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Boeing Unveils Stratoliner - History

Boeing Unveils Stratoliner - History

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(12/31/38) On December 31st, Boeing Aircraft flight-tested its newest aircraft– "The Stratoliner." The aircraft, the first to have a pressurized cabin, could fly higher than any other passenger aircraft. Its cruising altitude was between 14,000 and 20,000 feet. TWA placed initial orders for the planes, and was the only airline to fly them before the war.

On December 31, 1938, the prototype of the Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner makes its maiden flight from Boeing Field. The four-engine plane is the world's first with a pressurized cabin allowing it to fly "above the weather."

The 307's design was based on the airframe of the Boeing B-17, and employed its wings, tail plane, and engines. Pan American Airways and Trans World Airlines ordered nine aircraft, each of which could carry up to 33 passengers. The modified prototype later crashed near Mt. Rainier during tests for KLM Airways on March 18, 1939.

World War II ended production of more 307s, and the existing planes were drafted for military duty. Several survived and resumed civilian service, chiefly in developing nations.

A 307 was restored to flyable condition by a group of Boeing retirees and Museum of Flight volunteers and was to be delivered to the National Air & Space Museum in 2002.

Unfortunately, on March 28, 2002, the restored Stratoliner developed engine trouble while on a test flight and ditched into Elliott Bay. No one was injured, and the damaged aircraft was retrieved, but its future became uncertain.

The prototype Boeing 307 Stratoliner first flew on December 31, 1938


Eugene Rogers, Flying High: The Story of Boeing and the Rise of the Jetliner Industry (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996), 56-58 Eugene E. Bauer, Boeing in Peace and War (Enumclaw, WA: TABA Publishing, 1990), 113-116 Boeing Logbook (Seattle: The Boeing Historical Archives, 1992) Robert J. Serling, Legend and Legacy: The Story of Boeing and its People (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), 41-49.


In 1935 Boeing designed an airliner with four engines. It was based on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. This airliner was called the Model 307. It had the same wings, tail, rudder, landing gear and engines as the B-17C. However, the middle of the plane was a circle. Its diameter was 138 in (351 cm). [2] It was designed so that the plane could be pressurized. [3]

The first order was made in 1937 by Pan American Airways. Pan Am then ordered more. Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) ordered five. Boeing then started making the plane. [3] [4]

C-75 Edit

When the U.S. joined World War II in December 1941, it was thought to be a luxury to fly. The war meant that government and military officers needed to fly long distances. Planes like Pan Am's 14 flying boats and TWA's five Boeing 307s were used for this. More fuel tanks were added to allow it to fly further. Military Boeing 307s were called C-75s. Before World War II stopped them being made, 10 307s had been made for airlines. TWA flew between New York and Los Angeles for 18 months until the Army bought their planes. TWA changed their 307s to C-75s in January 1942. [5] These were the only American planes which could cross the Atlantic with cargo until the Douglas C-54 Skymaster was made in November 1942.

C-75s had the pressurization equipment removed to make the plane lighter. Some seats were taken off, and some other changes were made. Five 212.5 U.S. gal (804 L 177 imp gal) fuel tanks were put onto the plane. The landing gear was made stronger and the maximum take-off weight was made bigger (from 45,000 to 56,000 lb (20,400 to 25,400 kg)). The outside was painted olive drab. [2]

The first Boeing 307 Stratoliner flew from Boeing Field, Seattle on December 31, 1938. [6] However, it crashed on March 18, 1939, while KLM was looking at it.

The first delivery was made to Howard Hughes. He bought one Boeing 307 to fly around the world. He wanted to do it faster than he did before. Hughes' Boeing Stratoliner had more fuel tanks. It was ready to go, but then Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, so Howard Hughes did not make his flight. This 307 had its extra fuel tanks taken off. It also had more powerful engines added. It was supposed to be a "flying penthouse" for Hughes, but it was not used a lot. It was eventually sold. [7] [8]

