State of the Industry: Rebuilding Fleets, Markets and the Boeing 377

Although surplus military transports served to boost postwar capacity, airline managers envisioned even greater growth and ordered newer, modern aircraft to meet demand and improve performance. While new DC-6s began entering the market, Lockheed upgraded its Constellation, boosting weight and range in the form of the 749 and 749A variants. These types found work in transatlantic service and to Hawaii from the West Coast.

Meanwhile, the Boeing Company utilized its mili­tary B-29 design to bring about a civil version, the Model 377 Stratocruiser, combining the bomber’s wings and an enlarged fuselage that featured sleeping berths, dressing rooms, and a lower-deck passenger compart­ment used as a lounge. Power came from four 3,500-hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Double Wasp turbocharged engines, by far the largest and most complicated civilian reciprocal powerplants of the time. These engines gave the 377 a service ceiling of 35,000 feet and a range of more than 4,000 miles. At 25,000 feet it could cruise at between 300 and 340 mph.

The “Strat” was first utilized on Hawaiian routes by Northwest, Pan American, and United; Pan Am also introduced the type on transatlantic flights. Within the continental United States, the larger-capacity airliners were pressed into service on medium – and long-haul routes. Curiously, all three types had transcontinental nonstop capability but, as we will learn, coast-to-coast nonstops were still several years away.