The Heyday of Propeller Airliners(1941-1958)

A New Generation of Airliners

Aircraft manufacturers introduced a new generation of large, four-engine airliners that soon dominated U.S. and international air travel and helped lower fares.

The new airliners introduced after World War II were built with the profitable transcontinental air routes in mind. They enabled airlines to carry far more people at greater speeds, while providing unprecedented comfort for passengers and unprecedented profits for airlines.

As a result, competition increased and fares fell, thus opening up air travel to even more people.

Douglas DC-4
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The Douglas DC-4 introduced four-engine safety and comfort. The unpressurized aircraft could carry 44 passengers. Western Airlines introduced the DC-4 in January 1946, and United began flying them coast to coast three months later. As United's "Mainliner 230," the DC-4 flew from New York to San Francisco in 16 hours with a stop at Chicago. The fare of $236.60 round trip was 26 percent cheaper than prewar fares.

Lockheed L749 Constellation
Reprinted courtesy American Airlines, Inc.

Sleek, powerful, and graceful, TWA's Lockheed Constellations introduced pressurized comfort and shortened transcontinental travel by an astounding five hours. Eastern began flying the "stretched" 71-seat Super Constellation in 1951. The L-1049C and strengthened L-1049G versions had greater range and capacity than the original "Connie." Northwest Orient and TWA also flew Super Constellations.

Delta Douglas DC-6
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The DC-6 was Douglas Aircraft's response to Lockheed's Constellation. Slightly longer than the DC-4 and pressurized like the "Connie," the DC-6 carry 60 passengers and had heating elements in its wings to prevent icing. United introduced the DC-6 in 1947, and after overcoming some initial problems it became widely used.

Pan Am Douglas DC-6B
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Perhaps the epitome of piston-engine airliner design, the Douglas DC-6B combined unrivalled operating efficiency and reliability. Its slightly stretched fuselage could carry 88 passengers. DC-6Bs entered service with United in 1952, and  Pan Am used them to pioneer tourist fares across the Atlantic.

Douglas DC-7
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Introduced by American on its New York-Los Angeles route in November 1953, the DC-7 was the first airliner to provide nonstop transcontinental service in both directions. It could carry 60 passengers between the two cities in less than 8 hours for $158.85 one way and $302 round trip. This is the DC-7 Flagship Missouri, a sister ship to the Museum's Flagship Vermont.

Lockheed Constellation  Model
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Lockheed Constellation

TWA began flying "Connies" in 1946 on the same day United introduced its unpressurized DC-4s. TWA matched United's fare but added $25 for the Constellation's "Advanced Sky Chief" service. TWA's fast, pressurized Constellations could fly from New York to Los Angeles in 11 hours with one 25-minute fuel stop-five hours faster than United's DC-4s on its New York-San Francisco route. The Museum's Constellation is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser Staircase
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Although not economically successful, the huge Boeing 377 Stratocruiser epitomized luxury air travel in the 1950s. Based on the design of Boeing's B-29 bomber of World War II, the 377 had a bulbous "double bubble" pressurized fuselage and could carry 100 passengers. Northwest, Pan Am, United, and American Overseas Airlines all flew Stratocruisers.

Cigar Box
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Cigar Box

This silver cigar box was made to commemorate the opening of Pan American's first around-the-world service in 1947.
Gift of Juan T. Trippe

Playing Cards
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Playing Cards

This presentation set of four decks of playing cards was given to Northwest Airlines president Donald W. Nyrop and features the airline's Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
Gift of Donald W. Nyrop