Pam Am started getting its Boeing 307s in March 1940. TWA got its first 307 in April. TWA used its 307s to fly from Los Angeles to New York City. Pan Am's flew from Miami to Latin America. Ten 307s were made. Three were given to Pan Am (named Clipper Flying Cloud, Clipper Comet, and Clipper Rainbow) and five to TWA (named Comanche, Cherokee, Zuni, Navajo, and Apache). One went to Howard Hughes. The first 307 crashed. [9]

After the United States joined World War II, Pan Am kept flying its planes to Central and South America, but the Army Air Force was in charge of them. [10] TWA's Boeing 307s were sold to the U.S. government. They were called Boeing C-75 and used by the United States Army Air Forces. [11]

The U. S. Army gave the five C-75s back to TWA in 1944. TWA sent them back to Boeing to be rebuilt. Boeing replaced the wings and put in more powerful engines. The electrics were replaced with electrics from the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. After these changes, the 307 could carry 38 passengers. [12] TWA switched to the Lockheed Constellation, but the 307s were used until April, 1951. [13]

BOEING 307 STRATOLINER: Historic plane recovered

SEATTLE (AP) - A 1940s-era Boeing passenger plane was carefully hoisted Friday from the waters off West Seattle, one day after engine failure forced a veteran test pilot to ditch the aircraft.

The Boeing 307 Stratoliner was loaded onto a barge late Friday afternoon. Plans called for it to be taken to a terminal along the Duwamish River, where it would be thoroughly washed before being transported to a hangar at Boeing Field.

Debra Eckrote, of the National Transportation Safety Board, said three Boeing test pilots and an observer had taken the vintage aircraft for a training and maintenance flight Thursday afternoon when they lost power.

The pilot set the plane down in Elliott Bay - in full view of downtown Seattle - because he determined it was the safest place to land, Eckrote said. All four people on board escaped unharmed.

"Ditching is not an easy thing to do, and they did an excellent job," Eckrote said.

The plane was secured so it would not sink or drift.

The crew had planned to make several practice landings at Paine Field in Everett, but the captain decided to return to Boeing Field early when the right inboard engine failed after the first successful landing, Eckrote said.

That engine regained power on the way back to Boeing Field, then failed again as the plane circled over Bainbridge and Vashon islands while the crew tried to fix a problem with the landing gear, Eckrote said.

Soon after, all four engines failed, and the pilot ditched the plane not far from Salty's restaurant on the West Seattle waterfront.

The refurbished Stratoliner had been unveiled here last summer after six years of painstaking restoration by a group of Boeing retirees. One of only 10 made, it is the last known to be in existence and was headed for Washington, D.C., where it was to be the centerpiece of the new Smithsonian Institution's air museum being built at Dulles International Airport.

The plane is owned by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Paul Tooley, one of more than 200 spectators who watched the plane recovery Friday, said he had been on the plane twice and knew the work that went into its restoration.

"Everything was so professionally done, an incredible labor of love," Tooley said.

Otto Gaiser, 70, a Boeing retiree, also came to watch. "This is history," Gaiser said. "It's a sad situation,"

The plane was piloted by veteran Boeing test pilot Richard "Buzz" Nelson, 60, of Seattle. Also on board were Boeing test pilot Mike Carriker and Boeing flight test manager Mark Kempton. Kempton headed the plane restoration effort.

NTSB officials interviewed the men and planned to continue their investigation of the crash at Boeing Field, where the plane will be stored.

When it was originally built, the 307 Stratoliner was the first commercial plane with a pressurized cabin - which allowed it to fly at 20,000 feet, far higher than the 5,000- to 10,000-foot altitudes of its unpressurized competitors.

The Stratoliner could carry 33 passengers and a crew of five.

One Stratoliners was purchased by multimillionaire Howard Hughes for $250,000 and turned into the first luxury private airliner, according to Boeing's history of the planes.

That history recounts how company employees came across the last Stratoliner while visiting the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Ariz. They learned it belonged to the Smithsonian, which had obtained it from a private owner who converted it to use as a crop duster.

Boeing offered to restore the plane, flew it back to Seattle in June 1994, and fans of the plane set to work.

The NTSB's Eckrote said she spoke with Smithsonian officials and they were still trying to decide whether the plane could be repaired sufficiently that it could fly again.

