Fine-tuning the 307B

By Keith Horton

When I started in at TWA in July 1941, there were five Boeing Stratoliners that had been in service for a year on Transcontinental and Western Air routes. A total of only 11 Stratoliners were ever manufactured—all of the other six served at Pan American, I believe.

My first ride on a TWA airplane was on one of the Stratoliners. As I recall, there had been some complaints about the circulation of air in the cabin, so the Engineering people wanted to make a test flight to take some measurements of air flow in the cabin and I went along. Some of the people in the Engineering group at that time were Ray North, John Roche, Lou Holland and George Heflin; there were others whose names I can’t recall as I am writing this 60+ years later.

The only airplane ride I had ever experienced before was in a noisy, bumpy old Ford Trimotor, so I was quite taken by the smooth, quiet and comfortable ride of the Stratoliner. After flying for a while, as cabin air flow measurements were being made by the Engineering folks, I looked out the window and discovered, much to my surprise, that we were about 15,000 feet directly above downtown St. Louis !

Soon after the United States entered into World War II, the Stratoliners were withdrawn from TWA service and modified for service with the military.  It was a shame to see the shiny aluminum skin of those beautiful planes adopt a dark gray-green paint scheme. Their identification was changed from Stratoliner to C-75.

During the war they made many overseas trips carrying important passengers and there are many stories about them in the records of our Intercontinental Division (ICD). The Stratoliners were returned to TWA in 1945 and after extensive modifications at the Boeing plant, and also at TWA’s hangar at MKC, they returned to domestic passenger service on April 1, 1945.

Unlike the DC-3’s, which had hydraulically operated landing gear retraction and extension systems, the Stratoliners had an electric motor-operated system. There were several incidents where one of the main landing gears could not be extended, so there were several one-up/one-down landings with resultant damage to the lower wing surfaces. Our ace metal mechanic, Homer Monroe, was sent out to make repairs and after the second or third such trip, he developed a kit of parts to take along, thereby speeding up the repair job.

In 1948 or 1949, I was making trips between MKC and LGA, riding on non-stop Stratoliner flights, I remember in particular the pleasant evening flights back to MKC, riding in the comfortable and commodious Stratoliner, and enjoying a satisfying evening meal. In those good old days, there was not a tourist-first class distinction, and everyone aboard had comfortable seats with plenty of leg room and a splendid meal.

The Stratoliners were retired from service in 1950 with the advent of the Connies.

Keith Horton, 1941-1983, served in Maintenance/Technical Services Engineering and Field Maintenance.