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Clipper Seven Seas: 1949

Clipper Seven Seas: 1949

August 25, 1949. "New York International Airport, Idlewild. Bridge with plane." A Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, the Pan Am Clipper Seven Seas. Large-format acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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Five months earlier

Another look at the overpass

Neither of the two runways at right ever went into use as runways.

The September 1949 Pan Am timetable shows the Stratocruiser to London leaving Idlewild at 1600 EST and arriving at 1000, with a fuel stop at Gander. The westward schedule was 17 hr 30 min, probably with two stops. Fare was $350 one way; Idlewild to Heathrow is 3451 miles direct, or about a mile longer via Gander and Shannon.

A fave flight of mine

Took these numerous times in the early part of the 50s over to Europe and to Australia/New Zealand to see my uncle. They were glorious to fly on after the same flights I had taken on the smaller planes - as I recall, all of the plane was same class - first class only.


The 377 was based on the B-50, not the B-29. Of course, the B-50 would have been the B-29D if not for some fancy post-war public relations work, but there were significant differences from the earlier B-29s.

There was a very similar Boeing transport which did use B-29 wings, engines and empennage, the 367, which became the USAF C-97 transport. Later examples of the C-97 used B-50 components.

Boeing also briefly produced a passenger plane based on the B-17, the 307, around 1940.

Stratocruiser engines

Actually, the Stratocruiser had 28 cylinder, Pratt and Whitney R-4360 engines and not the 18 cylinder Wright R-3350's that the B-29 used.

Coming or going?

Shutting down two engines was common procedure on 4-engined aircraft but only after you have landed. Once you're back on the ground you need control, not power. There is a very good sequence showing this in the Hollywood feature Twelve O'Clock High.

You got better control with the outers running but sometimes the procedure was reversed: the B-24 Liberator bomber ran its power brakes off the inners, so things could become horribly inevitable and very exciting if you shut down the wrong ones!

B50 based, not B29

The 377's wings, engines, and tail were derived from the C-97 series, which, in turn, were based on the B-50. The structure was mainly 75T aluminum (the B29 was 24T), the engines were Pratt and Whitney R4360s (the B29 had Wright R-3350s)and the tail was much larger.

The 377 normally carried between 50 and 100 passengers (plus 14 seats in the lounge) and had a crew of 5 plus a varying number of flight attendants. Cruising speed was 340mph (top speed 375mph) and max range was 4200 miles. Only 50 were built, and cost app. $1,500,000.

In the attached image, one can see one of the berths at the rear of the aircraft. To her right is the top of the stairs leading to the lounge on the lower deck.

Interesting Aircraft

This Boeing aircraft was also the KC-97 air refueler for the USAF prior to the KC-135. Here's another interesting fact. With the exception of the fuselage, the entire tail section and each wing, including all four engines were taken from the B-29 of WWII fame. When Boeing comes up with a winning/successful design, they use it as much as they can to reduce further development costs.

Runaway Props on the Runway

During a relatively short service life these planes had a number of spectacular accidents attributed to the Curtiss electric propeller assembly. The propeller pitch would slip out of its setting and cause the propeller to spin out of control and eventually fly off or tear up the engine. Often the sudden stop would wrench the engine out of position resulting in tremendous drag. Several planes crashed or ditched before the problem was uncovered.


Loved those planes. As a kid, was a passenger on them in the mid-50s crossing the Pacific. Did have the bunk beds. Spent many an hour staring out the window looking for ships. Did not see many ships, did see a lot of different cloud formations. Would love to fly on one of them again.

The lower deck

was the beverage lounge for those nervous passengers.

Comfort and Safety

Comfort: The Boeing 377 was often equipped with bunks for overnight flights.
Safety: Note that there are people on the bridge with the airplane, and to avoid putting them through the blender, engines No. 1 and 4 are shut down for taxi. In that period, doing that for fuel conservation alone was very rare, since a piston engine has to warm up before a safe takeoff may be attempted.


The Pregnant Guppy and Super Guppies were based on the 377. NASA is still flying their Supper Guppy, the other four are scattered around on static display.

10 Years Later

On April 10, 1959, this Clipper caught fire and was damaged beyond repair after undershooting the runway and hitting an embankment while landing at Juneau, Alaska, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

The report says it was named "Clipper Midnight Sun" at the time of the crash. Renaming is considered a bad omen for ships; same for aircraft?

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