty years later I still have fond memories of that journey and have included a few of them in the pages below.
Boeing Stratocruiser At A Glance
AIRLINES THAT FLEW THE BOEING STRATOCRUISER
|Pan American World Airways|
|British Overseas Airway Corporation|
|American Overseas Airways|
|Take-off speed||132 mph|
|Maximum take-off weight||142,500 lbs.|
|Passengers||55 – 114|
|Power per engine||3,500 hp|
|Maximum cruising speed||339 mph|
|Service ceiling||33,000 ft|
|First flight||August 7 1947|
James Bond and the Boeing Stratocruiser
Author Ian Fleming was familiar with the Stratocruiser. He flew frequently flew BOAC’s Monarch Service from London to New York on to his home In Jamaica. In two of his books, he places James Bond on a Stratocruiser
Traveling in Style on a Boeing Stratocruiser
Welcome to flying in the 1950s a time of civilized air travel before security lines, locked cockpit doors, knee-numbing seating, and enraged passengers. Step aboard a Pan Am Boeing Stratocruiser for a first-class flying experience where there was room to roam about without having to squeeze by serving carts, Standard comforts included a wide cabin with ample seat width and pitch a lower level bar, gourmet meal, and full-size beds.
The extra-wide cabin provided enough space to move comfortably about.
Looking down the main cabin of a Pan Am Stratocruiser. Directly behind us are the men’s and women’s bathrooms then the private cabin and flight deck. The entrance to the lower deck lounge is directly behind the stewardess on the right. Overhead drop-down sleeping berths are on the left and right.
The flying atmosphere on board was different than today, relaxed with more social interaction between passengers and crew. Captains and officers circulated about greeting and visiting with passengers. Captains occasionally left the flight deck door open, with only a velvet rope strung to keep the overly curious out. Others had a Captain’s table set up for dining with important passengers.
Located forward just behind the flight deck, the private compartment offered additional space and lower and upper sleeping accommodations.
AS WE SLEPT OUR NEW YORK-BOUND STRAROCRUISER LOST POWER IN THE NUMBER 3 ENGINE. THE NEXT MORNING EVENTS MOVED QUICKLY. THE FLIGHT ENGINEER STEPPED OUT OF THE COCKPIT AND INTO THE FORWARD CABIN FOR A VISUAL ENGINE INSPECTION FOLLOWED BY THE CAPTAIN’S ANNOUNCEMENT THAT OUR FLIGHT WOULD BE DIVERTED TO GANDER NEWFOUNDLAND.
AT THE AIRPORT, FIFTY FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS EXCHANGED THEIR COMFORTABLE SEATS ON THE PLANE FOR A SEAT ON THE EDGE OF A BUNK BED IN THE ONLY LODGING AVAILABLE, FORMER WWII MILITARY BARRACKS.
This photo is staged and not from our family photo album, although it could have been.
Our family of five was booked in the forward compartment which meant we all had a place to sleep. I was nine at the time, slept in the upper bunk and certainly would have likely teased my sister and little brother sleeping in the lower bunk.
An idealized rendering of sleeping on a Stratocruiser.
Boeing Stratocruiser Lounge
The Boeing Stratocruiser lounge, cocktails at 30,000 feet
“The fat old Stratocruiser is still my favorite aircraft for long distances. Its spiral staircase and bar on the lower deck give the passengers the opportunity to walk about and chat and get a change of scene which passes the time more agreeably than sitting glued to one’s seat for hours on end in the slim modern projectiles.”
MIKE HAWTHORNE’S CHALLENGE ME THE RACE
Let the good times roll. Canapes and drinks in the Boeing Stratocruiser lounge. A rolling beverage cart served cocktails and hors-d’œuvre on the upper deck.
Boeing Stratocruiser Dining
Pan Am’s Boeing Stratocruiser Presidential service provided a stellar dinning experience .
In the early days of Boeing Stratocruiser transatlantic flying (the 1950’s) competition for passengers did not depend so much on the fares (they were all high) as it did on the quality of the food and service. In that regard, Air France established a radiant reputation for airborne cuisine. The American carriers, TWA and Pan Am envied the French airline’s stellar reputation and were not about to be left behind.
DINNING ON A STRATOCRUISER.
Serving more than 12,000 meals aloft every day, Pan American has developed a unique and intricate system of food preparation, preservation. distribution and service which assures passengers boarding flights even in remote corners of Africa and Asia of meals comparable to the best served in New York or Paris restaurants.
This worldwide, airborne catering service unlike any other food establishment in the world, is described by Kenneth Parratt, Director of Passenger Service for the airline, as an important aspect of service that la making Pan American a sort of “Claridge’s of the air.”
Each month, the Pan Am flight kitchen at Idlewild airport in New York purchased 9182 pounds of meat, 3,093 pounds of fish, and 19,448 pounds of vegetables
Tables set with gleaming linen clothes, highly polished silver, and Rosenthal China were set for Boeing Stratocruiser President Special passengers.
PAN AM HISTORICAL FOUNDATION
Pan American’s food officials have found in their surveys that prime charcoal-broiled steak still rates a three to one favorite as an entree and note, a little wistfully, that it remains and will remain on every first-class menu despite the airline’s claim that it offers the only choice of three entrees in transatlantic service.
Accompanying these seven-course President Special meals is the rare Charles Heidsieck Blanc du-Blanc champagne, Meursault Beaune white wine or Château Haut-Brion red, with a choice of Cointreau, Benedictine or Cognac after dinner
The prime charcoal-broiled steak was one the favorite as entrees.
The galley had its own ovens, and there was usually a beef tenderloin cooked on board. Stratocruisers leaving New York in the late afternoon for London had had exactly 112 fresh eggs aboard. They were cracked and cooked to order the next morning as the plane approached the Irish coast
It’s interesting to note that it took a crew of 5 to fly 50 passengers across the Atlantic on a Stratocruiser when today, a pilot and co-pilot can fly 290 passengers on the same route in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Why the difference?
The Stratocruiser required a flight crew of a minimum of five because it had had little, or no, systems automation. The correct operation of aircraft primary systems (engines, fuel), navigation, alternate, communication, electrical, hydraulic, oil, etc.), required manual manipulation of 100 to 200 switches and buttons, and monitoring of multiple gages.
In addition, prior to taking off the crew had to complete multiple (and complex) normal, abnormal, and emergency checklists rapidly and efficiently.
I had a front seat view of the flight deck on our flight to New York. At the Shannon refueling pit stop, The captain stepped out leaving the flight deck door open. I stood at the entrance staring in, amazed at the mind-boggling array of dials, switches, levers.