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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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