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.
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.