The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser – The Double Deck Plane That Changed The World

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It is coming up to 75 years since Pan Am signed a contract for 29 units of the new Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. The double-decker plane could fit up to 100 passengers inside one of the first pressurized cabins and was a truly innovative aircraft for its time.

Boeing 377
The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser had its first orders placed in 1945. Photo: Boeing

A new era

The spacious long-range piston airliner was heralded for its luxurious offering, often associated with the glory days of passenger services. Pan Am scheduled its first flights with this Boeing model in 1949, four years after the end of World War II, marking a new era in aviation. The first service took off in April with an operation between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Boeing had produced 56 Stratocruisers between 1947 and 1950. The manufacturer states that this plane marked the firm’s first significant success in selling passenger planes to operators across the globe.

Some overseas customers included the Israeli Air Force, Nigeria Airways, and Scandinavian Airlines. Meanwhile, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flew them on transatlantic routes.

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Domestically, along with Pan Am, DAI Airways, Northwest Orient Airlines, Transocean Air Lines, and United Airlines operated the 377.

Stratocruiser
A Stratocruiser flying over San Francisco. Photo: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives via Wikimedia Commons

Unique experience

The Stratocruiser was the first commercial model built by Boeing since the Stratoliner. Using the company’s experience of producing planes during wartime, this aircraft possessed the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of WWII. In fact, it was based on the B-29 Bomber.

Despite its powerful delivery, the cabin of the aircraft is what truly left a legacy. It had set a new standard for air travel with its grand design.

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The extra-wide layout was accompanied by gold-appointed dressing rooms. In addition, its circular staircase led to a lower deck beverage lounge where passengers could mingle. Meanwhile, flight attendants prepared hot meals for those onboard in the one-of-a-kind galley.

However, the icing on the cake was the upper-and-lower bunk beds that could sleep 28 fliers. With a range of 6,800 km (3,600 nmi) and a cruise speed of 301 mph, this was the ultimate long-distance luxury aircraft for its time.

Short-lived dominance

Despite its grandeur, after a decade of enjoyment, it quickly became superseded by jetliners. Models such as its counterpart the 707, along with the de Havilland Comet and Douglas DC-8, soon became favored by airlines.

After over a decade of making history with the plane, Pan Am retired its last 377 in 1961. This marked the end of an era for commercial aviation as air travel started to become more accessible.

Several units were sold to smaller airlines and modified into freighters by Aero Spacelines. These variants were heavily enlarged and resembled bloated fish, giving them the nickname of Guppy.

Boeing 377 Guppy
Before the Airbus Beluga, there was the Aero Spacelines B-377PG Pregnant Guppy in 1962. Photo: NASA/DFRC via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, five retired Stratocruisers were modified and used for military missions with the Israeli Defense Force. Despite its twist of fate, the 377 will be remembered for its classy onboard experience.

What are your thoughts about the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser? What is your favorite aspect of this historical aircraft? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

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Sanchit Rabadey

A380 would be seen back in the same we have seen this aircraft

DirectorEvil

I’m pretty sure that my parents flew one on of these in 1955 after they
were married. They flew SFO-HNL and then on to Manilla.

DONALD SPEIRS

Actually a few were contracted out to MATS (Military Air Transport Service) I flew on one from Oakland Army Terminal to Hickam Field and then switched to a Connie for a leg to the Philippines, and then CAT (Chenault,s Civil Air Transport) on to what was then Formosa. It was nice but the best leg was with the Connie that had to make one fuel stop on Kwajalein Island.

Roberto Blanc

In 1952 I flew the Stratocruiser, from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires. My sister and I were 7 and 4 and we spent the journey going up an down from the cabin to the lounge. The barman served us sandwiches and Coca Cola. I became so much impressed by it that ever since I’ve been an aviation buff.
The plane made a stopover in Montevideo and from inside the terminal my Dad and I were staring at it. Then my father said: “this plane had an accident not long ago”. I looked at it and everything seemed to be OK. Years later I knew about the accident of a Stratocruiser that crashed in the Amazon Forest.
Twenty years ago, I was in Montevideo and found about the accident, written by a Uruguayan journalist, looked him up in the telephone directory to tell him my story which I am now sharing online.
Roberto Blanc
Buenos Aires

William

Each one of the PW R-4360 “corn cob” engines had 28 cylinders ie 112 cylinders and 224 sparking plugs. A massive task to maintain. It was the Jet that finally broke the price barrier. Only about 59 377 stratroliners were sold to airlines. Douglass and Lockheed sold over 260 DC7 and Superconstelations each.

Thomas L Kuhlman

KC97 tanker used for ariel refueling. The last one I saw was in 1975 in Springfield Ill.

TonyTTDK

Whilst knowing that is was a breakthrough aircraft when new,

TonyTTDK

I'll always be most impressed by the Guppy's

787cape

Not the first pressurized airliner (the Boeing 307 Stratoliner was the first, and the DC-6 and Constellation went into service before the Stratoliner), the Stratoliner had continual problems with its Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engines and propellers. It was bigger and more expensive to operate than the DC-6 or Constellation and never sold in large numbers.

