Friday, January 24, 2020

The Friday Flyby - Boeing 307 Stratoliner

Boeing 307 (NC 19903) in Elliott Bay, Seattle, March 28, 2002
I received an email from fellow vet (and longtime Chanter) Ox the other day, part of which had this to say -
When I first got to Tan Son Nhut after the flight from Guam, I saw a couple of unusual-looking prop-driven airliners over near the terminal, and misidentified them as 4-engine C-46s! Turns out they were a couple surviving examples of the 10 Boeing 307 Stratoliners ever built, and I misidentified them because of the sloped windscreens at the front of the fuselages. There is one of these planes still in existence at a facility out on the East coast, and I'm still hoping you may locate and publish one or more photos of it.
Well, you're in luck Ox, for I have seen this sole surviving example of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, she's at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the National Air and Space Museum) in Chantilly, Virginia. She's a beauty she is.


Oddly enough, the aircraft I snapped a photo of at Udvar-Hazy is the very same aircraft depicted in the opening photograph snapped by the Coast Guard. According to the Pedia of Wiki -
The only surviving Boeing 307 Stratoliner (NC19903) is preserved in flying condition at the Smithsonian Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. On March 28, 2002, this aircraft crashed into Elliott Bay in Seattle, Washington, on what was to be its last flight before heading to the Smithsonian. Despite the incident, it was again restored, flown to the Smithsonian, and is now on display. (Source)
According to the FAA, she's no longer registered -


While I can't say for certain whether or not the old girl is still flyable, I note the presence of what have to be oil drip pans under each engine...


Very few (just this one?) of the aircraft at Udvar-Hazy have those, whereas most of the aircraft at Pungo do -

And yes, that is a Skyraider.
(Note the drip pan on the floor, under the engine.)
As to confusing the C-46 Curtiss Commando with the Boeing Stratoliner, it's not hard to do -

C-46F "China Doll", Camarillo Airport Museum
(Source)
It's that lovely rounded nose. In fact, my photo of the Stratoliner above was saved in The Chant's archives as "Curtiss CW-20." I misidentified that bird the first time I saw her as a "C-46," the civilian version of which is the CW-20. Sarge sees rounded nose and thinks "C-46," Sarge sees shiny fuselage and thinks "civilian." Therefore, I assumed that Udvar-Hazy had a Curtiss CW-20.

I was wrong... (Hey, it happens.)

I should have counted the engines! (Yes, I can count higher than "2," I have ten fingers and ten toes and I was in the Air Force. Also I'm a computer guy, I can count to 1,023 in binary using my fingers only. Unsigned of course. Don't ask, I'm sorry I brought it up...)

Anyhoo, the Stratoliner is a very pretty aircraft, according to the Pedia of Wiki -
In 1935, Boeing designed a four-engine airliner based on its B-17 heavy bomber (Boeing Model 299), then in development, calling it the Model 307. It combined the wings, tail, rudder, landing gear, and engines from their production B-17C with a new, circular cross-section fuselage of 138 inch diameter, designed to allow pressurization. (Source)

I can see a certain resemblance between the two aircraft, though the vertical stabilizer of the Stratoliner looks more like that "Cheyenne" vertical stabilizer of the later model B-17s, nothing at all like the B-17C. The rest of it though, does bear more than a passing resemblance to the B-17C.

As to the Stratoliners that Ox saw at Tan Son Nhut -
TWA sold its Stratoliner fleet to the French airline Aigle Azur who used them on scheduled flights from France to North and Central Africa, and later to French Indo-China. These 307s were later transferred to Aigle Azur's Vietnamese subsidiary and were used by a number of airlines in South East Asia, with at least one aircraft remaining in commercial use until 1974. (Source)
Maybe those birds were the ones Ox saw? FWIW, Aigle Azur ceased to exist back in September of last year, interesting. So they had a pretty good run.

