Last of its Kind

A look inside the Smithsonian’s Stratoliner.

(Dane Penland, NASM)

The Boeing 307 Stratoliner at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia is the final survivor of 10 Stratoliners built in the late 1930s as the world’s first pressurized airliners. Named the Clipper Flying Cloud, the Museum’s airplane has played a number of roles over the years—as an airliner for Pan American in South America in the early 1940s, personnel carrier for the Army during World War II, personal transport for Haitian dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in the 1950s, and, finally, freight hauler in the 1960s and early 70s.

The Museum acquired the Stratoliner in 1972 in a trade for a Lockheed C-121C Constellation, and exhibited it at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona. There, the airplane was “discovered” by several Boeing employees who were visiting to recover a 367-80 (known as the “Dash 80”), the prototype of the Boeing 707—the United States’ first production jet airliner.

Boeing offered to restore the Stratoliner with original parts and materials, and the Smithsonian agreed. The six-year restoration was finished in June 2001, and everyone expected the gleaming silver airplane to take its place in the Museum’s soon-to-be-opened Udvar-Hazy Center.

But the storied Stratoliner had one more role to play—as a lifeboat—when it ran out of fuel on a final test flight and ditched into Elliott Bay, just west of downtown Seattle, in March 2002. Damage was significant, but all four crewmembers escaped serious injury, and Boeing volunteers restored the airplane a second time. After taking a final bow at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Clipper Flying Cloud was finally delivered to the Museum in August 2003.

Restored Stratoliner

(Dane Penland, NASM)

The Stratoliner arrived at the Udvar-Hazy Center on August 6, 2003. Restored to its original condition, it is shown here next to a more modern luxury carrier, the Concorde. The Stratoliner “is like the Concorde of 1940s,” says Robert van der Linden, curator of aeronautics at the Museum. “Extremely high-class, catering to the wealthy.”

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