Although I had never seen the article, I knew that Don Preziosi had written about "Tomorrow's Flying Clippers" , which is a set of airline postcards that were supposed to represent the future. When another friend, Bob Johnston, recently sent me photocopies of these cards, I thought it might me a good idea to put them on the website and see if I could get Don to okay publication of his article. Don has graciously consented to allow us to use this revised, and more accurate, article. So my thanks to both Don Preziosi and Bob Johnston for their efforts in making this web article possible.

Larry Myers


by Don Preziosi

A rare Pan American World Airways set was optimistic about the future of
commercial aviation.

In the relatively short history of commercial aviation, incredible strides have been made in the development of the airliners. Modern commercial aviation in America began in 1927, and was originally intended primarily to carry mail (through government contracts). The Model 40A Boeing single-engine biplanes had open cockpits for the pilots and only two seats for passengers, but aviation visionaries saw the tremendous potential for commercial air travel. By 1930 passenger capacity was up to 14 and "flight attendants" were added. (The first ones were actually nurses, which executives thought would
be more reassuring for many passengers.)

Many more advances in passenger comfort and travel speed followed, and there are wonderful postcards that document these developments, but as far as I know there has been only one set issued by an airline that shows what was in store for the future of commercial aviation. This twelve card set was issued by Pan American World Airways shortly after World War II. (There are no dates on the cards, but I have seen cards postally used from 1946.) About 16 years ago I was fortunate enough to buy ten cards at one time, and thought that was a complete set. Unfortunately, I discovered an additional one 15 years later and, through correspondence with fellow collectors, I was able to determine that there are indeed twelve to the set. The cards are slightly shorter than standard size cards and feature full color illustrations of the advances and benefits of the generation of the Clippers to come.

High Hopes?
At first I thought that the cards were anticipating the development of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, a direct descendent of the B-29 Superfortress bombers which were famous for their long-range and high-speed (the Enola Gay being the most notorious example). However, more knowlegeable friends informed me that the plane the postcard artist used as a model was based on the B-36 Peacemaker bomber, a truly massive airplane that was designed to fly non-stop round trips to Europe. It was so big that one Air Force nickname was "The Aluminum Overcast!"

Convair actually built one transport/cargo version of the B-36, the XC-99, which could carry up to 100,000 pounds of cargo or 400 troops. It was at least 50% larger than the Boeing Stratocruiser. There are at least three different postcards of the XC-99 that look remarkably like what the artist expected the "Strato" Clippers to look like. The airlines (or was it just Pan American?) had already wisely decided not to go with such a mammoth plane. This was probably because very few airports would be able to handle planes this large, and the B-36s had a history of maintenance problems which didn't bode well for a commercial airline. This was borne out by the fact that the XC-99's engines were also not always reliable. In spite of this problem the lone XC-99 flew for many years, and is currently being restored by the Kelly Air Force Base's historic society.

Pan American was the first airline to order Boeing 377 Stratocruisers in 1946, and they began "Strato" Clipper service in late 1948. Pan American described them as the "...largest, fastest, most luxurious of all airliners...veritable 'flying hotels'." They were 81 passenger double-deckers with a lounge and bar on one deck and 28 sleeping berths for long flights. The Stratocruisers were popular, but costly to operate, so not that many were ever built. They were, however, a major influence on the airline industry.

The Postcards
Given the quantities of airline cards from this period that have survived, I have often wondered why this set of cards, issued by one of the largest airlines, is so rare. My theory is that shortly after the cards were made, Pan American decided to go with the Boeing 377 Strotocruiser instead of the larger Convair XC-99.This would have made continued distribution of the cards seem foolish because the plane, when unveiled, would bear little resemblence to that on the cards. Logic would then dictate that the vast majority of the cards were destroyed. Captions on all cards begin with the words "PREVIEW OF TOMORROW'S FLYING CLIPPERS:". I have listed the cards alphabetically by the remainders of the captions.

Air-conditioned for 5-mile-a-minute flight
Arrived relaxed, ready for work or pleasure
Clipper Express -- when hours and dollars count
Complimentary full-course meals for keen appetites
Cross-section showing "private club" comforts
Departure-time on the Highroad of the Air
In-flight business conference
Roomy, reclining chairs
Sky-lounge for refreshments
"Sleep in the Clouds" in full-length berths
Sound proof interiors
Stairway connects the twin decks

The end.

The Green Door Menu
Email Larry Myers