Stratocruisers at St Cugat


Photos © R.Leeuw

Never ever having visited Barcelona before, in May 2002 this was put right: a visit to the splendours of Gaudi's architecture was combined with a search for the Stratofreighters (a military variant of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser) parked somewhere in the small town of Saint Cugat, situated north of Barcelona.
Finding them was not so easy as I was led to believe ! I started my search based on the information that the "Strats" were located (and visible) next to Motorway A7, which runs east-west north of Saint Cugat. I drove this stretch twice but without any result. Other information told me they were located (and visible) from the road out of Barcelona, going north, to St Cugat. So I drove this road twice, too !
Having not spotted them from that road, I took the exit to St Cugat, but this led to nothing. Drove further north, turned around (direction Barcelona again) and took the exit Centre Commercial, San Cugat. I asked for directions at the gasstation and found I was close ! After 2 minutes I had them in my sights.
The Stratofreighters are located at a club called "The Music Box" and not visible from the road ! Maybe the situation has changed in recent years, as the roads (incl A7 Motorway) looked brandnew. From the gasstation (almost next to a BurgerKing) it's a left turn at the roundabout and though the club sits in a decline, the tail of a C-97 is visible from the roundabout.
The road north out of Barcelona goes through a tunnel, Funicular de Vallvidrera, for which you have to pay toll (Euro 2.37).


(c) R. Leeuw Unfortunately, I was not allowed in as "El Jefe" was not around to grant permission ! I'd love to have had a look inside this Stratofreighter, though I can imagine the interior must have been changed quite a bit... For photography of the exterior it would not have helped much.


(c) R. Leeuw This shot shows how TK1-02 has been boxed in by the buildings. The weather did not help to improve things, rain and wind was not what I expected for Barcelona in May.

Paul Hunter (Ohia ANG, Ret.) sent me the following info from the days when he was involved in bringing these "Strats" over to Spain:
In 1972 I flew on a KC-97L 53-225 from Rickenbacker AFB to Madrid and remained at Torrejon AB for three months as transition maintenance team chief to the Spanish Air Force. I was a full time employee and military member of the Ohio Air National (ANG), as an Instructor Flight Engineer on KC-97L tankers stationed at Lockbourne AFB (now Rickenbacker).
I saw a message over the interguard telex from the Texas ANG asking for volunteers to deploy to Madrid to assist the Joint U. S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) of the American embassy, in training Spanish AF technicians in the maintenace of of their three 97s.
The Texas guard was the primary office of responsibility (OPR) for the project and was then training a lead Spanish Air Crew in Dallas.
As I understand it the Spanish, under Franco, wanted the U.S. to replace their aging F-104 fighters with the newer F-4 along with supporting tankers. To renew their lease of Torrejon Air base the USAF thought it wise to comply. The Spanish envisoned three KC-135 jet powered tanker aircraft. What they got instead was old 1950 vintage derivatives of the B-29-B-50 KB50 piston/prop aircraft with jets added. The U.S. Air Guard were the sole owner/operators of this bird.
Our unit at Lockbourne had one of the tankers slated for this program: 53-225

Thanks Paul !


(c) R. Leeuw The props are gone and the blue paint is a good camouflage in these circumstances... Wonder how these giant transports got here !? Did they get here in parts and were they reassembled ?


Bill Strouse wrote me in Nov.2006:
"Although I was not involved in the training of any of the Spanish crews on the KC-97L, my Unit, the 136th Air Refueling Wing in Dallas, had several folks involved for some time with that operation.
We were in Europe during that period of time, involved in supporting Operation Creek Party at Rhein Main AB and I remember it well. The only person I remember off hand involved in the training was one of our Engineers ,Lecil Martin, who was much better known as "Box Car Willy" of Country Music fame. In later years I do remember one of the Spanish Tankers was turned into a Restaurant somewhere south of Madrid, as some of our folks on TDY to Madrid stopped there one time."
Bill Strouse, CMS, Retired, USAF.

