Large aircraft such as the Antonov 124, the Airbus Beluga, or the Super Guppy are always in the spotlight due to their large wingspan and their ability to carry extremely large loads, such as parts of other aircraft, components of spaceships, or even other whole planes.
Origin of the Guppy plane
In the 1960s, the United States, immersed in the middle of the space race, required for the first time the need to move large objects to other parts of its territory with the speed and efficiency that only air transport can guarantee. NASA needed to send pieces that, although light, had gigantic dimensions. Among them, those that made up the gigantic Saturn V rocket, which before the end of the decade was to put a human being on the Moon for the first time.
From this need arose the first Guppy, called Pregnant Guppy (Guppy pregnant) because its appearance was reminiscent of the small tropical fish known to give birth to its fry instead of laying eggs. For its design it was based on various models already in service such as the B707, the Hercules or the Lockheed P-3 Orion. This was the first in a line of eight aircraft built over the years, one of which still remains in service for NASA.
In the original Pregnant Guppy, it was the tail that was detached from the plane to introduce the payload into the hold, while, in the later evolution, the Super Guppy, it was the nose that opened laterally to access the huge ” belly ”of the aircraft.
Final evolution of the Super Guppy
In 1967, the Guppy family was expanded with a Mini version, which had a reduced cargo bay diameter of 18 feet (five and a half meters). Of the two prototypes that were built, one of them suffered an accident during a test flight that killed its four crew members.
Three years later, the final version of the Guppy came out. The plane was still a mixed bag, with the cockpit, wings and tail from a 377, and the front end of a Boeing 707. The engines came from the Lockheed P-3 Orion, an anti-submarine plane, but with the plane’s propellers of military transport C-130 Hercules.
This new version attracted interest from abroad and especially Europe, where Boeing’s main competitor, Airbus, was about to launch its first wide-body twin-engine aircraft, the A300.
Eventually, Airbus acquired the rights to manufacture the Super Guppy from Aero Spacelines, so it built two other units of its own and used them for many years as it moved forward with its own supercarrier: The Beluga.
Future of the Super Guppy
One of the biggest challenges in keeping such an old aircraft in good working order is addressing the problems related to outdated systems. So NASA has proactively upgraded some of the aircraft’s older systems to more modern versions before the end of their useful life, in order to anticipate potential problems while adapting the aircraft to the conditions that modern air transport requires.
The Super Guppy requires, as it did in almost all civil or military transport aircraft before the 1980s, a flight engineer as well as a pilot and copilot. Particularly during takeoff and landing – two of the most committed maneuvers in any air operation – these three crew members must maintain very close coordination.
Despegue y aterrizaje del Super Guppy
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Since the late 2000s, the aircraft has been used to transport components for the new Orion spacecraft from the factories where they are produced to the assembly plants. NASA plans to use this new spacecraft for future manned missions to the Moon and Mars.
There are currently no plans to withdraw the latest in the series from active service, and with new space projects looming on the horizon, the Guppy will continue to soar through the skies with huge cargo in the hold for quite some time to come.