Robert Bridges

I flew on these planes across country and to Hawaii, as a child, and slept in the overhead beds which were like the storage compartments on today’s planes. My Mother always let me sit next to the window,which she called,”right on the engine” and it was wonderful to see the red white and blue stripes on the propellers making rings in the daylight, and the glow of the exhaust at night. No mention in the article about them falling apart from the resonance of the engines, which also added to their demise.

Zitta Livingstone G.

I think the 377 provided both excitement and majestic travel experience. It may be more economical in the modern society. The magic of knowing someone is above or below the deck gives the comfort that you are not alone, it has similarity to knowing there is life in Mars. Quite hilarious, isn’t it?

ROBERT QUERY

As an Air National Guard pilot, I flew both the C-97 and KC-97L tanker aircraft, military versions of the 377. The tanker also had two jet engines mounted outboard from the piston engines. The jets could burn both jet fuel and aviation gasoline. Jet fuel was carried in large tanks on the main deck. We used to fly regular air refueling missions out of Frankfurt air field in Germany in the mid 1970s. Lots of fun. The ’97s were replaced by the KC-135, which I flew for the next 20 years.

Gallery90

That was the airplane featured in “Dennis the Menace Goes to Hawaii” — Pan American. IIRC, Dennis made a trip down to the lower deck.

Robert Crowe

Bring them back they were great

Deborah Stander

My father was a Pan Am executive and I’m now an old lady so I can say with gratitude and pride that I flew on stratocruisers many times as a child growing up in the late forties and early fifties. I remember the downstairs cocktail lounges very well — they were a thrill to experience though as a kid all I could do was to have a soft drink and nibble on peanuts while the grownups enjoyed their cocktails. And those wonderful bunks to sleep in! You’d wake up in the morning and push open the window blind and you could lie there and soak up the view as the sun came up over the clouds creating heavenly vistas. The planes were spacious, the service was wonderful and the whole experience was as pleasant as could be.

Clarence Denton

I was z crew chief in the USAF Zon a KC 97 zir refueling 377.

Matt Pfeifer

What about the United States Air Force Air refueling version of this aircraft???

Stewart Leber

I slept in an upper birth on a Boeing 377 twice, once in 1951 and again in 1957. Had my own small window that looked out on the propellers. Also had a night light that switched back and forth between blue and white, just like on pullman cars. Spectacular.

Geoff Alston

My dad was stationed in Europe and the Far East with Pan. Am. As a 10 year I so fortunate to fly on the 377 several times trans Atlantic. 1st class to boot! It was a great experience with awesome memories. Service was with crystal, china and silverware. I distinctly remember a food cart rolling down the aisle while the “stewardess” carved off made to order prime rib.

Denis Hartley

Hi I always. Wonder why they did not put turbine engines on the wings instead of piston engines later
I wonder why only 100 passengers could be carried

Rajiv Sinha

This gives a window view of luxury and classic experience this innovative flying machine introduced to the world. Bygone era was also enjoyed best of life in very classy style.

Manuel Esplitia

Wpnderfull AIRPLANE..

Richard Aspden

I happen to be reading Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming. In chapter 6, James Bond flies from London to the USA in a Stratocruiser. Only a short passage, but worth a look if you have a copy handy.

Jim keefer

I flew it. Only we called it a KC-97

Reuven Havar

Hi I use to fly as a flight engineer on B 377 and C 97 in the IAF

Herb33

There were 56 units built and 13 hull losses , probably the worst safety record ever. Terrible engine problems with PW 28 cylinder radial engines. John Borger, VP Engineering of PanAm reported in a major lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society that the in flight shutdown rate was “ intolerable.” Compare this with 777 , single figure hull losses including one shot down and one probably due to criminal act ( both Malaysian ) and well over 1200 aircraft buil.

Tony LsRosa

Finest three engine aircraft afloat

JFP

SAS ordered, but canceled when their executive team perished in a B-377 crash. I believe either UAL or BOAC got the aircraft intended for SAS

Stu Anderson

As a high school senior back in 1959, my ambition was to be a Flight Engineer on an Air Force KC-97. Never made it! I did wind up on another Boeing design though. Tail gunner on a B-52.

John Townes

I first worked around Stratocruisers in 1956 when I joined KLM at Heathrow North side. Every morning the long haul flights of PanAm, TWA, AOA and BOAC had Strats arriving on the crowded ramp. There were no designated parking spots and the marshalers parked them all crammed together in a jumble of silver beauties. My one and only B377 flight was with TransOcean in an ex BOAC aircraft from San Francisco to Honolulu, Wake Island, Guam ending in Okinawa, which was at that time a US Territory. I was on my way to work for American International on a USAF MATS DC-4 contract.

Carl

Growing up in the 50’s, my Family did not have the money to fly on one. I was even refused a Space A hop on an Air Force KC-97G , though they were flying empty. I have been on a couple of KC-97s that have been converted into restaurants. It was the A380 of its day , which was too short.