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B377 Stratocruiser

After World War II was over, Boeing re-entered the commercial market with a new long-range airliner, the Stratocruiser (Model 377). It was the first Boeing commercial transport since the Stratoliner and, like its military counterpart, the C-97, was based on the B-29 bomber. It possessed all the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of the war.

The Stratocruiser set a new standard for luxurious air travel with its tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin and gold-appointed dressing rooms. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck beverage lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for 50 to 100 people in a state-of-the-art galley. As a sleeper, the Stratocruiser was equipped with 28 upper-and-lower bunk units.

The Stratocruiser, a luxurious version of the C-97 transport plane, was Boeing's first commercial venture after the war. First flying in 1947, it was moderately successful-55 were sold-but it was not quite enough to pull the company out of its post-war slump. The company's doldrums were further aggravated by a strike of 14,800 union members in April 1948 over the issue of seniority. The strike lasted into September and virtually shut down production.

Pan American placed the first order for 20 Stratocruisers, worth $24 million, and they began service between San Francisco, Calif., and Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1949. Boeing built 56 Stratocruisers between 1947 and 1950, and they marked the company's first significant success selling passenger planes to airlines in other countries. Several dozen of these aircraft were ordered by various airlines, but Douglas and Lockheed captured the market, making the last airliners of the piston age.

As manned space launches became more frequent, logistics became a major problem. Oversized cargoes like the Apollo instrument unit segment, as well as command modules and upper stages were carried by the Super Guppy, a dramatically modified Boeing Stratocruiser [not Stratoliner]. During the early 1960s, Aero Space Lines ballooned the Stratocruiser's fuselage into a whale-like shape to carry spacecraft sections. Nine of the variants were assembled. The first was called the "Pregnant Guppy," followed by five larger "Superguppies" and three smaller "Miniguppies." ASI built and operated several Guppy variants: the 377PG Pregnant Guppy, 377MG Mini Guppy, 377SG Super Guppy, 377MGT (Mini Guppy Turbine, or Guppy 101) and the 377SGT (also known as the Super Guppy Turbine, or Guppy 201). In the process, one of the most elegant airplanes in the sky became one of the ugliest.



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