Design and development
Like the C-97, the 377 was developed towards the end of World War II by adapting an enlarged upper fuselage onto the lower fuselage and wings which were essentially the same as the B-50 Superfortress, the high-performance evolution of the B-29 Superfortress bomber. The 377 was larger and longer ranged than the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-6, with nonstop transatlantic range eastbound, but the P&W R-4360 Wasp Major engines proved uneconomical, with production ending in 1950.
6,600 ft³ (187 m³) of interior space was provided by the “inverted-figure-8” doubledeck fuselage design where the lower deck had a smaller diameter than the upper deck. It offered seating of over 100 passengers, or sleeping berths for up to 28 berthed and five seated passengers. It first flew on July 8, 1947. It had the speed and range to span ocean routes, enabling flying from New York to Hawaii in less than 24 hours. Pressurization (previously introduced on the previous Boeing Stratoliner and also designed into the B-29) allowed breathing sea-level while at an altitude of 15,500 ft (4,700 m). At 25,000 ft (7,600 m), passengers enjoyed a “cabin altitude” of only 5,500 ft (1,700 m).
Despite serious design flaws and a marginal service record, the Stratocruiser was one of the most luxurious post-war propeller airliners. Extremely complex and expensive, only 56 were built as airliners. Another 60 of this design were built as C-97 military transports, but the majority were built as 816 KC-97 tankers.
The Stratocruiser served as flagships on the Atlantic and Hawaii runs until forced out of service by the 1960s, when it had been made obsolete by the coming of the jet airliners such as the Boeing 707 and de Havilland Comet. Its spiral staircase, which led to a lower-deck lounge, inspired the one on the 747. It was one of the few airliners with a double-decker seating arrangement (another was the French Breguet Deux-Ponts) until the 747, though some airlines did have lower-level lounges on their L-1011 Tristar aircraft. The only survivors are converted Super Guppies.
In the 1960s, Aero Spacelines modified several Stratocruisers to make oversized transports dubbed "Guppys". The first of these was the Pregnant Guppy, followed by the Super Guppy, and finally the Mini Guppy.
Data from Airliners of the World
Published - July 2009
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