Boeing spokesman Tom Ryan said it was too early to tell how much damage the salt water had caused. But he added, "hopefully one day it can be back flying."

More Reading.

SEATTLE: History splashes down

None of the four passengers is injured as a vintage plane does a belly-flop in Elliott Bay SEATTLE - A 1940s-era passenger plane once used as the presidential aircraft of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier ditched Thursday in Elliott Bay. All four men . [Read More. ]

NTSB INVESTIGATION: Fuel miscalculation likely cause of Stratoliner crash

SEATTLE (AP) - After six weeks of tests, federal investigators say it's unlikely that a fuel leak or a fuel-gauge malfunction caused a Boeing Stratoliner to lose engine power before splashing down into Elliott Bay earlier this spring. Instead, National Transportation Safety Board . [Read More. ]

BOEING 307 STRATOLINER: Years of work put into restoration

SEATTLE (AP) - When aviation enthusiasts set out to restore the last Boeing 307 Stratoliner in existence, they scoured the globe looking for original parts: engines, upholstery, even the original radios. It took six years of meticulous work to refurbish NC-19903, originally delivered to . [Read More. ]

Boeing crews working to spruce up Stratoliner

AUBURN (AP) -- More than seven months after a painstakingly restored Boeing 307 Stratoliner ditched in Elliott Bay during a test flight, crews in charge of repairing the damage are making significant progress. When the original Model 307 drawings were retrieved from Boeing vaults, the . [Read More. ]

State Briefs

Tacoma might ask voters to help pay Brame award TACOMA -- If the family of Crystal Brame wins any major jury award in its wrongful death claim against Tacoma, the city might have to ask voters to pay for it. That's because the . [Read More. ]

It was the first pressurized airliner to go into production. The design of the Boeing 307 was based on the wings and tail of the B-17C Flying fortress. The prototype Stratoliner first flew on January 1, 1938.

Boeing S-307Stratoliner was delivered to Pan American Airlines on March 22, 1940 at Brownsville, Texas. Its Boeing construction number is 2003. During World War II it flew South American routes under contract to the Army Air Transport Command. Pan Am sold it to Airline Training Incorporated of Homestead, Florida on November 1, 1948. The Haitian Army Air Corps acquired it on December 11, 1953 to be used as the personal transport of president "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Flight Investment Corporation of Dallas, Texas returned it to the U.S. register as N9307R on September 15, 1959. It was registered as N19903 in 1960. Ewell Nold Jr. of South Houston, Texas bought it on November 12, 1962. It flew for Arkansas Air Freight Incorporated until Inter-American Incorporated of Derby, Kansas bought it on November 23, 1965. Numerous liens were placed against Inter-American and it sold the Stratoliner to Aviation Specialties Company of Mesa, Arizona for $11,667 on May 28, 1969. Aviation Specialties flew it to Falcon Field at Mesa and parked it. That's where I first saw it while attending the 1971 Falcon Field airshow.

In the summer of 2001, a Boeing crew completed the complete restoration of the only remaining Boeing 307 Stratoliner. It appeared at the Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconcon shortly after restoration.

On March 28, 2002 Clipper Flying Cloud was ditched in Elliot Bay near Seattle. The ditching was largely the result of inattention to the fuel gauges and poor assumptions about how long the Stratoliner could remain airborne with the amount of fuel on board. It appears that "dipping", the method used to determine the amount of fuel aboard, was not sufficiently precise. The pilot began the flight under the impression that they had two hours of fuel aboard. The unique antique airliner ran out of gas after about 45 minutes. They had already made a full-stop landing at Paine. They could have refueled at that time, but they expected to refuel after performing some touch-and-go landings. The number three engine suffered an overspeed on the first take-off from Paine, so the crew elected to return to Boeing field rather than land immediately at Paine Field. The landing at Boeing was delayed by problems extending the main landing gear. The fuel gauges were indicating correctly, but the attention of the crew members was diverted while the landing gear was being hand-cranked down. The Stratoliner's engines died of fuel starvation, so its pilot was forced to ditch the airplane in Elliot Bay, near Salty's Restaurant. The four-man crew suffered only minor injuries.