Fortunately, this one escaped the paintbrush:
(c) R. Leeuw
The code is still vaguely visible: 123 - 01, with most of the -3- erased by some repair.
close up

A trio of Boeing KC-97L tankers (designated TK.1) provided the Ejército del Aire (Spanish Air Force) with its first air refuelling service. The aircraft were supplied by the US Government and served with Escuadrón 123 of Ala (Wing) 12.
The KC-97L was equipped with 2 General Electric J47-GE-23 turbojet engines, one of which can clearly be seen.
The 3 KC-97Ls in question were:
SerialC/nex USAFCode
TK.1-11695453-172123-01
TK.1-21700753-225123-02
TK.1-31697153-189123-03

Two ex/US Air National Guard C-97Gs were also obtained, for spares: 53-241 and 53-275.
TK.1-3 123-03 has been preserved in the Museo del Aire, Cuatro Vientos (near Madrid).
The date of decomission in the Ejercito del Aire of the KC-97s:
TK.1-02 ( USAF s/n 53-0225) on 9 September 1975
TK.1-01 ( USAF s/n 53-0172) on 23 September 1976
TK.1-03 ( USAF s/n 53-0189) on 23 September 1976
Thanks to Michel Lozares for providing this data.

Here's another detail of the tailsection (click on the image for a closer look); part of the old US registration is still visible: 0-3017 (though the 7 is hard to make out)
(c) R Leeuw



Another look at the jetpods and the "environment"...
TK1-01

In Sep07 I received an email from Alejandro ('Alex') from Albacete:
"I found your website surfing the web because I wanted to know more about these aircraft, as my father was the first private owner of the USAF aircraft s/n 53-0225 and s/n 53-0189 (units 02 and 03 from Escuadron 123 of Spanish Airforce).
I knew there was a unit in El Museo del Aire at Cuatro Vientos, but I didn't known where this other one was.
The unit 12302 was retired at Ala 12 (Torrejon, Madrid).
The units 12301 and 12303 were retired at Maestranza Aerea de Albacete; you can see both in this photo dated in 1985 which I've uploaded to wikipedia:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Boeing_KC-97L_Stratotanker_Albacete_1.jpg

In these you can see 12303 (which is at the moment in Cuatro Vientos):
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Boeing_KC-97L_Stratotanker_Albacete_2.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Boeing_KC-97L_Stratotanker_Albacete_3.jpg

KC-97L 12301 was some years in Los Alamos, a road restaurant very near to Maestranza Aerea. Now, as you know, it is in Barcelona."

A report written in Scramble magazine (Nov.2006 issue) detailed a visit undertaken here on 18Jul06.
The name of the place at San Cugat is "Discoteque Chic" and both Strats are still there and it seems the unpainted C-97 received a fantasy colourscheme too... Google map of Rubi / San Cugat
The travel directions described could be of help: the discoteque is located on Carretera de Rubi; from highway AP-7/E-15 take C-16/E-9 direction Barcelona and take exit 11; upon exiting turn right, direction Rubi, you'll be driving on the Carretera de Rubi and the disco will appear on your left hand after some 500 meters. Past the disco turn right over a railway bridge, this will give the best vantage point."

 

There was a similar project, a C-97 as a restaurant / discotheque, at Sotillo de la Adrada (about 75km west of Madrid) during the late-1970s / early-1980s. More...


Sources :
Spanish and Portugese Military Aviation, John M. Andrade (Midland Counties Publication, 1977)
A good website for some history and specifications of the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter is www.warbirdalley.com
Only 2 (potentially) airworthy Stratocruisers/Stratofreighters remain: Aerial Firefighter N1365N (c/n 16729) of Hawkins and Powers (anno 2006 inactive for a few years and for sale, H&P closed down in 2005) and 52-2718 (c/n 16749) of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation.



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Created: 13-5-02 Updated: 25-11-06