The Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter was a long-range heavy military cargo aircraft based on the B-29 bomber. Design work began in 1942, with the prototype's first flight being on 9 November 1944, and the first production aircraft entered service in 1947. Between 1947 and 1958, 888 C-97s in several versions were built, 811 being KC-97 tankers. C-97s served in the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Some aircraft served as flying command posts for the Strategic Air Command, while others were modified for use in Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadrons (ARRS).
The C-97 Stratofreighter was developed towards the end of World War II by fitting an enlarged upper fuselage onto a lower fuselage and wings which were essentially the same as those of the B-29 Superfortress with the tail, wing, and engine layout being nearly identical. It was built before the death of Boeing president Philip G. Johnson. It can be easily distinguished from the 377 Stratocruiser by the "beak" radome beneath the nose and by the flying boom and jet engines on later tanker models.
The prototype XC-97 was powered by the 2,200 hp (1,600 kW) Wright R-3350 engine, the same as used in the B-29. The XC-97 took off for its first flight on November 9, 1944.
The tenth and all subsequent aircraft were fitted with the taller fin and rudder of the B-50 Superfortress. The C-97 had clamshell doors under its tail, so that a retractable ramp could be used to drive in cargo. However, unlike the later Lockheed C-130 Hercules, it was not designed as a combat transport which could deliver directly to primitive forward bases using relatively short takeoffs and landings. The rear ramp could not be used in flight for air drops.
YC-97 Stratofreighter 45-59590 with the shorter fin of the B-29 (1947)
On 9 January 1945, the first prototype, piloted by Major Curtin L. Reinhardt, flew from Seattle to Washington, DC in 6 hours 4 minutes, an average speed of 383 mph (616 km/h) with 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of cargo, which was for its time impressive for such a large aircraft. Production models featured the 3,500 hp (2,600 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major engine, the same engine as for the B-50.
The C-97 had a useful payload of 35,000 lb (16,000 kg) and could carry two normal trucks, towed artillery, or light tracked vehicles such as the M56 Scorpion. The C-97 was also the first mass-produced air transport to feature cabin pressurization, which made long range missions somewhat more comfortable for its crew and passengers.
The civilian derivative of the C-97 was the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, a very luxurious transoceanic airliner which featured a lower deck lounge and could be fitted with sleeper cabins. The first Stratocruiser flew on July 8, 1947. Only 56 were built.
One YC-97A (45-9595) was used in the Berlin Airlift during April 1949 operating for the 1st Strategic Support Squadron. It suffered a landing gear accident at Rhein Main Air Base and by the time it was repaired, the Soviet Blockade was lifted.
C-97s evacuated casualties during the Korean War. C-97s also participated in the Biafran airlift, delivering relief materials to Uli airstrip in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. Flying under the cover of darkness and at treetop level to evade radar, at least two C-97s were lost.
The USAFStrategic Air Command operated C-97 Stratofreighters from 1949-1978. Early in its service life, it served as an airborne alternative SAC command post. While only 77 C-97 transports were built, 811 were built as KC-97 Stratotankers for inflight refueling. Many KC-97s were later refitted as C-97G transports and equipped several squadrons of the US Air National Guard.
Two C-97s are still airworthy at the present day, one (s/n 52-2718, named "Angel of Deliverance") operated as a privately owned warbird, the other operated as a fire bomber in the United States.
The Israelis turned to Stratocruisers and KC-97s when they could not buy the highly regarded C-130. They adapted Boeing 377 Stratocruiser airliners into transports, including many using C-97 tail sections including the loading ramp. Others were adapted with swiveling tails and refueling pods. One Israeli C-97 was downed by an Egyptian SA-2 Guideline missile on 17 September 1971, while flying as an electronic counter-measures platform some 12 miles from the Suez Canal.
military designation of the prototype Boeing 367, three built.
cargo transport, six built.
C-97A Stratofreighter 49-2607 of Minnesota Air National Guard (1960)
troop carrier, three built.
fitted with 80 airliner-style seats, later redesignated C-97B, in 1954 became C-97D, retired to MASDC 15 December 1969.
transport, 50 built.
Three C-97As were converted into aerial refueling tankers with rear loading door removed and a flight refueling boom added. After the design was proven, they were converted back into the standard C-97A.
Second production version, 14 built; those used as medical evacuation transports during the Korean War were designated MC-97C.
staff transport and flying command post conversions, three C-97As converted.
6 June 1951 - A USAF C-97A, 48-0398, crashed near Kelly Air Force Base due to a possible asymmetric flap extension on takeoff, killing all nine crew on board.
15 October 1951 - After taking off from Lajes Field, Azores, a Boeing C-97A of the Military Air Transport Service went missing on a flight back to Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts. The aircraft was piloted by Captain John Francis Dailey, Jr. and had a crew of 11. A total of 50 aircraft and ships searched the intended route but no trace of the aircraft or crew was ever found.
22 October 1951 - A USAF C-97A, 48-0413, crashed next to a runway at Kelly AFB, killing four of six on board.
22 March 1957 - A USAF C-97C, 50-0702, en route to Tokyo went missing over the Pacific Ocean, with 10 crew and 57 passengers on board. It is the deadliest incident ever involving the C-97.
19 January 1958 - A USAF C-97A, 49-2597, en route to Wake Island from Honolulu went missing over the Pacific Ocean with seven crew on board.
26 September 1969 - A Nordchurchaid C-97G, registration N52676, struck trees and crashed while on final approach to Uli Airstrip, killing all five on board.
30 July 1987 - After taking off, a C-97 operated by Belize Air International (a cargo airline) crashed onto the Mexico City-Toluca highway, killing 5 of the 12 people on board and 44 people on the ground.
C-97G N227AR (the former USAF serial number 52-2764) is on display at the Don Q Inn, next to the (now closed) Dodgeville Municipal Airport outside Dodgeville, Wisconsin. It was used for filming commercials and has a fuselage signed by Farrah Fawcett