Boeing Stratocruiser the opulent jumbo liner 1947-1961
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.
The Boeing Stratocruiser made its Atlantic debut on April 3, 1949, when Pan Am Clipper Clipper Flying Cloud took off from New York bound for London. The following day the European press toured the aircraft. They were enamored by the giant double decker’s space and luxury, especially when compared to the smaller Douglas DC 4 and Lockheed Constellation. Passengers also took to the Boeing Stratocruiser with more than 1,588,737 flyers booking passage in the plane’s first three years.
If the plane had a downside, it was with its mechanically temperamental with cantankerous engines. Compounding the problem were propellers that flew off the wings and vibrated, causing engine separation—the high maintenance cost limited commercial sales to 56 aircraft. Fortunately for Boeing, the Air Force stepped in with a large order.
The last flight of the Boeing Stratocruiser with BOAC was in 1959, replaced by the Boeing 707. By November 1960, only a weekly Pan Am Honolulu to Singapore flight remained, and the 377 was retired by Pan Am in 1961.
Today, those of us who flew on the lumbering giant remember it fondly, for it represented a time when flying was fun and an adventure we looked forward to.
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.Larry Driscoll
Step on board for the Boeing Stratocruiser experience.
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
Fleming lamented the passing of the luxury Stratocruiser in For Your Eyes Only.
Two days later, Bond took the Friday Comet to Montreal. He did not care for it. It flew too high and too fast and there were too many passengers. He regretted the days of the old Stratocruiser — that fine lumbering old plane that took hours to cross the Atlantic. Then one had been able to have dinner in peace, sleep for seven hours in a comfortable bunk, and get up in time to wander down to the lower deck and have that ridiculous BOAC ‘country house’ breakfast while the dawn came up and flooded the cabin with the first bright gold of the Western hemisphere.
The flight deck
The Stratocruiser flight deck
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.
Boeing Stratocruiser at a glance
AIRLINES THAT FLEW THE BOEING STRATOCRUISER
|Pan American World Airways|
|British Overseas Airway Corporation|
|American Overseas Airways|
BOEING STRATOCRUISER AT A GLANCE
|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|