The Stratoliner was carefully hoisted from the water on March 29, 2002. On June 14, Boeing announced that they intend to restore the Stratoliner to flightworthy condition within a year. Boeing rolled out the restored Stratoliner on June 13, 2003. It is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport.

Why do Boeing models start with the number 7?

It seems like the Boeing name is inseparable from the number 7 and rarely anybody asks why. It’s one of those questions where you can wave it aside and tell yourself “that is just how it is”.

But the reality is far more complex than that. Throughout the ages, the question sat behind multiple secretive walls that would protect the secret behind Boeing‘s naming formula.

However, as time went on, the world became more open. The Berlin wall fell and subsequently, various organizations and government officials would reveal more and more information about their history.

Like the wall up North, Boeing‘s protective wall also fell.

The whole world finally knew why every single commercial Boeing aircraft starts with a 7 and ends with a 7.

From Model 40 to the 307

Barring the epic introduction into the article, the reality is much simpler and less, much less exciting.

It does go back to Boeing’s history, as the company always named their aircraft sequentially.

Before the Second World War, such aircraft as the Model 40, the first Boeing aircraft that carried passengers, the Model 80, the first American plane built to carry passengers, represented Boeing in the commercial sky. At the time, the Seattle-based manufacturer built mostly military aircraft – that was the company’s bread and butter.

At that time, Douglas had a firm hold of the commercial aviation market with their DC-2 and DC-3.

However, slowly but surely, Boeing started gaining traction in the commercial market.

Firstly with the 307 Stratoliner, and then, after the war ended, Boeing came out with the 377 Stratocruiser. The year was 1947 when the Stratocruiser made its debut flight with the now bankrupt Pan American.

However, Boeing‘s commercial aircraft saw fairly limited success. At that time, Boeing mainly focused on military aircraft.

Yet changes were about to come.

From the 367-80 to the Boeing 707

As the War ended, Boeing’s president named William Allen decided the company needed to diversify its portfolio. To avoid confusion within the company and when communicating with Boeing’s customers, the engineering department classified their products as follows:

300 and 400 were designated for commercial aircraft

500 would mean turbo engines

600 were allocated to the rockets and missiles departments

And Boeing assigned the number 700 to jet engines.

That's why Boeing called the Stratoliner and Stratocruiser the Boeing 307 and Boeing 377 respectively.

BOAC Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

The first aircraft to bear the number 7 at the start was the 367-80. While it does sound confusing at first, but the prototype for Boeing’s first was called the 367-80. After a successful period of test flights, Boeing assigned the number 700 to the model, as it had a jet engine.

Nevertheless, this is where the magic of the naming formula comes true. As the first commercial jetliner was about to change revolutionize, Boeing‘s marketing team thought that the name 700 sounded quite boring. So instead, they suggested changing the name to the 707, as it sounded much better.

While it might be not so magical or exciting, the reason was a pure marketing one. But if you‘re looking for a more exciting story than how the 7x7 designation came to be, the history of the Boeing 707 is much more exciting. You can find our article about the 707 right here.

So, to sum up, Why do Boeing models start with a 7? The engineering division dedicated the number 700 to jet-engined aircraft. Boeing‘s marketing division realized that the name 700 for their first jet aircraft would sound boring, so they suggested the name to be the 707, which had quite a nice ring to it.

And sometimes a story needs exactly one thing – that it would have a nice ring to it.

Oh, and did we mention that John Travolta once owned a Boeing 707, because he loved it so much?

History of the Stratoliner Hat & the Boeing 307 Stratoliner

The Stetson Stratoliner takes its name from the unique Boeing 307 Stratoliner aircraft and lives up to its namesake with its one-of-a-kind style. Both the aircraft and the hat have garnered their share of attention for similar reasons. They both have a unique shape and have both been considered the epitome of luxury in their respective markets. Today, we’d like to celebrate the rich history of the Stratoliner hat and aircraft with a fun overview of their origins!