The U.S. military did use the Stratoliner -
At the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, flying across oceans was a rare luxury. The war required government and military officials to do so, and most four-engined long-range commercial aircraft, including Pan American Airways' 14 flying boats and TWA's five Boeing 307s, were pressed into service. Additional fuel tanks were added to give them the extra range required; once converted they were designated C-75 for military use. Before World War II ended their production, ten commercial 307s had been built. TWA flew domestic routes between New York and Los Angeles for 18 months until the Army purchased their Stratoliners for wartime use as long-range, transatlantic transports for various VIPs or critical cargo on January 26, 1942. TWA converted their 307s to military service in January 1942, and its Intercontinental Division (ICD) then operated these C-75s under contract to the Army's Air Transport Command (ATC) until July 1944. These were the only U. S. built commercial aircraft able to cross the Atlantic with a payload until the arrival of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster in November 1942.
Conversion to the C-75 included removal of the pressurization equipment to save weight, removal of the forward four (or five) of nine reclining seats along the port side, and alteration of the two forward Pullman-like compartments (of four) starboard of the left-of-centerline aisle. Space was thus provided for crew requirements on extremely long flights and for the addition of five 212.5 U.S. gallon  fuel tanks. The landing gear was strengthened, the maximum takeoff weight was increased from 45,000 to 56,000 lb, and the exterior was painted military olive drab. (Source)
One-half left front view of forward half of Boeing C-75 Stratoliner "Navajo" on the ground; eight unidentified TWA crewmen in uniform pose standing in a line in front; location unknown. Date is circa 1942, when all five TWA Boeing SA-307B Stratoliners were drafted into the U.S. Army Air Transport Command for service in World War II.
(Source)
As you can tell in that previous photograph, the Stratoliner is a fairly big aircraft. Standing next to it at Udvar-Hazy reinforces that impression. On last note from the Pedia of Wiki article on the Stratoliner which I found interesting was this -
Pan Am flew its unmodified 33-passenger Stratoliners between Miami and Havana until 1947, then sold them to small operators. One aircraft was purchased by the Haitian Air Force, being fitted as a Presidential transport for François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. This aircraft later returned to the U.S. and was purchased by the Smithsonian Museum. (Source)
Which this National Air and Space Museum press release confirms -
The Clipper Flying Cloud began service flying Caribbean routes for two years. During World War II, it flew in South America under the direction of the U.S. Army Air Forces. In 1946, it made daily runs between New York and Bermuda. Throughout the next two decades it passed through the hands of several owners, and once served as a presidential plane for the notorious Haitian leader "Papa Doc" Duvalier. After its Haitian sojourn, the Clipper Flying Cloud landed in Arizona.
Another good article on the Clipper Flying Cloud is here, explains how she wound up going swimming in Seattle.

One left out of only ten ever built, that's a rare bird indeed!

Thanks for the idea Ox!



42 comments:

  1. My childhood friend's Dad flew the C-46 over the Hump in the CBI.

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  2. Hey AFSarge;

    Thanks for the post, I remembered seeing the Stratoliner at Udvar-Hazy when I went back in 2012. I will try to make a return trip in March, when I am sure that the weird weather in the D.C. area don't strand me there. We had one of our Douglas DC-7B's come back to my place of employment. We will be adding her to our museum that the company sponsors.

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    1. Which museum are we talking about MrG? We need it for our list of cool museums to visit. 😁

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    2. Hey AFSarge;

      www.deltamuseum.org

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  3. When I first saw this on the Facebook page I got it confused with a double decker used by Pan Am in the 50s. As usual I have insomnia and I can’t remember the designation but the engines gave it a lot of trouble and one had to ditch in the Pacific as I recall. I’ll figure it out when daylight comes.

    The Air Force had a version of that too I think both as a tanker and freighter

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    1. Let us know which aircraft you're talking about, more aircraft knowledge is never a bad thing!

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    2. It was the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Sarge

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    3. Oh right! The double-decker bird! It was developed from the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, which the Air Force definitely used. A good idea for a post!

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  4. An interesting post on an interesting bird. It went for a swim when it ran out of fuel on a test flight, whoops!? Now to research the C-54, curious about that one. Thumbs up Sarge.

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    1. I can't confirm it but it looks as though out of ten made, eight were destroyed in crashes. Not an awesome safety record.

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  5. Sarge, how is that mirror-like steel look achieved? Chrome? Seems like that would make the plane unnecessarily heavy.

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    1. You can actually polish the aluminum skin to that mirror-like finish.

      In the latter stages of WWII they stopped painting aircraft to save weight, which is why you see so many shiny P-51s and B-29s. No need to camouflage an aircraft if you've virtually destroyed the enemy air force. Paint adds a surprising amount of weight to an aircraft. Just polishing the aluminum skin also makes them a tad faster, less wind resistance.

      So in essence, the Clipper Flying Cloud is buck nekkid!

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    2. Also done to save money and as quick identification - oh, look, shiny, one of ours. Versus - oh, look, colored blob, look for the insignia or invasion stripes, dunno, getting closer, dunno, getting closer and closer, screw it and fire away, oooooops...

      Radar-semi-guided AAA (inserting 'Hssssssss' for juvat) didn't need to see color or shiny as the operators already knew to shoot at it anyways. Heck, at that point, they were just shooting at anything pretty much.

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    3. We need to do that to the LCSes. Lipstick on a pig, but at least it'd be pretty.

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    4. Hahaha!

      The exhaust from the engines would soon dirty that pretty finish. You can put lipstick on a pig, won't stop it from rolling in the mud!

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    5. The Luftwaffe claimed you could see the USAAF bomber streams from over a hundred miles awway, from the sun flinging off the polished aluminum.

