Minicraft's 1/144 Boeing 377 Super Stratocruiser
By Tom Cleaver
It's hard to realize these days, when there are two major airliner builders in the world and one of them is Boeing, but - prior to the introduction of the 707 jet airliner - Boeing's commercial record in the airline busines was actually that of failure. The Boeing 247, which set the international standard for a modern airliner in the 1930s, was shortly thereafter eclipsed by the Douglas DC-2 and later the DC-3. The Boeing Model 314 Clipper was the high-point of trans-oceanic flying boat design, at a moment in aircraft technological development when the land plane would totally dominate the post-war commercial aviation scene. The Model 307 - one of the first 4-engine airliners - had its career cut short by the war and, post-war, it was shoved quickly into the background by the DC-4 and DC-6 series, despite being the fact it was the first successful pressurized airliner.
Following in the tradition of the 307, which was a civilianization of the B-17 design, the Boeing Model 377 Super Stratocruiser was a civilian version of the C-97 military cargo transport, which itself was an outgrowth of the B-29/B-50 series of bombers. Like the Model 307, the airplane was designed to be pressurized to allow flight at higher altitudes with passenger comfort. The 377 gained modest sales success with BOAC, United, Pan American as a trans-ocean airliner, but it never repaid its development costs with commercial sales, inasmuch as only 55 were ever built.
Pan American gave Boeing its "launch" of the Stratocruiser on July 8, 1947, when the first was flown from Boeing Field in Seattle. The Stratocruiser was the largest and heaviest land-based American airliner, and featured a double-deck arangement that provided a unique and exclusive lower deck lounge for First Class passengers. The Super Stratocruiser had its internal fuel capacity increased from 7,790 gallons to 8,240 gallons to allow non-stop operation to London and Paris from New York. The airliner could accommodate 55 to 100 passengers, and had a top speed of 375 m.p.h., with a cruising speed of 340 m.p.h. at 32,000 ft.
One Super Stratocruiser operated by Northwest Airlines made headlines in 1958 when it was ditched at sea while enroute to Hawaii after the loss of an engine in flight. All the passengers survived this, the only open-sea ditching of an American airliner ever.
On a personal note, while serving in the Navy this reviewer had the opportunity to fly in a Model 377, the YC-97K, the only Air Force model to operate with Allison T-40 turboprops. I was hitchhiking back to the west coast from leave, and flew in the airplane from Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado, to Norton AFB in San Bernardino, California. While all we enlisted types flew in the front cabin with its canvas troop seats while the Air Force general whose personal transport it was flew in considerably greater splendor in the rear, I remember it as a pleasant flight. Had the all-jet airliner not proved as trouble-free as it did, the turborprop-powered Boeing 377 and Constellation might have had a larger role in the history of aviation than they did.
This is the third release in Minicraft's series of "Legends of Aviation" in their 1/144 airliner kits, the other two being the DC-3 and the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation.
Even in 1/144, the size of this airplane is apparent. With five sprues of light grey plastic, the model has light panel lines which are still too heavy for 1/144 if real scale effect is considered, but which look like they will be less apparent under a coat of aluminum lacquer. The parts are crisp and flash-free, and a test-fit of the fuselage and wings shows fit is good.
The Pan American Airways decals are from Invisi-clear, which in this reviewer's experience when these decals were used by Tamiya will go down nicely and adhere with a minimum of flash even without using a lot of setting solution.
I am not normally an airliner modeler, but this intrigues me - likely because of that flight in the YC-97K lo these many years ago; along with the Super Connie, which in my mind is the most aesthetic large airplane ever built, this representative of the time when airliners were more than aluminum time tubes you entered here and exited there looks interesting. I have heard that Minicraft is thinking of doing a 1/72 KC-97 in theirB-20/B-50 series of kits; that is a model I would grab fast.
Airliner modelers will like this one.
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