The Stratoliner Aircraft

The Boeing 307 Stratoliner first took commercial flight in 1938. The now-defunct but once-thriving Pan-American Airways purchased three Boeing 307 Stratoliner airplanes that quickly began faithfully flying a multitude of routes. A little-known fact about this aircraft is that along with commercial use, the Stratoliner was also utilized by the United States military. Multiple Stratoliner planes flew routes to South America and across the Atlantic Ocean as C-75 military transports. (The Aviation History Online Museum)

At the time of its first flight, the Stratoliner was the world’s first and only airliner with a pressurized fuselage. This enabled an altitude of 20,000 feet, which was higher than any of its contemporaries were able to fly! (Boeing) The Boeing 307 Stratoliner was designed with the same engines, tail, and wings as the Boeing B-17C bomber, though it adopted a larger and bulkier appearance for its cabin to allow it to accommodate up to 33 passengers at any given time. (Smithsonian) This aircraft’s unique look and impressive specifications have made it a memorable pioneer of aviation.

The Stratoliner Hat

Much like the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the Stetson Stratoliner fedora was very ambitious in its own market when it launched in the 1940s. The Stratoliner has an eye-catching construction featuring a 2.5” brim and a pinched crown that is now a classic hallmark of a fedora hat style. What makes the Stratoliner truly one of a kind is its slim and tapered hatband. Affixed to this delicate band is a sleek hatpin in the shape of a Boeing 307 Stratoliner. In this way, this hat pays homage to its origins while also carving out its own place in the fashion world with its unbeatable style.

The popularity of the Stetson Stratoliner has endured through the decades. This fedora hat’s timeless look enables it to look as sleek and modern now as it did when it first launched. The lasting style and versatility of the Stratoliner are part of what has kept it so near and dear to the hearts of hat lovers everywhere. The high-quality fur felt material is exceptionally comfortable and takes exceptionally well to dye. This has enabled the Stratoliner to be produced in a variety of vibrant and rich colors to ensure that there’s a Stratoliner for sale to suit any jet setter’s style needs!

Celebrate the Stratoliner!

Here at Fashionable Hats, we’re fans of all things retro. Of all the classic styles ranging from trilby hats to fedoras, we especially love the Stetson Stratoliner. Its traditional style is hard to beat, and its versatility makes it perfect for any man or woman with a dapper dress sense! The simplistic design of the Stratoliner manages to capture the excitement that was present in the early days of flight when the innovative Boeing 307 Stratoliner was in its heyday. Looking to enhance your wardrobe with that same adventurous spirit? Check out our fantastic selection of colors available and find your very own Stratoliner for sale today!

Boeing Unveils Stratoliner - History

Roden 1/144 scale
Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner


In the first post-war decades, the name Boeing was to become synonymous with the rapidly developing cosmos of civil passenger aviation. Epoch-making designs such as the Boeing 707 revolutionised both the market and aviation technology. At the end of the 1930s this was not yet foreseeable. At that time Boeing was one of the major established manufacturers and had a varied history, but it was still far from a dominant position in passenger aviation.

Even before and especially after the US entered the war, Boeing grew to become the largest manufacturer of heavy bombers for the USAAF. This tradition was to be continued into the early years of the Cold War with the B-17 and designs such as the B-47 or the B-52, which are still flown today.

Boeing's most successful civilian design at the time was the Model 247, a twin-engine, sleek, ten-passenger aircraft. However, when work began in 1935 on a large, four-engined passenger aircraft, the company had other things in mind. Based on the design of the B-17 bomber developed at the same time, a luxurious aircraft was to be developed that could carry a good thirty passengers in a pressurised cabin on long-distance flights. The realisation of a pressurised cabin had the inestimable advantage of being able to fly at high altitudes undisturbed by the weather and with low fuel consumption. The wings, the tail and the landing gear were taken from the B-17, which was under development.

Both PAN AM and TWA expressed interest and ordered six and five aircraft respectively before the maiden flight. On 18 December 1938, the Stratoliner first flight took place, which, without being a prototype in the classical sense, should have been delivered to PAN AM as the first production aircraft.