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    6. Well, that and the that there were so damned many of them!

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  6. I had no idea that a commercial version of the B-17 existed at all. Dang.

    And then you get a commercial version of a C-97 which was a double-decker B-29.

    Almost like, you know, if you could carry and drop bombs, you could carry and not drop passengers.

    Very intersting.

    As to wind resistance of a 'dirty' surface, the flow of air is actually better (less wind resistance) at below 120mph over a dirty surface than a clean one. Past 120mph, then the need for a clean surface for less wind resistance is required. Scientifically proven, and also covered by a Mythbusters episode, well, they Mythbusters proved the less than 120mph better wind resistance from a dirty vehicle thingy.

    So the quest for better air flow due to clean, smooth surfaces, which has resulted in today's cars all looking pert-near the same, is scientifically false. Except in California, where Science has been legislated out of existence.

    Back to the Boeing 307, it does look like a C-46 mated with a B-17. Funny how similar air-flow requirements give you similar body shapes, isn't it? (C-47 compared to the 307, that is.)

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    1. As most military aircraft fly faster than 120 mph, there ya go.

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    2. With the exception of the T-37, every military aircraft I flew LANDED faster than 120 knots (138 mph).

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    3. You got to fly the Tweet? Cool!

      Stories, we need stories!

      Buddy of mine worked Tweets in Panama.

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  7. Thanks for your research and for publishing this, Sarge! Remember the old writing pads with lined pulp paper you could buy back in the 1950s? I have one that has a photo of the Stratoliner on its cover, and with the exception of the deHavilland Comet Mark 1 jet airliner from the early 1950s, I find it a most attractive plane!

    The Stratoliner was the first pressurized passenger plans, and supposedly could operate up to about 25,000 feet.

    The first Stratoliner was being test flown by a very senior KLM pilot with about 9 other Boeing employees and test personnel when a maneuver was attemoted which caused a stall and a plunge, causing structural failures of wings and empennage, and a fatal crash, killing all aboarcd. One caught fire in the late 1950s/early 1960s (seems to me maybe up in Alaska?). Several were lost in normal operations, and supposedly one may have been shot down during the Vietnam War.

    One was flown by Howard Hughes, who intended to make a round-the-world flight with it just before the US entered WWII, but America's entrance into hostilities vcancelled that project. And one was actually converted into a houseboat which may still be in existence.

    Well, so much for my knowledge about the Stratoliner. Mention was also made of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser postwar airliner which used a "figure eight" shaped fuselage, and served with the USAF into the late 1950s as the KC-97 Stratotanker. One of these KC-97s, retired from the Wisconsin Air National Guard is presently on static display in Dodgeville, WI at a motel down there.If you're interested, I have several photos which may interest you....

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    1. I remember those old writing pads, we used them in school.

      The houseboat made from an old 307 fuselage still exists! According to Wikipedia -

      The fuselage of Howard Hughes' personal 307 also survives, although it has been converted into a houseboat. The aircraft was awaiting restoration at Fort Lauderdale International Airport in the early 1960s when it was severely damaged in a hurricane after its tiedowns failed and it was blown into a stand of trees. The aircraft languished for nearly a year before being removed and longer still until later salvaged for its conversion into the house boat. The interior is notable for the original finishes and fitments added by Howard Hughes.

      As to the pictures, send them, please, I intend to do a post on the Stratocruiser/Stratotanker sometime in the near future.

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    2. Is that the same plane that used to live at Volk Field?

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    3. I don't know Scott, I'll have to dig. (POCIR)

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  8. Great post and great aviation history, Sarge. Très bien fait en effet!

    If anyone wants to see some fabrication/polishing of aluminum in the restoration process...

    https://youtu.be/prQIv90oiOk

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    1. Very nice website, one more thing to spend time doing.

      Man, you are rocking the italics. You want bold text? Replace the "i" with a "b." Cool, neh?

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    2. Kermit has some great ride-along videos in some of the cool WWII aircraft he owns.

      I thought the bold might work that way. I'll have to see if I can figure out the bold italic next. Thanks for the tips! Is this that html stuff?

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    3. OK, so now besides aviation history, I now know how to do italics, and bolding!!!

      the things ya learn on the internet!!!

      Hmm...maybe...have to experament with this...

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    4. Just nest the B>i>bold italics/b>/i> In proper order

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    5. Couldn't pull it off. Have to try again in the morning after sleepies.

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    6. Getting them in the right order is key.

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    7. Suz - Aviation, HTML codes, tour recommendations, heck we might start doing recipes some day. One stop shopping!

      😁

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  9. The B-17 was the Boeing Model 299, and the B-29, the Model 345, so Boring She is not let the grass grow, under their feet!

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  10. Darn it! It said Boeing, not Boring, when I hit publish. There is something wrong with this Kindle!

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)