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THE 377 STRATOCRUISER & KC-97 STRATOFREIGHTER: Boeing’s Great Post War Transports

by Bill Yenne, Specialty Press, North Branch, Minn., 2014, $39.95.

Bill Yenne does his usual authoritative work in this long-overdue book on a terrific Boeing design that has been largely ignored. One of Yenne’s great talents is his ability to deliver an enormous amount of information in a minimum number of words. In this book he provides 10 chapters of narrative history on the two designs, jam-packed with facts. These are backed up by no less than 14 appendices and an addendum. He complements his narrative with more than 300 photos and excellent captions, to tell a comprehensive story of this great series of airplanes.

As Yenne points out, the massive U.S. government investment in the B-29 (some $3 billion, the most expensive project of WWII) put Boeing in a seemingly ideal position to enter the postwar passenger transport field. There were hurt feelings among some in Boeing management about the way Douglas’ DC-3 had shouldered its Model 247 aside in the mid-1930s. Boeing wanted vindication—and it needed to sell airplanes to the civilian market in anticipation of wartime production ending.

As Yenne explains, the portly C-97 made its mark in the civilian market as a luxurious high-speed, long-range transport, but not in the numbers achieved by the new Douglas and Lockheed airliners. One vital factor was operating cost, even in those days when fuel expenditures were laughably low by today’s standards. The comparative advantages and disadvantages of the design are revealed in complete detail. Yenne tracks each individual airplane’s use by airlines and its ultimate fate. He even provides the changes in the high-sounding names made when the aircraft passed from one airline to another, as when the American Overseas Airways Flagship Europe became Pan Am’s Clipper Glory of the Skies.

As its rivals dominated the airliner market, Boeing was fortunate that the advent of the jet age forced the Air Force to modernize. It bought the KC-97 first as a transport and then as a tanker. In the refueling role, it was an essential tool for two Boeing bombers, the B-50 and the B-47, as the Strategic Air Command rapidly expanded. The size and structure of the “Strato” series aircraft made it adaptable to many roles, including one in which it reigned supreme—the giant Guppy and Super Guppy transport conversions used to deliver huge pieces of hardware for spacecraft of all sorts.

This is an essential book for any aviation library, and an excellent way to recapture an important and even glamorous series of aircraft, all too often lost in the shadow of the later Boeing 707 and KC-135.

Walter J. Boyne