However, this was not to happen. The tragedy occurred during a pre-flight in front of representatives of the interested Dutch KLM: although the 307 started to spin at high altitude, through work with the engines the rudder pressure could be generated again, but the machine had built up so much speed that the following recovery manoeuvre went beyond the limits of its structural strength. With the wings removed and the tailplane breaking away, the first Stratoliner killed all ten occupants.

Tests in the wind tunnel showed that the dangerous spinning behaviour could be defused by installing an extended fuselage in combination with a redesigned tail fin. This measure also became standard for the close relative, the B-17, from the E-version on. So the constructive interlocking of the two designs is also evident in this characteristic detail of the appearance.

Apart from TWA and PAN AM, other prominent buyers for the Stratoliner soon appeared. Howard Hughes had one of them converted into a record machine. Even if his planned round-the-world flight - in record time of course, how could it be otherwise! - was not carried out in the end, the machine could later be seen as the most luxuriously equipped "The Flying Penthouse", bearing witness to the eccentricity of the billionaire.

During the World War the available Stratoliner under the designation C-75 was taken over by the USAAF and used as a VIP transport aircraft on long distances such as for crossing the Atlantic. Civilian flying was severely restricted during the war years, which of course did not help the 307 to develop its qualities-. After the war, it soon became apparent that passenger aviation was also facing fundamental reorientation due to the turbine engine, whether jet or turboprop. For the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, this meant that its great time was over before it had really begun.

Production figures for the 307 remained correspondingly low, with only ten units produced. After the war, the Stratoliner was quickly taken out of service by the major airlines, but some of them were to be flown for decades by smaller operators. The last surviving Boeing can be admired in airworthy condition at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center/ Smithsonian Museum.


When I learned a year ago that Roden would be releasing a Stratoliner in 1:144, the decision to purchase and build was quickly made. However, a kit from Roden also meant for me personally that I had to look around for new decals.

A first look inside the box confirmed my prejudices. As much as the plastic parts filled me with anticipation, the look of the kit's own decals already gave me the impression that they would not work. But that, as I said, is only my personal opinion and should not discourage anyone from trying their use and achieving a beautiful result!

The only objection to the in all other areas praiseworthy kit parts is the very low panel lines. Here I would have wished for a little restraint in keeping with the scale, as their depth seems to me to be exaggerated in view of the small size of the forms. On hull and wings I have tried to soften this impression by sanding over them.

The kit instruction leads you through the few steps of building the boat. Only in the design of the engine nacelles/exhaust systems some questions remained open for me, whereby I hope to have answered them more or less correctly by the results of my research.

Painting and Markings

The markings for the present representation of a TWA machine from 1940 are from Flying Vintage Decals, which I can recommend without hesitation and warmly, because of their high quality and their problem-free workability.


USAF procurement of the Boeing 707 was very limited, amounting to three Model 707-153s designated VC-137A. When delivered in 1959 these had four 13,500 lb (6123 kg) dry thrust Pratt & Whitney J57 (JT3C6) turbojets when subsequently re-engined with 18,000 lbf (80.1 kN) dry thrust TF33-P-5 (JT3D) turbofans they were redesignated VC-137B. Only one other variant served with the USAF: this was the VC-137C Air Force One Presidential transport, the two examples of which were Model 707-320B Intercontinentals with specialized interior furnishings and advanced communications equipment. Two further non-presidential C-137C aircraft were later added. Ώ]

To supplement its VC-137s, the USAF converted several C-135 airframes to VC-135 VIP standard, and these were used for staff transport mainly within the United States. Ώ]

Restoration: Soggy Stratoliner

DAVID KNOWLEN CHUCKLES AS HE RECALLS one idea for drying a waterlogged airplane: “Somebody suggested stuffing toilet paper rolls into the wings,” he says. “When they were soaked, just throw them away.”

Knowlen, the director of business affairs for Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, received hundreds of similar proposals in the weeks following March 28. On that day, a four-engine Boeing Stratoliner 307 that Knowlen and dozens of volunteers had spent six years restoring crashed into Seattle’s Elliott Bay within full view of startled diners at a popular waterfront eatery. The refurbished Stratoliner—the world’s first pressurized airliner and one of only 10 built—had been unveiled in June 2001 and was destined for the National Air and Space Museum’s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. But on an afternoon test flight, pilots Richard Nelson and Mike Carriker broke off an approach because a landing gear malfunctioned. The engineer manually extended the gear, but the airliner then lost power in all four engines, forcing Nelson to ditch.

