TINKER HISTORY: Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter Aircraft

  • Published
  • By Greg L. Davis
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Boeing C-97 “Stratofreighter” was designed as a four-engine cargo and troop transport using components and design features from two previous Boeing designs, the B-29 and B-50 bombers, to make an entirely new transport aircraft. The large “pinched” fuselage is formed by taking two B-29 fuselage sections and fusing them together around a straight wing which intersects the fuselage in the lower section. The four-engine aircraft has a standard tail configuration and blunt cockpit area.


The aircraft sat on retractable tricycle landing gear.


The C-97 cargo aircraft entered service with the recently formed United States Air Force in 1949, but was soon followed by the first aircraft manufactured from the outset as an air-refueling tanker in the form of the KC-97, which entered service in 1951. The KC-97 was the first air-refueling aircraft equipped with a refueling boom versus a hose dragged behind.


Both cargo and refueling aircraft played important roles in the early days of the U.S.A.F. as missions were expanded and defined. Moving outsized cargo great distances with Military Air Transportation Command, as well as refueling bombers with Strategic Air Command and fighters with Tactical Air Command, helped it stake a claim in history.


Tinker’s work with the C-97 and KC-97 involved conducting heavy maintenance, overhaul and repair as well as removal of refueling equipment for some KC-97 aircraft during its twilight years to make them cargo-configured C-97s. With the introduction of the all-turbojet Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker in large numbers in the late 1950s, the radial engine KC-97s were quickly deemed too slow in comparison as fighter aircraft like the F-4 Phantom II could hardly stay in position during refueling due to the slow speeds. The counter to this was the addition of jet-augmentation using surplus General Electric J47 engines to 82 TAC and Air National Guard KC-97Gs in 1965-1966. These faster aircraft were re-designated KC-97L and served until 1976 when the last examples of the C-97 family were retired from the Texas Air National Guard.


Of the 888 C/KC-97 aircraft delivered to the U.S.A.F. there is only one flyable aircraft left in the world currently, a former KC-97L which has been de-configured and represents a C-97 cargo aircraft. This aircraft, C-97G, serial 52-2718, “Angel of Deliverance,” has been restored over the last 17 years and was scheduled to return to the skies during the first week of June 2017. A maintenance discrepancy kept the aircraft on the ground, but it is anticipated to fly soon and will likely be touring the country as a warbird representing those who delivered cargo and fuel during the early formative years of the U.S.A.F.


Manufacturer: Boeing

Aircraft type: C-97

Nickname: Stratofreighter

Crew: 5+

Power plant: Four Pratt & Whitney R4360 radial engines (two General Electric J47 turbojet engines added on KC-97L)

In-service dates: 1949-1976

Number produced: 888

Tinker connection: Maintenance, repair and overhaul