After hearing the news, Knowlen, program manager for the restoration, started dialing the 70-plus volunteers who had taken a battered, neglected aircraft and painstakingly transformed it into a gleaming incarnation of the Stratoliner’s original luxe appearance. “To a person, they all said they’d go back to work,” Knowlen says. Thirty hours after the ditching, the Stratoliner was back in the hangar. Crews stripped off the engines, fuel tanks, and interior fittings and began flushing out Elliott Bay’s corrosive saltwater with fresh water from high-pressure hoses. (Another suggestion e-mailed to Knowlen: “Just dip it in a fresh-water lake.”)

Six weeks after the mishap, the Stratoliner was perched on jacks, water still dripping from open panels, its hand-polished aluminum skin splotchy from its dip in saltwater. But Knowlen saw reason for optimism. “This looks miserable,” he says, running a hand along a jagged gash in the starboard wing, one of many gouges and dents. “But the aircraft is structurally sound.” For that, credit the Stratoliner’s rugged construction. The aircraft, which first flew in 1938, shared many design features with the B-17, one of the most battle-worthy aircraft ever built.

Not that there isn’t plenty of work ahead. Electrical components, engines, and the Stratoliner’s Pullman-car-like leather-and-wood interior appointments all were damaged. The engines, instruments, and wiring are being rebuilt or replaced such rare items as the wall fabric, woven with the Pan American logo by F. Schumacher & Co. of New York, was stained by hydraulic fluid and saltwater and will have to be re-created. Crews are constructing new skin panels to replace many of those damaged.

Weeks after the crash, investigators continued to look for the cause of the Stratoliner’s near-catastrophic mishap. The culprit clearly was lack of fuel, and National Transportation Safety Board investigators were looking at little else, according to Debra Eckrote, an investigator in the Seattle office of the agency. But why did experienced pilots allow the tanks to go dry? One plausible scenario: The gauges or fuel tank sensors were simply wrong. In fact, checking their accuracy had been among the goals of the test flights, as engineers compared fuel loads before and after the flights with instrument readings of consumption and fuel levels. As this issue went to press, the NTSB had tested the fuel system and was finishing its report, which will incorporate information provided by the pilots.

Knowlen is determinedly cheery about the re-restoration. “Out of a situation that was unfortunate,” he says, “some good things have come. So many people who had not been involved [in the original project] have offered help.” But for some of those who spent years restoring the Stratoliner, the sight of its dulled and torn skin was, at best, disheartening. “If you stand back and look at it now, it’s a little discouraging,” says Elliott Brogren, who retired from Boeing after 35 years as an engineer. Brogren had spent more than two years rebuilding the Stratoliner’s battered luggage compartment. But at least this time he has all the pieces he needs. “Before, we were scrounging all over for parts,” Brogren says as he carefully repairs a window shade on the hatch used by Nelson, Carriker, and their two passengers to escape the downed craft. “Now, when we take something off, we save it for repair or use it as a template [for creating a duplicate].” Since the Stratoliner is the only one remaining of its kind, there are no sources for spare parts.

An accident of timing is the reason only 10 Stratoliners were built, according to F. Robert van der Linden, the airplane’s curator at the National Air and Space Museum. “It was a great airplane,” he says, “but World War II got in the way.” By the end of the war, the bigger, faster Lockheed Constellation had supplanted the Stratoliner.

At the new museum, the Stratoliner will join a Constellation, the Boeing Dash 80 (the 707’s prototype, now under restoration right next to the Stratoliner), and a Concorde, among other airliners. In late June, Boeing decided to again restore the aircraft to flying condition, so it can fly to its new home, instead of having to be trucked. No one wanted the Stratoliner’s last flight to be the one that ended in Elliott Bay.

Watch the video: Boeings Stratoliner 75th Anniversary (June 2022).